What’s wrong with Abstinence Only/Plus/Until Marriage education (Or, the victims of the Bush Administration’s Sex Ed Policy)

This post was inspired by an online petition on comprehensive sexual education I was asked to sign by Planned Parenthood of Western PA on behalf of some Pittsburgh Parents who are fighting the Abstinence Only/Plus/Until Marriage curriculum in their children’s schools. It bothers me that there is many times a lack of accurate information given to people my age in public schools. Censorship in all its slippery-slope forms bothers me. In this case information is censored because of the misconception that without information on how to safely have sex, adults (for that is what most teens become) will simply not have sex.

  • It is my understanding that Abstinence only/plus/until marriage textbooks tell students the right thing to do before having sex is to get married.
    • That the right thing to do, if you can’t get married now, or never want to get married, is to never have sex.
    • Since when was it the job of a Sex-Ed textbook to tell students what the right thing to do is?

Here are some other ways to reduce teen pregnancies and unintended pregnancies in general:

  • Telling the truth about condoms, the pill, how a woman gets pregnant, how STIs can be contracted, etc (see below for statistics on the effect of comprehensive sex ed for teens).
  • Not hiding safer ways of having sex.

And never, never, never through guilt.

The textbook used by the Pittsburgh Public Schools (Totally Awesome Health) tells teens:

“being sexually active can affect [your] mental health. Stress can result from guilt that is associated with being sexually active,”

And it never defines what “sexually active means”.

Now there are a lot of issues mixed into the “abstinence only/plus/until marriage” message:

  • There is sexism, because the ability to choose when, if ever, to become pregnant is one of the biggest empowering changes of the past century for women. Access to accurate sexual education, family planning, contraception, and abortion allow women and men to treat each other as partners, equals. To my eyes, we do not yet live in a society where men and women are equally effected by unintended pregnancies. I hope they are someday–that would be another great way to lower the number of teen pregnancies.
  • And homophobia is mixed into this: only heterosexual couples are even mentioned it leaves millions of teens ignored; their parents defined as other; their orientations termed abnormal.
  • And a weird bias towards anglo-saxon nuclear families is mixed into this, because there is no room for single parent families; no room for being raise in a non-traditional family; no room for children raised by grandparents, aunts and uncles, friend parents. No room for anyone other than couples whose bedroom and family lives are pre-approved by the textbook writers.

Americans have had a president who pushes hard for abstinence only/plus/until marriage for 8 years. And what’s our track record? Here’s some quotes on the effect of the abstinence only/plus/until marriage policy pushed by the Bush Administration:

  • A study from the University of Washington showing: “Students who receive comprehensive sex education are half as likely to become teen parents as those who get none or abstinence-only sex education,” (University of Washington)
  • A study from the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing that one in four teen girls has a sexually transmitted infection (STI),” (Editorials Across the Country Echo Planned Parenthood’s Call for Comprehensive Sex Ed)
  • “[I]n Pennsylvania the rate of unintended pregnancies has increased for teens for the first time in more than a decade” (Planned Parenthood email on this petition)
  • “[T]eens who had comprehensive education, which typically discusses condoms and birth-control methods as well as abstinence, were no more likely to engage in intercourse than peers who were taught just to say no to sex before marriage,” (University of Washington)

There have been casualties of the pro-abstinence anti-education group. Every teen mother and teen father, every parent who suddenly find themselves a grandparent, every child who grows up with parents who know why their lives were limited are victims of Abstinence Only/Plus/Until Marriage miseducation. They suffer the of censorship in the classroom.

PS: Here is my followup post with a good Sex Ed resource called Scarleteen.

Inspirational Quote:

  • Q: “What about grants for sex education in the United States? Should they include instructions about using contraceptives? Or should it be Bush’s policy, which is just abstinence?”
  • McCain: (Long pause) “Ahhh. I think I support the president’s policy.”
  • Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”
  • McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

(Reporter and John McCain talking about Sex Ed in the US)

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