Pretty much every time I talk to a proponent of abstinence only sex education their argument revolves around the fact that leaving comprehensive sex education out of the equation is the only way to establish the moral belief that sex should an act that only married people engage in. They also fear that sexual education will encourage more frequent sexual activity or a greater number of partners.
Many are surprised to find that teens that received a comprehensive sexual education were 60% less likely to get pregnant or impregnate someone and were not more inclined to have sex more often or with more partners. States with abstinence only ed are have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country; States that stress abstinence-only education had a teen pregnancy rate of 73.24 teen pregnancies per 1000 girls aged 14–19, while states with comprehensive sex education that included abstinence as on option had the lowest teen pregnancy rates at 56.36 teen pregnancies per 1000 girls ages 14-19.
Moreover, countries with comprehensive sex ed such as France, Germany and the Netherlands have much lower teen pregnancy rates, as in less teen pregnancies per capita, than the United States where abstinence only education is still a common practice. A study of 1,700 heterosexual teenagers ages 15 through 19 from all over the Unites States also showed that teens who received abstinence only education were actually more likely to engage in vaginal intercourse than youth who received an all inclusive sex ed course.
Contrary to a somewhat popular belief, a comprehensive sexual education does not encourage teenagers to engage it frivolous sexual encounters. Instead it shows the immediate gravity of being sexually active by outlining all of the health risks, such as how sexually transmitted infections are contracted and the symptoms of STI’s such as HIV, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea and HPV. Often an all-inclusive sex-education will include those health risks incurred by using different kinds of birth control and the potential for them to fail.
Additionally, it provides access to someone who is trained to teach sex education, gives teens an opportunity to ask questions about sexual activities, and dispels rumors commonly circulated amongst teenagers, which include, but are not limited to:
• You can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex.
• You can’t get pregnant if you do it standing up.
• Inserting Coca-Cola or other carbonated drinks into the vaginal after sex will kill the sperm and prevent pregnancy.
• Girls can’t/don’t enjoy sex and never will.
• You can’t get pregnant if you have sex while on your period.
• Having sex once means that you can’t say no to future encounters or partners.
• Using a tampon nullifies your virginity.
• Sex is like it is in the movies or on television.
• If you love someone, you will be ready to have sex with them.
• Your virginity is something you give to your boyfriend/girlfriend as a gift.
• Jumping up and down after unprotected sex will prevent you from getting pregnant.
• Guys always want sex and are always ready to have it.
An education that supplies so much information can be used in a situation where someone is feeling pressured to have sex. Many times teenagers feel that in order to show or prove that they love their partner they must have sex. But an education gives them solid health reasons why waiting might be better for someone at their age. The “if you love me” conversation is easily combated with facts learned in a sex ed class.
Providing sex ed in school that is paired with your own conversation at home opens lines of communication that may very well not exist otherwise. It lets your child know they can come to YOU with their questions instead of their peers or taking what they see in the media at face-value.
It also means that you can talk to your teens about why you think they should or shouldn’t wait and your reasons why. It makes you a resource and gives you an opportunity to share your experiences. You become a reliable source of information instead of someone they might view as disconnected from the issue or other issues they are facing as they transition from child to adult. And an educated child is more likely to make good decisions.
As a parent, especially the mother of a daughter, I want to promote agency. I want her to know about her body and how it works. I want her to know she can say no or say yes. I want her potential partners to know what she knows, so they can make educated decisions together. I want her to know the risks and benefits of sexual activity. I want her to be educated, healthy and happy.
Written by Rachel Brandt
Image courtesy of Chris Tse