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When it comes to education in the United States, we excel in a lot of places, such as mathematics, science, and English are just a few to name. However, health class seems to be one of those classes that students do not really pay attention in. Even worse, when the subject of Sexual Education comes up that one week or one semester of the year, it can cause students to squirm and parents to turn green. In the United States, sexual education is not required, and is also considered taboo to teach in middle and high schools.
Throughout the world, there are three ways that sexual education is taught, abstinence only, comprehensive, and abstinence plus are the three that are approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human services. Because this is a subject that is slowly becoming a national conversation, a very important question has been raised many times. This is which is the best form of teaching sex education, and which has the best results, abstinence, comprehensive, or abstinence plus?
The most widely understood form of sex education is the abstinence only method.
Abstinence only they teach chastity and abstinence is the only way to completely prevent pregnancy and STD’s and that is the expected cultural and social norm. In an article from the Los Angeles times by Michael L. Broker (MD), “As a physician, I know the life-changing consequences of uninformed choices that lead to unplanned pregnancies and STDs, including HIV and AIDS. Even in 1999, abstinence is the only 100% reliable way to prevent them.
” (Broker) This is true; abstaining from sex is the only way to have no chance of life changing consequences. Brigid McKeon from Advocates for Youth writes, “Each year, U.S. teens experience as many as 850,000 pregnancies, and youth under age 25 experience about 9.1 million sexually transmitted infections.” (McKeon) Those are rather startling numbers, so it is no wonder many parents and teachers promote abstinence only education. Abstinence only sex education also provides vows of chastity within the programs, where males and females pledge to abstain until marriage. Jason Evert takes McKeon’s research and puts it into action on chastity.com, a website funded by the Catholic Church to help teens and parents understand the difficulties regarding sexuality and how to keep yourself safe. They define chastity as, “Chastity is about saying “yes” to God’s plan for our sexuality. No matter where he is in his life, a chaste person masters his sexual feelings, and knows how to express them at the proper times” (Evert). However, there is no consistent statistical data that proves that chastity and abstinence do, or do not work.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding abstinence only sex education, because there has been a lot of speculation that it is connected to health and psychological problems, as well as the idea itself is not effective. Toni Brayer, MD conducted research on chastity vows from students from middle school to their senior year of high school. “By 2001, they found 82% of those who took the pledge had broken it. More than half of both groups had engaged in sexual activity and they had an average of 3 sexual partners… They did find one difference, however. Unfortunately the kids who took the pledge were less likely to use a condom or any other form of contraception.” (Brayer) While this method promotes abstinence, it leaves out crucial details about sex, such as sexual health, the reproductive system, birth control options, and effectiveness, etc. In Heidi Adams and Lela Williams book Children and Youth Services Review, they refute many of the ideas of abstinence only education, stating, “The Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS supports abstinence as the most effective and preferred method to avoid unwanted pregnancy and STI exposure, yet calls into ethical question some of the key theoretical assumptions of abstinence-based programming.” (Adams, Williams, 1,876). They are saying that there are a lot of things they are purposefully keeping from teenagers that are crucial to their sexual health, and it does not really affect them in a positive way or benefit them when they may actually need it. There is also a lot of controversy regarding the reason we have abstinence only sex education in the first place. Abstinence only education began in 1981 when Ronald Reagan signed the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) “Through AFLA, the federal government for the first time invested on a small scale in local programs designed to prevent teenage pregnancy by encouraging “chastity and self-discipline” among teenagers.” (Daliard, Web). In recent years the bill has been heavily scrutinized because of the large amount of funding from Catholic and Christian organizations, and the religious undertones of the bill itself.
Comprehensive sexual education is the least popular form of sex education to be taught in schools. This is defined as, “teaches about abstinence as the best method for avoiding STDs and unintended pregnancy, but also teaches about condoms and contraception to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and of infection with STDs, including HIV. It also teaches interpersonal and communication skills and helps young people explore their own values, goals, and options.” (Alford, Web). Basically, it provides more information on what to do when you have sex, without pushing abstinence on you. In Darlene Hines Effectiveness of a Theory Based Comprehensive Sexual Education Program at a Baltimore City High School, she conducted a study based on comprehensive sexual education. At Baltimore City High School she researched how it worked in a real setting. She concluded, “It was imperative for the adolescents to believe that they were at risk for pregnancy and STIs, and become aware of the seriousness of the potential outcomes of engaging in sexual activity. (Hines, 4) Once the teenagers understood the potential consequences to their actions they became much more aware of what they were doing. Regardless of how popular this has a potential of being, it is the least popular of the three when it comes to school districts and their teaching styles. Verity Stevenson quotes Alex McKay, the executive director of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada further confirms Hines research, in regards to Canada’s recent change in sexual education, “There is less discomfort because there is an acceptance that adolescents are sexually active…educational institutions are reluctant to have their sex ed viewed as permissive or as promoting sexual activity”(Stevenson). However, because there are so many rules and regulations surrounding comprehensive sex education, many schools do not teach sex education at all, or they simply choose abstinence only as the primary method of teaching, making it the least popular method of sex education.
The third and final form of sexual education is Abstinence plus Education. The main goal of abstinence plus education is “Programs which include information about contraception and condoms in the context of strong abstinence messages.” (Alford, Web.) Abstinence plus education not only teaches teens and young adults about the importance of birth control, but at the same time they promote abstinence until marriage programs, without chastity vows. C. Kripke states in American Family Physician on the subject of Abstinence plus preventing HIV and aids infections, “Based on limited data, abstinence-plus programs increase knowledge, reduce pregnancy rates, and decrease incidence of unprotected sex and frequency of sex.” (Kripke, 955) Based on numerous statistics and test results it is no wonder that Abstinence Plus Education is the most popular form of sexual health education in the United states, and has proven to be more effective. Morgan Smith of the New York Times agrees, stating, “The more you know about your body, how to make better decisions and choices, the better decisions that adolescents make…the more we demystify it, the more we talk about it, the better.” (Smith) In other words, the more informed people are, the more precautions they will take to be safe.
Sex education is obviously a very important factor in health education in high schools, and according to studies, statistics and personal data, the Abstinence plus programs are the best way to teach sexual education. This is because they not only teach about the importance of understanding the health factors that come with sex, but also the risks, and how to protect yourself if you do chose to have sex. For example, the dangers and risks of pregnancy, STD’s, diseases and psychological trauma without withholding important information or giving misleading data are things that make this program stick out. Around the world, countries are seeing that the way we teach about sexual health needs to change, including the United States, and abstinence plus education may very well be the future.
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