Sex education has been a cause for much debate with respect to its effectiveness in reducing teenage pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. There are conflicting views as to which is the ideal strategy to reduce the problem of teenage pregnancies and other negative outcomes. There are those that believe advocating for abstinence is much more effective than sex education. However, counter arguments have been put forward asserting that if abstinence was advocated without adequate sex education in schools, then it would have not impact in mitigating the problem. This paper critically examines the impacts of sex education in contrast to those of advocating for abstinence in reducing teenager and un-safe sexual practices.
Sexual Education vs. Abstinence Only Programs
The dilemma of when and how teenagers should be made aware of sex and its implications has been an area of protracted debate. Different communities and cultures have broached the subject of teenage engagement in sex in different ways. The administration of sex education should consider various factors including the values entrenched in the communities’ cultural practices and beliefs. In most cases, parents or certain community members such as immediate family members including aunts and uncles have had the role of educating teenagers on sexual matters. The modern social dynamics has for the most part left parents exceedingly busy to have enough time to educate their children on issues regarding sex and positive sexual behavior. Consequently, school-based sex education has been introduced to compliment the education that is imparted by parents in their family context. The moral behavior of teenagers in society is not just a matter for parents, but is a concern for the community, social and religious groups that are integrated with the community.
Sex education emphasizes on a number of issues, primary among them, the right age that a person should have sex and in what contexts. The promotion of safe-sexual practices is further reinforced through teaching students on issues such as contraception and safe sex practices. The development of human body is a major issue for most children who are just becoming teenagers. While such children may not have the right social interaction with their parents or close family members to educate them on the changes that occur in their bodies, school-based sex education provided the needed forum for such an education (Hauser). Sex-education contributes towards safe sex practices through creating awareness on the human anatomy and explaining the hormonal changes that occur in their bodies and how to make appropriate adjustments. The development and presentation of school-based sex education ensures that community values and beliefs are augmented through the creation of an understanding of the issues that can result in negative outcomes. In essence, sex education creates teenagers who understand, accept and appreciate the sexual diversity that is prevalent in their communities. Considering that there are more LGBT people in the community, sex educations contributes significantly in the development of an open mind that accepts the different people that are in society.
The proponents of sex-abstinence before marriage argue that sex education promotes unsafe sexual behavior causing increased incidents of teenage pregnancies, and sexual transmitted diseases (Klein). They argue that schools should promote abstinence only education programs that contribute towards making teenagers abstain from sexual activities prior to marriage. Essentially, they argue that through abstinence, teenagers can be guaranteed not to face the risk of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
However, research has indicated that teenagers subjected to abstinence only programs have a higher rate of teenage pregnancies and STD infections. These outcomes are attributed to the fact that abstinence programs fail to n integrates detailed sex education that satisfies teenagers ‘curiosity regarding the subject. Hence the inadequate information on sexuality causes teenagers to explore their sexuality resulting in more negative health outcomes and teenage pregnancies (Klein). However, pro-abstinence programs intimate that they are more effective in reducing such incidents since they only teach age appropriate children on the significance of abstaining until marriage.
These programs emphasize that the only sure way to avoid becoming pregnant or contacting a sexually transmitted disease is to abstain from sexual activity until marriage (Klein). In addition, the intimate that engaging in pre-marital sex results in numerous physical, emotional and psychological problems. The implications of bearing a child when one is not ready to become a parent are emphasized to reinforce the argument against sex education. Advocates for abstinence education programs assert that sex education promotes unsafe sexual education; however, this is not the case considering that adequately educated students are able to discern which practices are safe or unsafe (Santelli et al).
Though sex education is vital, its impact on most students is that it results in more distorted perception of sexuality. In addition, most of them become confused with respect to issues such as safe-sex practices and the right use of contraceptives. In most cases, the most that is put across is that young people are prohibited to have sex until they are married (Hauser). The popularity of abstinence education programs is premised on the fact that most communities are guided by religious morals and ethics that emphasize on purity until marriage. In addition, such programs are likely to get the support of community members and parents who are uncomfortable with the entire concept of sex education.
The abstinence only programs do not have the desired results most of the time considering that they present biased perspectives with respect to sex educations and most views that are put forwards are premised on religious precepts that some students may not prescribe to. The fact that such programs are funded by most states further promotes the perception that it is the only viable and applicable form of sex education since it challenges individual moral and social ethics (Santelli et al). Unlike other school-based sex education programs, abstinence programs emphasize on the mental, physical and psychological implications that can result from engaging in sexual activities. Considering that such programs integrate a conservative stance on sexuality, it is highly likely that they do not address issues that affect people of a different sexual persuasion such as LGBT students. Their goal is to repress sexuality instead of making sure that student’s understand it in order to deal with it accordingly.
Concepts such as virginity pledges and abstinence vows are expected to keep students in check in certain school or community setting (Bearman 271). However, while the setting within which such young people live is changed, it is highly likely that they will engage in unsafe sexual practices. For instance, if young people in a high school those teaches abstinence only graduate and leave for college where they are not bound by the social and moral limitations of their previous school and community setting, it is highly likely that they will engage in unsavory sexual practices (Bearman 273). It can be argued such people who have experienced sexual repression for the most part of their teenage and young lives are likely to explore and partake in sexual activities that could be unsafe.
