The Three Forms of Sex Education in the United States

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.

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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.

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(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.

 

Works Cited

  1. Brayer, Toni. “Teen Chastity Vows Don’t Work.” Emax Health. N.p., 2008. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.
  2. Broeker, Michael L. “Abstinence-Only Sex Education:.” Los Angeles Times 10 Aug. 1999: A6. Print.
  3. Daliard, Cynthia. “Sex Education: Politicians, Parents, Teachers and Teens.” Guttmatcher Report Guttmatcher Institute, Feb. 2001. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.
  4. Evert, Jason. “What is chastity?.” Chastity.com. Catholic Answers Chastity Outreach, Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
  5. Hines, Darlene V. Effectiveness of a Theory Based Comprehensive Sexual Education Program at a Baltimore City High School. Morgantown, West Virginia: n.p., 2013. 4. Print.
  6. Kripke, C. American Family Physician. Vol. 77. United States: American Academy of General Practice, 2008. 955. Print.
  7. McKeon, Brigid. “Effective Sex Education.” Advocates for Youth. Advocates for Youth, 2006. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
  8. “Sex Education Programs: Definitions & Point-by-Point Comparison.” Advocates for Youth. Ed. Sue Alford. Advocates for Youth, 201. Web. 3 Mar. 2016.
  9. Smith, Morgan. “More Schools Choose to Teach Abstinence-Plus: [National Desk].” New York Times Company 16 Sept. 2011: A21. Print.
  10. Stevenson, Verity. “Europe leads the way in sexual education.” The Globe & Mail division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.11 Sept. 2015: L3. Print.
  11. Williams, Lela, and Heidi Adams. Children and Youth Services Review. Pheonix, Arizona: Arizona State University, 2011. 1876. Print.

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Broeker, Michael L. “Abstinence-Only Sex Education:.” Los Angeles Times 10 Aug. 1999: A6. Print.
    Michael Broker was a concerned parent as well as a physician who wrote an article in the Los Angeles times to talk about why he supported abstinence only sex education. He used his own personal opinion to form some of his views on abstinence, such as his religious affiliation and his personal stance as a doctor. He used statistical data to back up his opinion claims and make a valid point, which is abstinence is the only way to avoid accidents all together when it comes to sex.
  2. McKeon, Brigid. “Effective Sex Education.” Advocates for Youth. Advocates for Youth, 2006. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
    This article not only talked about the importance of sex education as a whole, but also gave statistical data on why it needs to be taught in the first place. In other words, how many pregnancies, and STD’s people can contact or get in one fiscal year. In addition, it also gave the three types of education, the pros and cons of each, and unbiased data on the successes of all three. It also supported an unbiased tone that is required when researching for an essay in such a biased field.
  3. Williams, Lela, and Heidi Adams. Children and Youth Services Review. Pheonix, Arizona: Arizona State University, 2011. 1876. Print.
    If there was one thing gathered from this entire study, it was that abstinence is not proven to be effective because there is not enough strong data for it. This was the first of many sources that pointed this out, and it did so in a way that also shows that what health teachers tell you and what is actually true do not exactly line up when it comes to abstinence education, because of misleading or wrong information designed to scare you out of sexual activity. Which calls upon the ethics that are used to talk about sex to high schoolers and how it should be taught versus how it is actually taught.
  4. Evert, Jason. “What is chastity?.” Chastity.com. Catholic Answers Chastity Outreach, Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
    This gave a definition of chastity from a Catholic group that is funded by the Catholic Church of America, showing that it is a legitimate source for the Catholic stance on chastity. The website also has blogs and articles about different topics about sex, but also gave a clear definition of what chastity was like on the extreme side of abstinence education, which was important because there are extremes to all three of these programs and how they are handled.
  5. Brayer, Toni. “Teen Chastity Vows Don’t Work.” Emax Health. N.p., 2008. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.
    Like Hines study in Baltimore, this study was a little more informal because it was worked on over a span of roughly six years. It proves that people will break vows of chastity as if that were not bad enough. But the graveness of the situation was much worse, because the teens were uninformed, they did not use a form of contraception during intercourse, which is proof of misleading propaganda in the health industry for teens. In the end they all had an average of three partners in a span of six years, proving they did not only break their chastity vow once, they broke it multiple times.
  6. Daliard, Cynthia. “Sex Education: Politicians, Parents, Teachers and Teens.” Guttmatcher Report Guttmatcher Institute, Feb. 2001. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.
    This was especially important because it talks about the birth of sex education as a whole, why it was conceived in the first place and how that affects us now. It talks about the bill, why it was ,made into law, how that affected schools, and students, the ongoing results of it and how it is viewed by modern people today. More importantly how it still affects schools and what we can do to change things as a country.
  7. “Sex Education Programs: Definitions & Point-by-Point Comparison.” Advocates for Youth. Ed. Sue Alford. Advocates for Youth, 201. Web. 3 Mar. 2016.
    This was just a clear cut, run of the mill, definition of what comprehensive sexual education means and the pros and cons of it being taught. The source was useful because it used statistical data but also held a continual unbiased tone, and even told why it was considered so unpopular, while still continuing to hold non bias. The article itself talked about many different ways this was helpful to teens but also the reasons parents did not want it being taught in school. This was for reasons ranging as far from rules and regulations by state and why parents thought it was a too liberal way to teach about something as potentially dangerous as sex.
  8. Hines, Darlene V. Effectiveness of a Theory Based Comprehensive Sexual Education Program at a Baltimore City High School. Morgantown, West Virginia: n.p., 2013. 4. Print.
    This one was especially important because it was a real world study on how this specific for of education worked in a setting where results were especially needed. In the article, they show step by step the process they went through with this school and the positive and negative responses that came out of it. This all came with statistical data that proved the success of the experiment as well as the personal stories and outcomes from the teens involved in it.
  9. Stevenson, Verity. “Europe leads the way in sexual education.” The Globe & Mail division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.11 Sept. 2015: L3. Print.
    This talks about how other countries are beginning to see the harsh reality of the situation that they are facing, and if they continue to ignore it, there are going to be drastic consequences for the country and for the youth that live in it. It talks about that while sex should not necessarily be encouraged; it is a fact that no one is just going to stop having it. And because abstinence only causes problems, it is better to inform the youth than to hide sex from the youth all together.
  10. Kripke, C. American Family Physician. Vol. 77. United States: American Academy of General Practice, 2008. 955. Print.
    Because there is limited to nonexistent data about abstinence and chastity programs working, this source delved into why abstinence plus programs have proved to have more success than the latter. They go into detail about the combination of the two programs teaches teens that sex is a natural thing, and they give them ways and proper data to back up why you should protect yourself and how you should protect yourself rather than try and give you misleading information. They do this while teaching people that their self worth does not deteriorate if they do chose to have sex, but they should wait until they are safe and ready to take on the responsibility of doing so. In all reality, this situation combines all three basic ideas of teaching and is seen as the best of both worlds.
  11. Smith, Morgan. “More Schools Choose to Teach Abstinence-Plus: [National Desk].” New York Times Company 16 Sept. 2011: A21. Print.
    This is just another concerned parent on the idea of sex education. They chose to understand the reality of the situation, people are going to have sex, and as long as they understand their bodies, and it is not a taboo labeled subject and people do not continue to be afraid to talk about it, then people will grow to be fine with it. In the end, what is good for the youth trumps what the parents want their children to be taught morally. The more we know, and the more we do not try to make it something that it is not, the safer and more educated teens will be.

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The Three Forms of Sex Education in the United States. (2021, Oct 10). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-three-forms-of-sex-education-in-the-united-states-essay

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