What About Abstinence Only Sex Education?
Unwed births and the resulting social and financial consequences cost American tax payers 20 billion dollars annually. Because of that and because of the emotional and religious implications, researchers and educational experts have for years tried to reduce the incidents of premarital sex and lower the age when children first begin. Over the years this has led to sex education in the schools which began as an anatomy class and then moved to giving students sexual information. When the argument for separation between church and state erupted, teachers of sex education classes were instructed to teach without attaching value to sexual behavior.
This resulted in a “factual,” approach to sex and sexual conduct. This trend frightened religious or other conservative people and resulted in the demand that sex education, if it occurred at all in the public schools, consist of instruction which emphasized sexual abstinence as the prime objective. Now, the latest in this strange course of events includes reports that programs which emphasize abstinence only do not work well. That is, even when instruction emphasizes sexual abstinence, the newest reports indicate that children are having sex as young as before and the numbers who participate in it appear to be similar to what studies reported several years ago.
So, what is the right thing to do? In pursuit of an answer, many have decided that trying to stop students from sexual activity is impossible and frame their conclusion by the following question. Would sex before marriage be harmful to anyone if it didn’t result in pregnancy? Those who do not think so suggest sex education should include information about contraceptives and other measures to prevent pregnancy. This appears to reduce the rates of premarital pregnancies. That is a good thing.
In my experience, however, it is not the complete answer. For many people, premarital sex leads to troubling emotional issues for those who participate in it. Some of these include guilt, difficulty in being confident they are loved, a dependence on others, anxiety about themselves, and concern about trust. These, of course, can limit the success of a future relationship and there is some research data suggesting that people who engage in premarital sex might also be more likely to engage in extramarital affairs.
What do we do with children? I believe that children are best taught about sex by their parents. They are taught best when sexual knowledge is accompanied by a strong set of positive values which emphasize sex as an important part of human life. Children need to understand that sex can help people in their relationships and it can have harmful consequences for many people people including themselves, their families, and unborn children. Children do best when they are taught to see sex as an inclusive part of a committed and loving relationship which has many guarantees of being stable and lasting. Children tend to manage and regulate themselves better when parents teach that sexual abstinence is a desirable outcome.
They manage themselves better when sexual self control is tied to a belief in a loving deity, to a sense of self mastery, and where sex is defined as a symbol of love, and love means to regulate yourself so you never hurt the other person.
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