Teenage sex education is a topic of much debate in America’s schools because sex and its health related issues are prevalent in the lives of so many adolescents. Teenagers’ engagement in sexual activities has led to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases, emotional and psychological injuries, and out-of-wedlock childbearing (Rector, 2002, para. 1). Therefore, schools across the nation have been charged with implementing programs that will educate the young about the risks of engaging in sexual activities before marriage. America’s schools use one of the two commonly known approaches in hopes to deter premarital sex. These approaches are abstinence education and comprehensive sex education. Abstinence education is a type of sex education that places strict emphasis on abstaining from sex until marriage. Comprehensive sex education examines abstinence along with sexual reproductive health education and contraceptives. This paper will examine both approaches and show that comprehensive sex education is the most effective method. Introduction
Sex is a hot topic that reaches many children through the different mediums to include school, internet, radio, and television. An effective way to arm our children with important data concerning sex education is by providing abstinence education in our schools. According to Powezek, in the United States, maturation classes are usually implemented in elementary schools, while sex education is employed in middle school and junior high school (Powezek, 2009, para. 1). Sex education has been incorporated in health programs within schools. Since sex education is funded by the federal government, funding recipients are mandated to follow the government’s declaration during implementation. There are only a few who oppose sex education being taught in school; “A new poll by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government finds that only 7
percent of Americans say sex education should not be taught in schools”(NPR, 2004, para. 1). Although advocates agree that sex education should be taught, controversy exists among the group about the type of program that should be taught.
According to NPR, fifteen percent of advocates believe that sex education should adhere to teaching abstinence until marriage without discussion of alternatives such as condoms and contraception (NPR, 2004, para 2). Forty six percent believes that both abstinence and alternative methods such as condoms and birth controls should be taught. Thirty-six percent of supporters believe that the primary focus should be on how to make responsible decisions concerning sex rather than teaching abstinence only (NPR, 2004, para. 2). The two most popular methods used in schools in the United States are abstinence education and comprehensive sex education.
Although, “no sex is the safest sex,” as described in abstinence education, it does not reiterate the importance of being safe if, and when it is decided to have sex. It is true that having no sex at all is the safest and most effective method, but with the peer pressures of today, there should be an understanding of how to protect themselves against, STDs, emotional and psychological injuries, and out wed lock child bearing. Abstinence education only teaches not to have sex, when there should be involvement of both messages. It should teach a point of not to have sex, but also what precautions that need to be taken to be safe if teens do become sexually involved with an individual. Abstinence Sex Education
The majority of people have heard the slogan, “Say no to drugs.” Similarly, we have heard that one should abstain from sex until marriage. In 1981, during President Ronald Reagan’s administration, the federal government continuously funded sex education programs that suggest refraining from sex until marriage. There has been no research to confirm the program’s effectiveness. However, between the years of 1996 and 2008, Congress approved over $1.5 billion dollars in state and federal funding in support of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Many studies have been done to prove the effectiveness of abstinence only education. It has been proven numerous amounts of times, that this form of sex education does not have an impact on the future sexual behavior of teenagers. A study done by HHS in April 2007 showed, “Teenagers exposed to abstinence-only based programs were not any more likely to abstain from sex, and these teenagers had the same number of partners and became sexually active at the same age as the control group” (Darfinger 2008).
Jemmot et al thought that by creating a new curriculum, it would change the outcome of students engaging in sex education. He followed up with each student that participated in the abstinence program at a three month, six month, and twelve month make. His study proved that the program was effective at the three month follow up, but was no longer successful or provided any impact after this mark (Denny 2006). Abstinence education has been criticized because it denies that many teenagers will become sexually active. The mission of abstinence education is that all children avoid engaging in sexual activities. Abstinence education also fails to teach about contraception or condom use. Although topics of character building, values, and tactics for saying no are discussed, abstinence education fails to educate on issues such as abortions. Diseases are cited as a reason to abstain until marriage rather than a reason to use contraceptives and other methods of protection. “Abstinence has only contributed to a small percentage of the overall decline, and none for teens aged 18-19. For those ages 15-17, abstinence was responsible for about 23 percent of the decline” (Goldin, 2010, para. 3). Comprehensive Sex Education
Comprehensive sex education provides student with a full outlook on sexuality. “Comprehensive sex education provides adolescents with information to make responsible choices concerning their sexual health as well as building knowledge, attitude and skills” (Healthy Teen Network, 2010). Supporters of comprehensive sex education agree with abstinence until marriage. Believers of comprehensive sex education programs believe that many teens will still engage in sexual activities. Therefore, age appropriate alternative methods must be taught as well. These methods include contraception and condom use. Sexually transmitted diseases and Human Immunodeficiency Virus are major discussion topics in a comprehensive sex education setting. Below are startling statistics on why comprehensive sex education must continue to be taught: By their 18th birthday, six in ten teenage women and more than five in ten teenage men have had sexual intercourse. Between 1995 and 2002, the number of teens aged 15–17 who had
ever engaged in sexual intercourse declined 10%. Of the approximately 750,000 teen pregnancies that occur each year, 82% are unintended. More than one-quarter end in abortion.
