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Monday, August 23, 2010

Sex isn't the problem, uneducatedness is.

Not only can we encourage children to abstain from sex in order to avoid disease and pregnancy, we can also inform them of other effective methods if abstinence is out of the picture. Abstinence education sounds like a nice idea at first, but when put into action, fails to do its job as sex education, and therefore, does not decrease the rates of pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases. 

Today there are many who still view the abstinence message as the only message. They believe that teaching abstinence is the most effective way to persuade children from having sex outside marriage. For instance, the WAIT (Why Am I Tempted?) Organization strongly advocates abstinence education funding by the state. (Stover 2007). Kevin Riley, superintendent of Gretna Public Schools in Nebraska, believes that the abstinence-based curriculum is most effective and ethical; he is a supporter of WAIT. He says that teaching students about contraceptives will only increase pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Riley states clearly that teaching kids about sex and contraceptives is encouraging sexual behavior. Riley explains his position quite persuasively

We would never do that with alcohol and drugs. We wouldn't say, 'we know you drink, so use a designated driver. We know you use drugs, so be careful.' In regards to sexuality, we have said, 'Use the condom.' That's the basis of sexuality education in our society. (Stover p.3)
First of all, a case must be put forth on whether abstinence education curriculum effectively teaches children to abstain from sex, and, therefore lessens the amount of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies. The real goal of sexual education should be to inform students, not persuade them to follow a religious doctrine or a moral code; it is necessary that children know about contraceptives; after all, you can't force every child not to have sex. And sex is not an illegal act for these kids as long as they are the age of consent, unlike illegal drugs and drinking, which they are never allowed to do while they are in high school. Kevin Riley has some explaining to do.

In a secular public school, teaching that having sex is immoral is a religious idea that begins to unify religion with public school teaching. People who unite in reciting the pledge of allegiance (this usually includes students, but also their teachers, and teachers of sex ed) must know that what they claim to stand by is the constitution of the United States. The constitution clearly states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ." ( For Congress to mandate a law establishing abstinence-only, brings up issues dealing with the separation of church and state.

However true it may be that abstinence leads to greater self-respect and happiness (this depends on your culture, heritage, and/or religoin), it would be foolish to think that this would be the only responsible way to teach our children. But there may possibly be a 'happy medium' when it comes to comprehensive sexual education versus abstinence-only education. It seems that at the core of each, is a worthy cause. Remaining abstinent is a healthy, and definitely not a bad choice for teens to make, but surely not the only thing they should learn.

In an interview with Mrs. Bowman, Hartford Union High School health teacher in Wisconsin, she noted that while Wisconsin has an "abstinence based" education, it includes "any and all questions" from students. She went on to state that she was open to discussions, and includes all modern information on contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases. Perhaps the name "abstinence based" just means it puts great emphasis on the number one method to reduce sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies, the only 100% guarantee.

Still, Wisconsin is known for debates about Sex Education, with a strong hold on abstinence-only standards. A recent online newspaper stated
A Wisconsin prosecutor is warning that teachers who teach the state's new sex education curriculum could be arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of children.
And this curriculum is devoted to teaching children about safe sex methods. 

It is O.K. to teach teenagers of abstinence as a highly encouraged method of escaping peer pressure and being okay with waiting, in addition to an extensive knowledge of healthy sex practice and contraceptives? Even if the students never choose to have sex until they get married (hopefully after they graduate, but that's a whole other discussion), their knowledge of contraceptives could help them delay on having children. Or, if they decide to become sexually active, possibly long after high school, their knowledge of contraceptives can also stop the spreading of sexual diseases. Writes Education Digest columnist, Del Stover, in the article, 'Should We Be Teaching Sex Education or Sexual Abstinence?', "On its face, abstinence education isn't controversial. Who is going to argue against telling kids to hold off on sexual activity?" (Stover, D 2007). But we know that the consequences of abstinence-only education is far worse that it seems.

If abstinence-only education claims to be much more effective than comprehensive sex ed. Therefore, abstinence ed must have the facts to back up their claims if indeed they are true. Sadly, there is no
convincing evidence to suggest that abstinence education works better than comprehensive sex ed. In fact, there is even evidence that suggests that comprehensive sexual education produces much better overall results in teens than abstinence-only sex education.

During the Bush administration, over $1.5 billion dollars was spent on abstinence education. (Roanoke Times 2009). For what? An increase in teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease?! The evidence leads one to conclude that teen pregnancy and STDs have in fact, increased in states that have had open arms to abstinence education. Before the Bush administration began, hence before the policies about abstinence education under Bush were set forth, there was a 14-year decline in teen pregnancy. Since Bush (this may however, be coincidental, but we have reason to believe not) the decline in teen pregnancy was actually reversed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). (Roanoke Times, 2009). The southern states in the United States' South and Southwest Regions have had the highest pregnancy rates in the nation in years. These states are mostly conservative, and have known to yield to abstinence funding. However, the increase in pregnancy rates in these states could have also been increased by another factor: proximity to Mexico.

