I come to you this evening as a former teacher, parent, and concerned community member to speak against the present sex education curriculum that emphasizes abstinence only. To put it simply, it does not work. While there is nothing wrong with abstinence, it needs to be seen as a tool for preventing the spread of STDs and unwanted pregnancies and not as the only tool we give to our children. You wouldn’t try to build a house with only a screwdriver, so why would you teach a student that the only way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STDs is only through abstinence? It makes no sense.
I am a former teacher of both English and health in the states of Florida and South Carolina. I taught at both the middle school and high school levels. In both of those states, abstinence only education is the norm. I personally taught students, 7th and 8th graders in particular, who already had one or two children of their own by the time they reached my classroom. At the high school level, I witnessed the same pattern. Part of this was due to the educational system failing them by only offering abstinence as a way of avoiding getting pregnant. While abstinence is the only way to absolutely guarantee not getting pregnant, it is not the only way. When I saw groups such as the one that comes into our schools come into schools where I taught, it was cringeworthy to say the least.
For one, they painted the girls as the cause for abstinence failure while leaving the boys off the hook. Much like the recent gum demonstration by the group within our schools, female students were painted as promiscuous seductresses who lead boys into having sex as they had sex with one boy, but saw no reason why they should not have sex with another. The males are somehow always seen as the victims. This is not only misogyny, but also mixes in fundamentalist Old Testament blame for the fall of man due to women. Last I checked, it takes both genders to have sex that can possibly result in pregnancy.
Second, as mammals and primates, we humans are naturally curious about our bodies and those of others around us. Teenagers have been experimenting with their sexuality most likely since the dawn of the human race. Many times, it starts as self-exploration, but it can evolve into exploring it with someone else. When and if that occurs, we owe it to our children to give them the tools aside from abstinence to practice safe sex. This means to tell them about contraceptive methods and, if possible, make them easily available for them to obtain. If we do not, they will not know about them or, if they do happen to learn about them, will be too scared to obtain them. In doing so, they will place themselves at risk for an unplanned pregnancy and possibly STDs.
Third, one of the most ludicrous things that the program presently being used suggests is the idea of “reclaimed virginity”. Hate to break it to you, but that is not possible. Once an individual has sexual intercourse, he or she is no longer a virgin. He or she cannot become a virgin again. Maybe celibate, but not a virgin. A girl’s hymen does not miraculously regrown nor does the semen somehow re-enter the boy. An amusing anecdote to this is a conversation I overheard two of my 7th graders having one day. It was shortly after the group there had performed their “education” for the students. One girl told her friend that she was no longer a virgin. The other asked who she had sex with. The first girl responded that she hadn’t had sex, but simply used a tampon, so she was no longer a virgin. They looked up and saw that I was standing behind them. Having built a rapport with my students, I asked them to remain after class. I called in a female teacher from an adjoining room and we explained to them that virginity could only be lost through having sexual intercourse. While I haven’t heard the claim made by the local group, it is made by some. That type of misinformation, aside from being misinformation, can also cause harm to a student psychologically and possibly even socially. Can you imagine if it had gone around a school of 1500 that someone was no longer a virgin when that was not the case?
Fourth, that brings me to the whole shaming that the abstinence only education produces. Making students sign a pledge to remain abstinent and even going as far as encouraging purity rings sets many students up for failure and ridicule from their peers. Well, at least the female students. Male students still get away with breaking them under the whole “boys will be boys” excuse malarkey. Girls face the brunt of the shaming when it comes to this area between self-talk if she should engage in sex to the social gossip that goes on within our schools. The teenage years are painful enough without adding shame to them. An article in Psychology Today from September 2017 brings up the practice of “slut shaming” that is prevalent in these abstinence only programs. One example they gave was one that I personally witnessed as a teacher where the group presenting had each student write whether or not she or he were a virgin. No names were given. The presenter made a similar comment made in the article by saying that “all the students who were not virgins likely had STDs and wouldn’t finish high school”. Seriously?!? The students I mentioned at the beginning of my talk all graduated or earned their GEDs, by the way.
Fifth, these abstinence only programs ignore that there may be some students who are sexually active already and, thus, in doing so, do not give them access to contraceptive methods or ways to prevent STDs. That was also backed up by the article from Psychology Today.
Many students cannot rely on their parent(s)/guardian(s) to educate them about sex or contraception. It is up to the schools to do this. Abstinence only education fails to do this and, by failing to do this, it fails our children. We cannot have groups like the one being used to teach our children. It would be much better to have the local health department send someone to do this or even reach out to the Education, Biology or Medical programs in local universities like Syracuse, LeMoyne, or SUNY Upstate to send in professionals to teach our youth. Theology and religious based programs do not belong in the public schools. If parents want them, then the parents should either have their children in private religious schools or arrange for their faith leaders to teach them and exempt them from science-based sex education. That is what this all boils down to after all. Yes, abstinence is the only sure fire way to prevent pregnancy and reduce the chances of students developing and STD or STI. However, it is not the only way and our students deserve all the tools they may need rather than just a screwdriver.
Mintz, Laurie. “Abstinence-Only Sex Ed: Harmful? Unethical?”. Psychology Today. September 5, 2017. .