Friday, September 9, 2011

Sex-Education: Part I - The Joke

Abstinence-only sex-education is a joke. I am serious. A joke. My desk copy of the Oxford American Dictionary defines joke as “a ridiculous . . . circumstance.” Ridiculous is defined as “not worth serious consideration.” Circumstance: “one of the conditions or facts connected with an event or person or action.” Abstinence-only sex-education would not be ridiculous if it worked. The sad truth, however, is that it does not.

Consider Texas. The second largest state, in both area and population, has the fourth highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. One source suggests that the ranking is incorrect; Texas ranks third. Explanation? One cannot help but consider whether abstinence-only sex-education plays a role in these statistics. In 2009, the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, found that 94% of Texas school districts provide abstinence-only sex-education. Sadly, sexual education is ignored completely by a little over 2%.

One would be hard pressed to argue that these statistics are not related to one another. Let's be real. Sex education helps to define sexual relationships. It is common sense that we bring what we know to the table. Here, the "table" happens to be sex. What happens when the only knowledge a person brings to the "sex-table" (as I will call it) is abstinence? Let's keep in mind that this is the sex-table, not the abstinence-table. Abstinence is not an option. That person's knowledge is useless. They may have a jolly-good time at the sex-table, but the sex-table carries consequences. These consequences include, but are not limited to: sexually transmitted infections, pregnancies and HIV/AIDS. The state's teenage pregnancy rates suggest a lot of Texas teens visit the sex-table with an abstinence only education. Unfortunately, the statics tell us that many of these young women leave the sex-table with a +1.

So why continue with the abstinence only sex-education? Even Rick Perry, Texas's Governor, could not properly defend abstinence-only education during an interview in October of 2010. Some even argue that students were having more sex after abstinence only education. I'm unsure if that is clear. What is clear, though, is that Texas has a problem it must deal with: teenage pregnancy. This problem is not only impacting the lives of young people, specifically young females, but also the state budget. In 2009, teenage pregnancies cost the state of Mississippi $154.9 million dollars. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that Texas spent more than $154.9 million, given that Mississippi had the fifth highest teen pregnancy rate. This issue is about more than just young girls getting pregnant. This phenomenon is costing the state a large sum of money that could be used for other important projects. What is encouraging though is that parents in Texas will be reviewing the abstinence-only sex education policy this fall. I will keep my fingers crossed that the review will lead parents to seriously consider including an "abstinence-plus" education.

Abstinence-only sex-education is a joke. Texas is a case in point. Abstinence-only sex-education is not worth serious consideration. It fails to do that which it sets out to accomplish: prevent sex. It leads to that which it aims to prevent: teenage pregnancies.

Stay tuned: Next week I will continue exploring topics in sex-education.


KayZee said...

S, I could not agree with you more. I really don't have much to say except that, ignoring problems simply do not work. To plainly state that "teens shouldn't be having sex, therefore, we're not going to teach them about it" is perhaps one of the scariest tactics for dealing with teen pregnancy.

On top of those ignoring the problem, those groups who are NOT ignoring the problem, are quickly losing funding. How are teens supposed to battle these pressures, and problems, if their parents are ignoring the issue, and those who can help them, are closing their doors?

Caitlin said...

My favorite part of the 2008 presidential election was the part when Bristol Palin, seven or so months pregnant, became a spokesperson for abstinence-only sex-ed. Clearly, it did not work for her. Why make it her cause? Doesn't it perfectly illustrate that abstinence only sex ed doesn't work?

Rose Sawyer said...

Last night (September 12, 2011) I watched a debate among the Tea Party-approved Republican presidential candidates. One acronym came up more than I would've expected: HPV. When Rick Perry was governor of Texas in 2007, he signed an executive order requiring Texas girls to receive a vaccine, which prevents the strand of HPV that leads to cervical cancer, before entering the sixth grade. At last night's debate, Michele Bachmann took him to task on the decision: stating, "I’m a mom of three children. And to have innocent little twelve-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong . . . It’s a violation of a liberty interest."

I was shocked that a vaccination that prevents cervical cancer (!) was considered controversial. The friends who I was watching with pointed out that the philosophy behind a resistance to Gardasil (the HPV vaccine) is the same philosophy as that behind abstinence-only education, namely, if youths know how to have safe sex they will be more likely to engage in pre-marital sex.

To me, the obvious problem with this argument is: youths will engage in pre-marital sex, period. If anyone could offer any evidence to the contrary, I would consider it, but studies make it "crystal clear" that abstinence-only sex education does not work. [] Accordingly, to discuss strategies to prevent young people having from having sex seems (a) futile and (b) like a sham/distraction.

I agree: it is lamentable that we spend our time arguing whether or not young people should have sex while they are off doing so, instead of addressing the health issues that go along with sex. The Perry-Bachmann HPV debate epitomizes the problem with abstinence-only education.

A. M. Ayoub said...

I am still shocked when I hear that abstinence-only education is even considered an option, given both the prevalence of sex in society and the serious health consequences of unsafe sex. I think it's horribly irresponsible to promote a course of action that is proven to lead to HIV/AIDS, STDs, unplanned pregnancy, and so on - especially given the HIV/AIDS pandemic that we've been experiencing over the past 30 years. Most troubling to me is how abstinence-only education has been exported to other parts of the world that really can't afford it (i.e. Africa). At the end of the day, I am greatly saddened that public health is so openly (and ironically) compromised in the name of "morality."

Alejandro said...

Given all that we know now about human sexual behavior and given the fact that there is absolutely zero evidence to support the continuation of abstinence-only sex education, it is remarkable that so many people in this country continue to advocate for and support this, at best, useless program aimed at improving public health. Not only does it clearly not work, but it also diverts funding and attention away from potentially useful programs that stress the use of contraceptives and safe sex. I think anyone who truly cares for the health and well-being of our nation's youth will support such comprehensive sex programs rather than cling to old ideas that have been proven to be ineffective and a tremendous waste of public resources.

Sophie said...

I am a product of the abstinence-only sex education and could not agree with this post more. I went to catholic school (both elementary and high school) and the idea of abstinence was the only thing we could discuss. Anyone who brought up birth control or abortion during class was punished (either through discussions with the teacher, detention, or suspension). It was absolutely ridiculous. I am extremely lucky that my parents did not take the same stance on education and we discussed sexual activity / birth control at the appropriate ages. I cannot say the same for other girls in my class though - many of whom became pregnant either in high school or shortly after. Abstinence-only sex ed is so incredibly irresponsible and I've seen it first hand. I truly wish there was a way to encourage change regarding this type of education as it hurts public health and leads to serious consequences.