Succinctly put, 'abstinence-only' sex education is an oxymoron. The contradiction being, abstinence-only sex education does not focus on education, but uses fear-based tactics to promote withholding sex until marriage. Key educational features, such as contraception methods, are completely removed from the curriculum, while other states have no mandated sex education at all.
So is sex education needed in the schools? What is the problem?
The deal is that even though US teen pregnancy is at a low (about 35 out 1,000 teen girls will become pregnant), the US still has the highest rate of pregnancy in the developed world and American adolescents are contracting HIV faster than any other demographic group.
Although sex education in the school system has been a hot topic for quite some time, matters really became complicated when the Bush administration began funding millions of dollars into abstinence-only programs. These programs had to provide assurances that the curriculum did not promote any type of contraception or condom use and discouraged sexual stimulation of any kind among unmarried individuals, regardless of age. Purportedly, the Bush administration also prevented the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on tracking results on the effectiveness of abstinence-only education, distorted information on results from the studies, and suppressed the dissemination of scientifically reputable sex education information.
So if abstinence-only programs work, then what is the big deal?
Well, they don't. Studies put out by the Cochrane Collaboration and the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discovered the following:
Abstinence-only programs have not been found to show any enduring effects on teens' sexual behaviors.
Abstinence-only participants had just as many sexual partners as non-participants.
Measures of success in these programs are based on a 'virginity pledge' given by the teens.
Teens who actually gave these 'virginity pledges' were just just as likely to have sex as the non-pledgers but were LESS likely to protect themselves or use contraception.
Other studies have found that teen pregnancy rates were higher in students who had taken abstinence-only sex education compared to comprehensive sex education.
International studies have found that these programs are also ineffective in decreasing the rates of HIV in other developed countries.
Typically, these virginity pledges are one of the main measurement tools in rating the success of these programs, which is clearly not a reliable or effective method.
Who supports abstinence-only measures?
Proponents of abstinence-only curriculum believe this approach is better than comprehensive sex education because it emphasizes morals and values, the importance of sex within marriage, and does not promote sex within adolescents as the comprehensive sex education does... none of which has ever been statistically validated. Opponents purport that these measures are heavily laden with religious propaganda and that no sex until marriage has extreme implications for those in relationships in which marriage is not an option, e.g. LGBT relationships. They also stress that comprehensive sex education does not encourage sex among adolescents, but rather encourages smart choices.
Unfortunately, these abstinence focused programs are still being funded. Just last year, a $5 million federal grant was given out to abstinence-only programs, despite Obama's reluctance to support this empirically unvalidated method. Many of these abstinence-only schools block the student's ability to access alternative sexual health information in class, the school library, and other public library portals. So, not only are they giving a skewed perspective of sexual health, but they are blocking the possibility of these teens actually educating themselves. Aside from the misinformation given, many programs intertwine the religious ideology that condemns homosexuality, masturbation, conception, and abortion. California and Louisiana currently are the only two states in which sex education cannot promote religion, while only seven other states have a general requirement that the sex education must be culturally appropriate and unbiased. Other general requirements that differ among states are if the sex education is medically accurate, age appropriate, or include HIV education. Interestingly enough, in California alone, the pregnancy rate has dropped 40%.
In a country where sex education is not mandated to be 'medically accurate', I wonder where we went wrong. Is something so completely natural to the human race as sex so threatening that we have to mask it, make excuses for it, and pretend that babies come from the stork? It is no wonder why there are still so many pregnancies and rampant STDs among the teenage population every year. Forcing ignorance has never solved a problem before. How could it solve the US having the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world? Offering a comprehensive education about sex would be an open and honest approach to a topic that teens actually want to be educated on.