Empowering Girls: Abstinence Only Failure

Abstinence Only Sex Education, the news has recently come out, has been a complete and utter failure.

Why? Because though we’ve poured $1 billion into these programs kids kept having sex.

Unprotected sex.

Turns out not educating children about prevention against sexually transmitted diseases has translated into an STD epidemic leaving one out of every 4 American teenagers infected, according to the Center for Disease Control. That’s 3.2 million girls. Nearly half (48% of all African American girls are infected, compared to 20% of white young women.

That’s a big huge consequence for not properly educating them about disease and pregnancy prevention.

These teenagers, 25% of all girls, are now at risk for cervical cancer, Cesarean section to avoid transmission during the birth of a baby, transmitting herpes or HPV to future marital partners, infertility, self esteem and self worth issues, blindness, and death.

The numbers of teen pregnancy did not decrease during our abstinence-only experiment either.

Because we didn’t want to tell them about condoms?

Who is ignorant in this picture? Them for not knowing due to innocence or us for being too afraid to educate them about prevention?

As parents we have to grow some guts to challenge the flawed-logic of generations past. No one wants their kid to have sex. No one thinks teenagers should be sexually active. But, the reality is that it’s not our decision. We can influence their decision by talking about sex as much as possible, leaving an open door for dialogue about sexuality and its consequences, we can even brain wash them with a strong expectation of abstinence as the very best and safest way for them to mature. I’m highly in favor of all that.

But, ultimately, we have to face the fact that it’s a choice we, as parents, have limited control over. We should love them enough, however, to arm them with enough prevention education that we minimize the permanent consequences should they choose to have sex anyway. It’s evident that they are.

There should be 5 goals in sex education in public schools in America.

1. Encourage abstinence as the safest route.
2. Prevent pregnancy.
3. Prevent contraction and spread of STDs.
4. Educating girls about the biological facts of their own bodies. (By avoiding sex education we’ve also left girls ignorant of their own human biology of which they have a right to know.)
5. Educate both girls and boys about sexual assault, date rape, sexual harassment and coercion tactics. We must arm girls with enough knowledge and tactics to demand respect. We must also educate boys about what is offensive and what will not be tolerated in their behavior toward their girl counter-parts. We should at least try to reduce the number of rapists and woman beaters in our society. Studies show that males develop this type of behavior in their youth and continue to escalate during adulthood.

Up before congress is a Prevention First Act (S.21/H.R. 819) which would expand access to contraception and preventative health care services that help reduce unplanned pregnancies, abortions, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases while improving access to women’s health care. It would also provide a federal funding stream for comprehensive sex education in schools. Currently, there are three separate federal programs that fund abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, but no federal funding exists specifically for comprehensive sex education. States can only receive funding if they agree to teach abstinence-only-until-marriage while excluding information about the health benefits of contraception to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The Prevention First Act includes a comprehensive approach to sex education – age appropriate education that promotes abstinence but includes information about contraception.

The consequences of teenage sex very obviously falls more heavily on girls. Girls are more at risk for exploitation, harassment, rape, and prostitution. Girls are at risk for pregnancy. Girls can die of cervical cancer and pass on STDs through the birth canal and shared blood. Girls are at risk of being labeled “sluts” or “whores” trashing their self image, girls are more at risk for quitting school to become mothers, girls are more at risk of becoming dependent on welfare programs, girls are at risk for infertility.

It’s morally wrong to keep putting our girls at risk by not arming them with an expansive education that relates to the issues they face today. We should not pour another single penny into Abstinence Only programs that have failed our girls.

Take action right now by following the Two Minute Activist link at the American Association of University Women encouraging the representatives that work for us to require schools to incorporate comprehensive and effective sex education.

See the press release issued by the Center of Disease Control on March 11.

18 replies
  1. Summer says:

    Great post, absolutely spot on. Abstinence Only is failing teens and young adults. Worse than just not working it is actually working against them. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Richard H says:

    One of the factors I’ve seen is the number of teen women in disfunctional, broken or absent families. As they try to live life with no one to consistently watch out for them they are easily taken advantage of by predatory males. Two helpful strategies would be to:
    1. Focus on strengthening family cohesion.
    2. Finding ways to come alongside and mentor young women who lack reliable adults in their lives.

  3. Tracee says:

    Thank you Summer.

    That is a concern Richard H and those are two very good ideas.

    I very much advocate mentoring.

    We should also be teaching males not to be “predatory” in our sex education courses.

    I think not having fathers in the home is a big component of that as well.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Richard – that’s interesting. I wonder what would happen if we did take that approach? I know most of the girls I know with close-knit, intact families seemed to always be more confident and have more respect for themselves..

    Also, I would like to see some free programs that teach parents how to teach their children about sex..

  5. Violet says:

    Recent studies (I think from the Campaign to Reduce Teen Pregnancy) show that comprehensive sex education that teaches about abstinence AND contraceptive are the most successful at delaying first intercourse, improving contraceptive use and preventing STD transmission and teen pregnancy rates.

