Even before the creation of an education system, let alone the implementation of a sex education programme, teenagers have engaged in sexual activity, and in centuries gone by teenagers were actually expected to procreate. Obviously times have changed, and now teenage pregnancy is likely to be frowned upon in most Western societies since adolescence is regarded as the best time in which to obtain an education rather than to raise children. Sex education in schools is therefore not designed to promote sex between teenagers, which could ultimately lead to pregnancy if the right precautions are not taken, but to inform teenagers about what is involved, including the risks, how to minimise those risks, and how to cope with any unintended consequences.
If sex education in schools did encourage teenagers to engage in sexual activity, then surely the opposite would be true – teenagers who received no sex education would not engage in sex, yet this is clearly not the case. Of course, it is difficult to assess how many teenagers are actually having sex, and how this figure corresponds with the sex education they received as, for a start, sociological surveys do not necessarily elicit truthful responses from their participants. It is possible to examine teenage pregnancy rates and the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases amongst teenagers, but obviously there are teenagers having sex who are taking sensible precautions and so do not get caught out.
Consequently, teenagers who receive little or no sex education at all may be more likely to find themselves with unwanted pregnancies, or with STDs, simply because they never learned about contraception. Abstinence education is really no education at all sex is to take place within marriage, and that is that. It is a very moralistic approach, trying to promote the idea that sex outside of marriage is bad and will therefore have negative consequences which are best avoided by not having sex.
This approach is obviously not working if teenagers who are educated to believe this argument are still choosing to have sex. It also does not prepare teenagers for what to do when they are married, either. Some individuals choose to marry when they are teenagers, but do not necessarily want children straightaway. Without any information about contraception, though, they are left in a difficult position when they are completely ignorant about the facts.
Sex education does not encourage teenagers to have sex; just look at the Netherlands where there is a comprehensive sex education programme, and yet the average age at which individuals first engage in sex is higher than compared to nations with a more haphazard approach to sex education. There may be people willing to propagate the notion that sex education encourages teenagers to have sex before they are ready, and who look back to a golden age’ when society was not as sexualised, but this is a fallacy. Teenagers have always had sex, and will continue to do so; it is society’s job to educate them, not judge them.