Latinos have the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the nation, and the southern states are the closest to the border, therefore, the highest concentration of Hispanic Americans live in these regions, which could be a cause for higher pregnancy rates; and an increase in Hispanic population could explain the increase in teenage pregnancy. However, these "coincidences" should not be left unnoticed. (Dallas Morning News 2007) Teen pregnancy rates are increasing, and there are two choices put before the American Congress and citizens alike: abstinence-only education or comprehensive sex education. Whichever one has proven to produce the best results thus far in our history should be given preference over the other. When Southern states and Bush policy are concerned, comprehensive sex ed seems to be the better choice, just because abstinence education has failed. But we cannot assume that comprehensive will produce better results just because the other method has failed. There must be factual evidence in favor of comprehensive sex ed before we take it seriously. (Dallas Morning News 2007)

Contrary to many abstinence-only defendants' beliefs, a study by Trisha Mueller, MPH, and colleagues, at the CDC in Atlanta concluded that sex education does indeed produce satisfactory results. (CBS, Sex Ed Works, 2007) As published in Journal of Adolescent Health, the study concluded that compared with girls who had not received formal sex ed training, teenage girls with sex ed had a 59% reduced risk of having sex before age 15. (CBS News 2007). And boys had a 71% reduced risk of having sex before 15 when having received sex education. Also published from the study was an astounding 88% reduced risk of having sex before 15 for African-American urban teenage girls. What is significant about the African-American urban teenage girls is that they are ethnic minorities that statistically have higher rates of teen pregnancy. (CBS, Sex Ed Works, 2007)

Referring to the study, Laura Lindberg, PhD, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, stated, "This study is one more piece of evidence that sex education has the potential to influence teen sexual behavior in a positive way." However, once again, it is noted that this only suggests that comprehensive sex ed works; but not that abstinence education would not work in this situation. "The study doesn't shed light on the debate about which approach is better," she concluded. Although, she has noted that other research has shown that comprehensive sex ed works better than an abstinence-only curriculum. (CBS, Sex Ed Works, 2007) Lindberg is correct; there are even more studies that support comprehensive sex education.

Medical News Today, a web-based news organization published similar results by similar studies from major health organizations. One example strongly suggests that comprehensive sex education is imperative for all American teens.
Late last year, Doug Kirby, a leading researcher in adolescent health, issued a report Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Disease, that concluded "there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence, or reduces the number of sexual partners." (Medical News Today 2008)

Medical News Today also noted that In April 2007, a 10-year government-mandated study from Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. showed that abstinence-only curriculum did not impact teen behavior in regards to sex. (Medical News Today 2008). All the research that has been done in regards to what methods of sex education works and what doesn't suggests that a more comprehensive approach to sex education wins in the battle of abstinence-only versus comprehensive sex education.

Even though southern states like Texas have had an open-armed response to new abstinence-only curriculum, supporters of comprehensive sex ed can rejoice to hear that New York, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have all denied funding towards abstinence-only sex education (New York Times 2003). The notion that such progressive states have accepted comprehensive sex ed rather than abstinence-only education is surely a good thing for comprehensive sex ed supporters, and an optimistic occurrence in the future of sex education.

For sex education to advance in the 21st century, it must meet three standards. First, it must explain the biological process of sex. Second, it must explain the consequences of sex. Third, it must provide all the latest information on contraceptives and responsible actions that teens can learn to use outside of school regarding sex. The curriculum must also allow for open discussions in the classroom of sex education. Abstinence-only education may provide some of the invaluable information that teens in an increasingly sexualized America, but it runs the risk of being biased towards no sex until marriage, a dogmatic claim. Abstinence-only curriculum may also disregard some vital information for teens regarding sex and safety. 

There are no signs of sex slowing down in modern America. It is popular to think that kids are having sex more than they ever were in modern history. Whether that is true, or even a small minority of teens are having sex, what is important is that all students receive proper instruction on how to avoid unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases. The most effective way to change the habits of ignorance is to educate. Sex education does educate children on the most up-to-date information regarding contraception and disease prevention. 'Abstinence-only' is a watered down version of sex ed. There cannot be a smaller number of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases in America, unless we educate the teens.

While it is probably true that most parents agree that they would rather have a virgin child than a sexually active one, what happens if their child decides to have sex, even when they've been told not to? Parents should not leave children in the dark if they decide to have sex. According to many parents, sex is an unhealthy, immoral lifestyle for teens. But if their children do have sex, the outcome is much better when a child is prepared to handle the situation. Wouldn't parents be sadder to have a pregnant, diseased daughter come home rather than an unharmed, yet disobedient daughter?

We are primates. Primates will have sex. And like it. 
I think the same people who don't want comprehensive sex ed taught are the same people who refuse to acknowledge our relationship to other mammals, and our being in the primate family.

So, we shouldl tell our children the safe ways to have sex, including the idea that it's OK to wait. That's what most people think (81% of America, as referenced in the graph above).

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