The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Abstinence-Only Sex Education is Ineffective

3 min read

When I was in middle school, I didn’t know anyone who was having sex.

However, our “family planning” classes started in 5th grade, with screenings of health-ed classics like “Am I Normal?”.  The metaphorical cherry on top of it all was putting a condom on a cucumber as high school sophomores.

My mom thought this was extremely inappropriate, and that the school should have been teaching us not to get ourselves in a situation in which knowing how to use a condom would be necessary.

The abstinence-only versus safe-sex education battle has been ongoing in school systems and politics for quite some time, and was recently sparked again as a study conducted by the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine tested the effects of each method.

The new study showed that “young teens, given an abstinence-only message, were significantly more likely to delay having sex than those receiving more comprehensive sex education,” according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The study considered 662 African-American 6th and 7th graders, and followed their sexual decisions over the next two years.

Statistics showed that two years later, 33 percent of the group that was taught with abstinence-only education were sexually active, versus 47 percent of students who were in the control group with non-sex-related health education, and 52 percent in the safe-sex education group.

The average age of the study target? 12.

While this particular study shows that abstinence-only education was 77 percent effective, I have reservations about the accuracy based on the age of the target group.

For most adolescents, formal sex education of any form begins in middle school, which is an accurate age correlation with the study.  However, it would have been more effective if the study followed the test groups beyond 8th or 9th grade to college.

If the students in the study haven’t reached an age that is appropriate to apply their knowledge in the real world, how can it really be accurate?

Based on my religious beliefs, I understand teaching “wait until you’re married,” or, from a more liberal stand point, “wait until you’re ready.”  From a practical viewpoint, it is also important to teach teenagers about safe sex, because they live in a world of “I do what I want,” no matter what any health class has taught.

What I fear is that in the moment, an 18-year-old college freshman who has been taught the abstinence-only method since middle school might not have the knowledge needed to plunge into something that can change his or her life forever.

Abstaining from sex is not something that should be taught by the education system.  In order for it to be effective, it needs to be taught at home when a child learns about sex.

In theory, I’m in full support of teaching young students to wait to have sex.  However, the subject of sex is not as cut-and-dry as politics may make it seem.  In only teaching pre-teens and teenagers not to have sex, educators may miss out on the opportunity to teach vital safe-sex practices.

Inevitably, teenagers encounter sexual crossroads that need to be navigated. They need to be equipped with the knowledge to make the right decision.

Abstinence-only programs are already obsolete in 17 states, according to WebMD Health News.  Instead, they have decided to teach about abstinence as well as contraception.

According to James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, “abstain until marriage” programs were also ineffective, the Washington Post reported.

It shouldn’t be the responsibility of the education system to teach children not to have sex at a young age.  Most of my 6th grade health classmates probably already knew if they were going to wait to have sex or not based on what they were (or weren’t) taught at home.