According to the New York Times, the Trump administration is making a push to support abstinence-only sex education. The Times said:
While the funding announcement, issued Friday by the Department of Health and Human Services, does not exclude programs that provide information about contraception and protected sex, it explicitly encouraged programs that emphasize abstinence or “sexual risk avoidance.”
The Times also reported:
“What’s noticeably absent in those things you must talk about is that if the young person continues having sex, here is the information you must have about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases,” said Andrea Kane, vice president of policy and strategic partnerships for Power to Decide, a national group working to prevent unplanned pregnancies. “They talk about skills to avoid sex and return to not having sex. It doesn’t really leave any opening for those young people who continue having sex and how we help them prepare for their futures.”
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We’ve been down this road before, and the research is crystal clear.
Abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work. Period.
Abstinence-only sex education is a terrible disservice to our youth. While the Obama administration had funded these programs, Obama cut funding for them in the 2017 budget, which I applauded. The only proven way to reduce teenage pregnancy is to… gasp… actually be honest and treat our youth like the young adults they are.
I think of abstinence-only sex education as being similar to the D.A.R.E. program. D.A.R.E. has been proven to be a massive failure, and may even have caused an increase in substance abuse by children.
We can also look at programs such as “scared straight” as another example of adults using fear and misinformation in order to manipulate children into behaving in a desired manner. A meta-analysis of “scared straight” programs found:
A meta-analysis of prevalence rates indicates that the intervention on average is more harmful to juveniles than doing nothing. The authors conclude that governments should institute rigorous programs of research to ensure that well-intentioned treatments do not cause harm to the citizens they pledge to protect.
Doing nothing was better than using fear to manipulate kids. Who would have thought?
Abstinence-only sex education
Here are the facts:
About half of all high school-aged youth reported having engaged in sexual intercourse. Contrary to what conservatives would want you to believe, states where abstinence-only education is emphasized have a higher teen pregnancy rate.
It’s no surprise that the more you tell youth “don’t do it,” the more likely they are to engage in the behavior you’re trying to discourage. In fact, research suggests that more control can lead to more rebellion.
Controlling parenting has been associated with lower levels of intrinsic motivation, less internalization of values and morals, poorer self-regulation, and higher levels of negative self-related affects. (Source)
Abstinence-only education is a disservice to our youth. It encourages things such as “virginity pledges,” which are laughably ineffective. Teens who make such a pledge are just as likely to engage in oral or anal sex and have similar STI rates. Virginity pledges don’t work and actually increase the likelihood of risky sexual behavior.
In reality, abstinence-only sexual education has its roots in promoting faith-based beliefs. Not only that, but it shames sexual behaviors and can even lead to confusion for those questioning their sexuality in the first place.
Most adults overwhelmingly support comprehensive sex education.
If anything, abstinence education should be a part of comprehensive sex education that discusses puberty and sexual health. We need to be honest with youth and treat them like young adults when it comes to sex education. While it might be awkward for adults to talk about, you are the product of two people having sex. It’s important that our youth be informed and educated so if they do decide to have sex, they have information to help them do so safely.
Let’s not kid ourselves here, though. What this is really about is conservatives controlling women. It’s about their infatuation with making healthcare decisions for women without their input or consent. The true irony of the situation is if they actually wanted to reduce the number of abortions, they should actually support comprehensive sex education. Study after study has shown that increased access to contraceptives dramatically lowers the abortion rate.
The only logical conclusion is that men in Congress want to continue controlling healthcare decisions for women.
The Times added:
Jon Baron, vice president of evidence-based policy at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a nonpartisan foundation, said the new approach is like “starting from ground zero as if nothing has been learned. Until you have an evaluation of an actual program that people are showing up for and an actual curriculum and actual people teaching it, you really don’t have reliable evidence.
Abstinence programs have often failed to change teenage sexual behavior. A 2007 study of four such federally funded programs, for example, found “not even a hint of an effect on sexual activity, pregnancy or anything,” Mr. Baron said. Still, the Obama administration’s menu of “evidence-based programs” included three abstinence programs.
If this goes through, and abstinence-only sex education programs receive federal funding, it would be an enormous disservice to our youth. It will do the exact opposite of what it’s intended to do, and will absolutely result in an overall increase in teen pregnancy rates.
If the religious right actually cared about preventing teen pregnancies, and reducing the number of abortions that occur, they would support access to contraception and comprehensive sex education.
Portions of this article were previously published.