CLASS DISMISSED: Abstinence-only sex education futile

By: Jasmyn Elliott/Columnist

In October 2010, journalist Evan Smith asked Texas Gov. and current presidential hopeful Rick Perry about the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education. Although the footage of this video is a bit old, renewed interest in Perry after his announcement of entering the 2012 presidential race has caused it to become popular again. Perry’s difficulty in justifying abstinence-only sex education in Texas points to a larger struggle to reconcile the merit of this method in our country overall.

During the interview, Evans pointed out that even though Texas has the one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, abstinence-only sex education is

Jasmyn Elliott/Columnist

the method the state has chosen to stick with. In a labored response, Perry says, “It works. Maybe it’s the way it’s being taught, or the way it’s being applied out there, but the fact of the matter is it’s the best form to teach our children.”

Although Perry may personally believe abstinence-based sexual education may be the “best” way, statistics show that it is not  the most effective.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, seven out of 10 teenagers report being sexually active by the time they turn 19. Unless these teens are married, this is already a strike against the commonality of abstinence. As for our nation’s teen pregnancy rate, 750,000 girls between the ages of 15 to 19 become pregnant every year. Furthermore, cases of STIs in teens are on the rise – 15 to 24 year-olds account for half of new STI reports in the United States, approximately 9.1 million.

I cannot help but think that these numbers would be significantly lower if comprehensive sex education were the norm.

When I was in the fifth grade, it finally came time for the “human growth and development” section of the curriculum. Each of us has a folder in which we wrote in big, block letters the word “abstinence.” Before each lesson, my teacher would have us recite the definition of abstinence, perhaps in hopes this ritual of sorts would embed this principle into our young minds.

Even as I grew up, I did not hear about condoms or oral contraceptives until I was about 17, and this information did not come from my biology teacher. As of now,  many of my peers have either became  teen parents or have fallen victim to a host of STIs, most likely because they lacked the knowledge of safe sex practices.

I honestly think my immediate and distant peers would have benefited much more from lessons on effective birth control methods and “How to Use a Condom 101,” rather than reciting the definition to an abstract value that ultimately went unheeded. Furthermore, with the explanation of sex being limited to intercourse in abstinence-only sex education, the topic of oral sex remains ignored. While it cannot result in pregnancy, unprotected oral sex can still spread a host of painful STIs, which, with the exception of HIV/AIDS, are often not included in the curriculum.

As Perry illustrates, it is a struggle to argue that abstinence-only sex education is truly the best way, or at least the most effective. Instead of wasting class time promoting an often ignored ideal, sex education must evolve with teen sexual behavior. Leaving safe sex practices and a full lesson on STIs out of the discussion will only serve to create health problems among teens, which is the last thing they need to be worried about.

“Class Dismissed” is a biweekly column critiquing education in America.

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