Your Body, Not Your Temple: The Dangers of Abstinence Only Education

All photographs © David Magnusson.

The Situation

You are in high school. Harsh light is buzzing above as you sit in a hard plastic chair. A large man is at the front, wearing a tight sweatshirt and shorts, he is the football coach, and your health teacher. Students look down at a diagram and laughter bubbles from the desks as the coach says, “testes.”

You are in college. It may be your first, it may be one of many: a make-out session has become hot and heavy. What’s your next step? The diagrams back in high school seem inadequate when faced with the physical reality.

The Reality

Many people do not think much about the impact of their sex education on their lives. That is a privilege.

Think of those whose lack of sexual education is the catalyst that turns their world upside down. Lack of sexual education leads to girls growing up too quickly. Young mothers must drop out of school due to unplanned pregnancies needing to get money to support themselves and a child. They are pariahs in their communities. Some may not have known how to prevent it and some may not have known they had other options such as abortion. One in five young women and one in three young men did not receive instruction about birth control from other formal sources or their parents (Lindberg). What if they were given false information from sources they trusted, like public schools.

Can people rely on what they were taught by government-regulated schools? In America, only 38% of states are required to teach factual information regarding sex education. (That is only 19 out of 50 states.) It is curious that a subject that impacts the health of students across the nation is often neglected.

Why? Because in America: sex education is not a health issue but, a moral one.

Danger to Adolescents

Abstinence only education is dangerous. It omits information that is crucial to public health. Abstinence only crusaders are more concerned with their morals than consequences. Sources abstinence only organizations use like, Focus on the Family, link to a journal from NAEA (National Abstinence Education Association). The NAEA uses facts from the CDC (Center of Disease Control) and other Journal of Health sources.

Their claims are technically correct. There are a few problems that are evident with their arguments and interpretation of the facts. The biggest one being that they are presenting the evidence but, their goals are askew. As described by the NAEA they want to all schools to participate in a Sexual Risk Avoidance. SRA programs teach abstinence as the only way to be protected. Study after study compares abstinence classes vs. “safer sex” classes. The NAEA highlights how SRA programs reduce and stall the sexual initiation of students, but does not prove that students wait until marriage, which is a main goal. They are missing the point. Sex education is suppose to educate, that is it. It is not there to enforce morals its not there to control a students actions.

Wrap Up

Abstinence education is not wrong; it is simply not enough.

Abstinence only education is dangerous and negligent. Young people ought to be prepared for the future whether they want to wait, have multiple partners, or even never engage in sexual activity. Sex education is not to teach a student have to have sex, its to normalize healthy behaviors.

You are in a stable relationship, you and your partner start talking and compare sexual histories. Regrets and positive events. You have a lifetime of experiences, how much did you learn through formal education. What are things you wish you knew. What are the things you want to be passed on.