The pregnancy rate among U.S. women aged 15–19 has declined steadily—from 117 pregnancies per 1,000 women in 1990 to 75 per 1,000 women in 2002. Approximately 14% of the decline in teen pregnancy between 1995 and 2002 was due to teens’ delaying sex or having sex less often, while 86% was due to an increase in sexually experienced teens’ contraceptive use. Despite the decline, the United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world—almost twice as high as those of England, Wales and Canada, and eight times as high as those of the Netherlands and Japan (Guttmaker Institute, 2010). Another study done by the Journal of Adolescent Health shows an excellent diagram on the ratio of teens that participated in a comprehensive sex education course, an abstinence only sex education course, and no sex education course that the only form of education that was successful had a better success rate was the comprehensive sex education course. The numbers on the Venn diagram are numbered as such: the numbers on the outside part of the diagram show the percentage of students who participated in each individual type of course.
So the 66.8% participated in comprehensive sex education, 23.8% participated in abstinence only, and 9.4% did not participate in a sex education course at all. Then the numbers on the inside of the diagram show which percentage of teens that had been pregnant or knew that they made another teen pregnant. So the 53.5% is representation of the comprehensive sex education students engaged in unprotected sex and either was pregnant themselves or had made some pregnant before. The 27.1% is the number of teens that were taught abstinence only who had engaged in unprotected sex and either was pregnant themselves or had made some pregnant before. The 19.4% represent those who had not gotten any type of sex education course at all. If you will notices the only number that is lower than the amount of students taught, is the comprehensive sex education ratio because this form of education increased the amount of teens using contraceptive and also decreased the number of STIs contracted. These statistics prove that without providing students with some sort of knowledge of sex education, the lives of children and teens partaking in sexual activity are being endangered every day.
It must be understood that comprehensive sex education promotes abstinence until marriage, but also effectively tackles the serious concerns of health associated with having unprotected sex. According to public opinion polls, “eighty two percent of adults support comprehensive sex education curriculum that includes information on abstinence and other methods of preventing pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Sexually Transmitted Infections” (Schwarz 2007). Despite these astonishing facts, polls and statistics, the federal government continues to invest millions of dollars into an abstinence only program. Considering the increasing number of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) in teens, restricting funding to abstinence only education is jeopardizing the health and lives of teenagers in the United States (Schwarz 2007). It is critical that teens are provided with an inclusive knowledge about protecting themselves against these things, so that these numbers will decrease in the years to come. Comprehensive sex education supporters do provide explanation to adolescents about the benefits of putting off sex until they are emotionally and physically ready.
Unlike abstinence education, comprehensive education implementers teach these youth how to guard themselves from diseases and pregnancies (Avert, 2010). There are no views to support effectiveness of abstinence only education. However, abstinence education and comprehensive sex education incorporate views offer support to biblical principles. Yes, youth should not involve themselves in sexual activities. Sex before marriage is wrong. The bible tells to “flee fornication” (1 Corinthians 6:18, NIV). Therefore, anyone who participates in sex before marriage has sinned before God. In fact, marriage is the only approval for sex given by God (Hebrews 13:4, NIV). Sex education also provides much more information to teens. It provides information about puberty and the changes that their bodies will endure. It also discusses the psychological impact that puberty and sex has on teens. It talks about the emotional stress of sex as well as other things.
It touches on other sexual pleasures such as masturbation and oral sex. It helps teens to understand what can be expected from a sexual relationship. It helps them determine what is acceptable in a sexual relationship and what is not satisfactory. Some serious topics talked about in a comprehensive sex education course that is not talked about in an abstinence only course are such things as rape. It teaches teens about peer pressure and that it is respectable to say no if you are not ready. It advises that no one is allowed to touch their bodies if it is not what they want or are ready for. These are all very important things that students should know. Conclusion
Sex education should be taught in the schools and in the homes of youth. The method that should be taught still remains a debatable topic. Abstinence education and comprehensive education have good intentions for our young people. “The main difference between abstinence based and comprehensive approaches to sex education is that comprehensive approaches do not focus either solely or so closely on teaching young people that they should abstain from sex until they are married” (Avert, 2010) . Abstinence supporters may further argue that teaching anything other than abstinence violates God’s law. However, reality remains that the need to inform youth of alternative methods is essential because it is evident that these youth are partakers in sex before marriage.
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