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Why Abstinence-Only Sex Education Is Dangerous

In 2008, the federal government spent $176 million dollars on abstinence education. Today, there are no federally backed comprehensive sex-education programs in the United States. Which would be fine if abstinence-only sex education actually worked.

Studies have shown that students who received abstinence-only education do not show any difference in sexual behavior from students who did not. A study by sociologists Hannah Brückner and Peter Bearman showed that youth who took an abstinence pledge had the same infection rate from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as those who did not pledge. We should not be spending millions of dollars on abstinence-based sexual education that fails to protect teens.

Like abstinence-based sexual education, comprehensive sexual education teaches that abstinence is the best method for preventing unplanned pregnancies and avoiding STDs, but it also helps students explore their values and options, and teaches them about condoms and contraception. In contrast, abstinence-only education often focuses on abstinence as a "morally correct" option, and either avoids mentioning the use of condoms and contraceptives, or provides misinformation about them. Students who are taught abstinence-only education still have sex, leaving them at risk from STDs and pregnancies because they were not taught how to protect themselves. Additionally, because abstinence-only programs generally focus on abstention from heterosexual intercourse and the prevention of pregnancy, teenagers often engage in anal sex, oral sex, and mutual masturbation instead, all of which can expose them to STDs.

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Image courtesy The Bad Chemicals.

Further, most abstinence-only education is abstinence-only-until-marriage education, which excludes most LGBT youth. Speaking of marginalized groups of people, some abstinence-only sex education teaches young girls that they are worthless if they don't “remain pure.” This has far-reaching implications. To take one appalling example, Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted and raped nine years ago when she was just 14, said she did not run away from her abductors because she thought no one would want her, given that her rape constituted premarital sex.

Abstinence-only sex education does not give good results. It does not prevent pregnancies or STDs, or delay sexual activity among teenagers. Abstinence-based education only teaches abstinence, leaving teens with no knowledge of how to have safe sex. As a result, 10% of young people are not aware of HIV or AIDS, and others think that STDs are an “inevitable result of premarital sexual behavior.” The federal government should stop sponsoring these programs, and give students the comprehensive and honest education they desperately need.

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