An examination of sex education programs has indicated that they contribute towards the reduction of sexual activity frequencies, delayed the onset of sex related activities and enhanced the use of safe sex practices including the use of condoms and contraceptives. Various researches have concluded that the administration of comprehensive sex education does not cause students to engage in sexual activities or become active sexually (Malone and Rodriguez). Instead such programs promote enhancement of behavior among culturally diverse students.
Kohler et al, (344) examined the “National Survey of Family Growth” with the aim of determining the implication of sex education on risky sexual behavior among students aged 15 to 19 years old. The study concluded that among those that received comprehensive sex education, 50% of them were less likely to get pregnant in contrast to those who received abstinence only education. Kirby examined various studies aimed to determine the impact of sex education on teen pregnancies. The study observed that over two thirds of the schools that offered comprehensive sex education had positive outcomes (Kirby). There was a 40% increase in delayed sexual initiation, reduction of sex partners and increase in safe sex practices. In addition, there was a 30% reduction in sexual activity among the students and 60% reduction of unprotected sexual activity (Kirby).
In contrast to comprehensive sex education programs, abstinence only programs were not found to have similar results (Malone and Rodriguez). Studies have shown that schools that administered abstinence only education programs did not record any improvements in behavior change with respect to sexual activity, sexual activity initiation and safe sex practices. In most schools that were examined, it was discovered that the abstinence only programs only emphasized that young people should not engage in sexual activities until they were married(Malone and Rodriguez). The abstinence only programs did not delve into details with respect to sex education or the rationale for safe sex practices. In addition, students were prohibited to make sexual references or talk about the use of contraceptives.
These shows that the abstinence only programs integrate moral precepts that are guided by the teacher’s perception or position on the matter (Hauser). Unlike comprehensive sex education that is part of the school curriculum, abstinence only programs are ineffective in challenging young people to change their sexual behavior and adopt safer sexual practices. In a study commissioned by the US Department of Health and Human services, it was concluded that “no evidence that abstinence programs implemented in upper elementary and middle schools are effective in reducing the rate of teen sexual activity” (Trenholm et al. ). Essentially, the study determined that there was no significant difference between students in abstinence only programs and those that are not enrolled in any program at all.
Abstinence programs often fail because they do not adopt and education perspective in teaching students about their sexuality, instead they assume a moral position asserting that it is wrong to have sex before marriage and students should not think, talk or engage in sexual activities (Trenholm et al). Considering that the lack of adequate information and the rebellious nature of most teenagers, it is highly likely that a moral stand on sexual behavior instead of a factual representation of issues will result in rebellion (Hauser). Students will likely seek to experience the forbidden act as a result of curiosity and exploration. Considering that even the mention of condoms or contraceptives is prohibited, such student would not have adequate knowledge to practice safe sex resulting in teenage pregnancies and high probability of STDs. By telling students to only say no without giving them a good enough reason may not make sense, it is vital for students to know why a practice that is allowed among adults, is prohibited for them.
In addition, the assertion that if a young person engages in pre-marital sexual activity will likely suffer mental and psychological health problems is unconvincing especially considering the number of adults engaging in the practice and are not married and yet they seem normal in all respects. It is prudent to present an education program that has factual support and evidence regarding the subject matter (Malone and Rodriguez). For instance, comprehensive sex education programs often integrate the support of various materials in teaching sex education to students and may include being shown the outcomes of unprotected sex. The use of literature and video materials have been found to be effective especially when it comes to showing students how STDs can affect a person’s health(Santelli et al). Therefore, the mere mention to students that one should not have sex but does not presented authentic reason only causes teenagers to find out through practice.
The development of sex education program should take into consideration that social and cultural dynamics have changed significantly and it is not possible to force certain values or morals on people who may not subscribe to similar views (Santelli et al). Consequently, abstinence only programs only serve to aggravate the situation instead of making it better. Unlike the comprehensive sex education that considers that diversity of the students and sub-groups in the community, abstinence only programs attempt to force the issue instead of providing young people with adequate and relevant information that will convince them to change their attitudes and behavior with respect to sexual activity.
The application of comprehensive sex education programs in schools has a significant impact in promoting positive sexual outcomes through a reduction in sexual activity and initiation among young people. In addition, it promotes an increase in the use of safe sex methods among young people. While an ideal social dynamic would have everyone adhering to the same moral standard of abstaining until marriage, the modern social dynamic includes people from different cultures, traditions and values. Hence it is not possible to make everyone abstain from sex until marriage.
Abstinence only programs are not just ineffective; they are unreliable in influencing change in sexual behavior among young people. The implementation of comprehensive sex education is the ideal solution to the problem considering that students are adequately informed and provided with the knowledge that is critical towards their decision making processes in as afar asexual matter are concerned. Forcing students to behave in a certain way may not be the right approach; however, the provision of facts and information regarding the outcomes of sexual activities can have a significant impact in promoting behavior change. Therefore, it is better to implement a comprehensive sex education program instead of an abstinence only program that may not work and could only result on loss of time and money.