    It also showed that providing full information did not hasten first intercourse or increase the frequency of sex among teens. Time to get rational about the issue.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I was raised in the rural south and we even got comprehensive education about std’s and birth control and even birth and delivery. My friend’s mom was the home-ec teacher stuck w/ the curriculum (bless her heart – they were very conservative) but my point is – the information about the technicalities about body parts, pregnancy, std’s etc. did not make us want to run out and have steamy sex in the halls.. Also, she had what we called the ‘shocker’ video in which the couple was gazing into each other’s eyes, hugging around her big belly, holding hands in lamaze class and then cut straight to a full on shot of her vagina pushing out a baby! It came out of nowhere! ugh! The whole class would scream year after year. It was really pretty effective..

  7. Tracee says:

    Thank you Violet for providing the added information.

    Also in the studies Abstinence Only education has shown to be responsible for teenagers engaging in way more anal and oral sex. The logic being that you can’t get pregnant that way.

    As a parent (and a woman), anal sex is not preferable to vaginal sex with a condom. The degredation and pain involved, not to mention the higher risk for STDs.

    This is what happens when you withhold and distort information in an attempt to hold onto innocence.

    Better a comprehensive education (I love the idea that it would include that scary vaginal shot anonymous mentioned – when I was pregnant it was enough to terrify me and I was 27.)

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hey Tracee, it’s Ashley. I keep forgetting to leave my name.

    Yeah, it was pretty traumatic at the time, but funny to think back on. She also had these really, really graphic pictures of std side effects, sores, symptoms, whatever. She would even go all out and give us all the slang names for each and every std.

    She had three teenagers in her house all at once and I think maybe she was trying to scare them to death (us too.)

  9. Tracee says:

    Ainsley and I watched A Baby Story on TLC when I was pregnant and that’s pretty horrifying. They show everything besides the vaginal shot – pain, pushing, terror, complications, crying, late term pregnancy misery. I think that’s pretty educational prevention.

    Not to mention Jon & Kate Plus 8 – where you see a frazzled mom and dad raise twins and triples – as a big huge “warning.” It works for me!

  10. Anonymous says:

    It truly was – I’m sure that they did it on purpose.. There’s absolutely no warning, no labor, no screaming, no pushing, straight from a shot of the lamaze clas to the baby’s head literally popping out..I guess they didn’t want anyone to look away.

    I’ve had two children and I had no desire to see my own come out of my own ‘vajayjay’… I dang sure don’t want to see some other baby come out of some other vajayjay!

  11. two thumbs up says:

    I’m fairly sure that in Australia the catholic schools are the only ones that teach Abstinence Only sex education. I myself, am anti Abstinence only education because I think knowledge is power.

    I went to a uniting church school and 16 years ago, when I was sixteen, my school took us on a field trip to the family planning association, which I thought at the time (and still do now) was very forward thinking of them.

    Although I really enjoy your blog, Tracee, and MOSTLY agree with your views, I have to say that it’s fairly irresponsible not post a link or at least quote your sources for your claims that 25% of American teens have an STD. Although not impossible I find that statistic fairly hard to believe, and will not believe it without sources.

  12. Tracee says:

    It is pretty unbelievable Two Thumbs up.

    I usually take listing sources pretty seriously – I overlooked it in a rush. My bad and thanks for pointing it out and thanks for caring about the source. (It has been in the news so much that I felt like the last one to tell you, so it’s probably an omission via “I thought everyone already knew.”)

    Here are several news sources:

    The original source is the Center for Disease Control. Here is the press release citing that 3.2 million girls have been infected with at least one STD, most commonly HPV, the virus thought to cause cervical cancer : http://www.cdc.gov/stdconference/2008/media/release-11march2008.htm

    MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23574940/

    One of the sources I have in front of me isn’t online (which annoys me every time I quote from it, they only put a sampling of the articles online) is O, The Oprah Magazine from March. Still on the stands for a few days.

    That article cites a study at University of Oxford reviewing 13 abstinence-only HIV prevention programs and more than 15,000 youth. Not one of the programs had successfully reduced the HIV rate.

    That article also cited Jon Sancelli, MD chair of the department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health who reviewed the abstinence only curriculum and found medically inaccurate information in them.

    Two equated using condoms to Russian Roulette, implying that one fails every six times and another stated they only delay, not prevent, someone from getting AIDS. The true medical information is that condoms fail only 4% of the time and condoms reduce the risk of HIV by 80%.

    Don’t worry Two Thumbs, no one on the planet agrees with all of my views. That’s not required to participate here. I also reserve the right to change my thinking. No one is always right.

  13. Michael Ejercito says:

    While there are good reasons for teens to delay sexual activity, they will grow up and they will have sex unless they are some sort of freak or loser. That is why contraceptive information is important.

  14. Tracee says:

    That’s a good point.

    We need to remember that we don’t really want our children not to have sex EVER. We want them to do it when they grow up and choose to have a family.

    I don’t know about your family, but in mine, we enjoy having all the information and knowledge about birth control so we have some control over when we have children. Condoms work at any age or life status.

  15. Dionesia says:

    Not necessarily abstain from sexual activity but strictly observe protection since you can’t be assured that your partner is well protected and don’t have hpv strain. Safety first is above anything else consideration. You’ll be the one to suffer the consequences.

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