In a social and political climate where sexuality and education are highly charged topics, the true purpose of sex education is most often buried far below moral rhetoric and uninformed controversy. But sex education in schools does not encourage adolescent sexual activity. A genuine investigation into the realities of sex education in schools reveals curriculum that in fact empowers young people to delay initiation of sexual activity, just as much as it provides safe sex knowledge for young people choosing to engage in sexual relationships.
Sex education in the United States exists on two platforms, often polarized by moral and philosophical debate. On one platform stands the abstinence-only agenda, informed by the unsuccessful “Just Say No” slogans of failed anti-drug campaigns that did little to actually change risk behavior. These abstinence-only agendas provide a value to embrace, without the necessary skills or introspection to support the behavior. As a result, abstinence-only programs may in fact delay initiation of vaginal intercourse for some youth who take “virginity pledges”. But here’s the harsh reality: Once these teens do decide to have sex (and they do), they are just as likely to contract a Sexually Transmitted Infection. What’s more disconcerting is that these teens are actually more likely to engage in oral sex and anal sex while supposedly remaining abstinent. As the natural and normal process of human sexual development takes hold, both physically and emotionally, adolescents seek intimate relationships to express their growing identification with their own sexuality and that of others. Abstinence-only programs do little to nothing to prepare teens for this inevitable and biological human experience, and thereby present a threat to teen safety and wellness.
On the other platform is comprehensive sex education, addressing the needs of all teens in all stages of their sexual development. Most often, comprehensive sex education is branded by abstinence-only advocates as a precipitator of sexual activity that encourages and permits sex among young people. Yet this accusation fails to view the actual content of comprehensive sex education curriculum, nor does it acknowledge how much these programs in fact advocate abstinence, better than the abstinence-only platform itself.
Comprehensive sex education is just that—comprehensive. In every one of the thoroughly researched and evidence-based sex education curriculum most often funded for use in schools and community sites, abstinence and sexual protection practices co-exist as options for young people. Abstinence is presented as the best decision that a teen can make to protect themselves from the risks of sexual activity, both physically and emotionally. In fact, comprehensive sex education goes beyond simply stating this, and actually arms young people with the skills to communicate their decision to be abstinent, to negotiate risky sexual situations, and to make a plan to stay abstinent and be supported in that plan.
With full recognition that not every teen will make this decision nor hold to it, comprehensive sex education then gives teens the skills to stay safe in a sexually active world. healthy relationships and setting sexual limits are all vital aspects of these curriculums that ensure our children’s safety and physical and emotional health. Young people leave with a clear picture of the risk, and a clear plan to protect themselves.
In the absence of either abstinence-only education or comprehensive education, a school is left in silence, and silence in the most dangerous enemy there is when raising children in an increasingly complicated world. Abstinence-only education is the same as no sex education. It is silence.
Sex Education in schools that is comprehensive, medically accurate, and unbiased, not only does not encourage sexual initiation, but it is our best chance at protecting youth, advocating for youth, and ultimately seeing them through this complex period of human development and into a healthy and successful adulthood.