We are living in the Information Age. More knowledge is available at our fingertips now than has ever been available before. Nothing that is already known can remain unknown for long. For that reason, it astounds me that so many people still support abstinence-only education programs for youth. The topic of sex education in public schools is always a heated one, and everyone involved in the discussion is committed to assuring that their values are the right ones. However, I think what often gets lost in the battle is the entire concept of education in the first place. Schools exist for the purpose of imparting knowledge. If we begin censoring what knowledge is valuable and what knowledge should remain invisible, then we are heading down a dangerous path.
Abstinence-only advocates believe that youth who are exposed to information concerning sexuality and sexual health are more likely to engage in sexual acts as a result. This realm of belief is incredible to me. Kids are not unaware of sex. In our media-crazed culture, it would be very difficult to grow up being completely oblivious to the existence of sexuality. Kids, being the knowledge-hungry beings that they are, are going to learn what they can about sex, one way or the other. In my opinion, providing this education in a school setting, with scientifically-backed materials and texts, from the hands of well-trained teachers is the most responsible way of ensuring that youth are receiving accurate, comprehensive information on the subject. While abstinence-only programs will convey a very specific value, they do not get at the meat of what kids usually want to know. Through sexuality education programs like the one promoted by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), kids are provided the comprehensive information they need to be able to form their own values about sex and sexuality. And after all, as educators, don’t we want to develop citizens who can think critically from multiple perspectives in order to form their own value and belief system, rather than blindly adopting that which is given to them?
According to Robert E. Rector, abstinence-only education programs help to prevent emotional and psychological injury in young children, specifically girls. As he says, “Many young girls report experiencing regret or guilt after their initial sexual experience” (Rector, 2002). He argues that by encouraging young girls to avoid sex altogether, they will be prevented from feeling the trauma and emotional pain that can result from unhealthy sexual behavior. What concerns me about this viewpoint is the complacency with society’s status quo surrounding attitudes towards sexual behavior and the roles of girls and boys in such behavior. Our public education systems should be changing the way we teach our youth to approach sex altogether, and reframing the values we ascribe to sexual behavior and gender, both of which can only be done through comprehensive sexuality education programs that offer a broad range of opinions and perspectives. The narrow guidelines of an abstinence-only curriculum only serve to further develop a society with narrow values and beliefs around sex, which is a dangerous breeding ground for emotional trauma itself.
Rector, R.E. (April 2002). The Effectiveness of Abstinence Education Programs in Reducing Sexual Activity Among Youth. Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Teaching and Education Practice. McGraw Hill: New York, NY.