Dr. A. Lynn Scoresby
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What About Abstinence Only Sex Education?

November 9th, 2007 by Lynn


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.

Any thoughts?

Posted in Education

5 Responses

  1. David McLaren

    I’m 18 and never had sex. I was taught only abstinence in class. However only until I started working at a Learning Center for kids and we had Planned Parenthood come over and talk to the kids did I ever learn what’s important.

    Teaching kids is to inform them, not to try and force them into a choice. I’m not saying abstinence is bad, but if that’s all we teach, like my grade school career did to me, it’s not gonna stop kids from having sex, it’s just gonna leave them unprepared and unknowledgeable. Thus the school system has failed.

    I’d rather be informed and no my options rather than not be told anything.

  2. Anon Cowrd.

    I was taught sex-ed in a purely biological format, with some explanation of psychological and physical ramifications. I was in no way of the opinion that sex before marriage was a bad thing, but that sex was something that you should be sure of before diving in, that there were outcomes which could have serious impact on your future. I lost my virginity at about 22, about 10 years ago, with someone I cared very much for and have not once regretted it.
    It’s a difficult topic to broach with young people, I think that yes, parents should be the ones to tell their kids, but also, I think that the school system should also back that up with good independent teaching, as, let’s be honest, our parents are not infallible. Some try to insulate their kids from the world around them, and then send them out ignorant of what is going on. Some parents are malicious towards their kids (sad but true).
    I think that bringing a “loving deity” into the mix is totally unnecessary. I believe that an individual should be taught to make their own moral decisions without the threat of divine retribution hanging over them. Puberty is difficult enough without having guilt foisted upon you.
    Education allows children to make their own decisions. Show them the path, give them a map, but don’t frog-march them down it.

  3. Sean

    All well and good except for that last bit. Kids should be told about sex, either by their parents, or failing that by sex ed. Let’s not pull the loving deity into this please, what about the atheists or Buddhists out there?
    But that little qualm aside, kids should know all they can about safe sex so they can make their own decisions wisely.

  4. Erik

    Interesting perspective. I feel I should point out that you seem to be assuming that a correlation between premarital and extramarital sex is causal (i.e. that performing premarital sex leads to performing extramarital sex). That’s not necessarily a correct assumption. Without more data, it’s just as easily the case (if not more so) that it simply means that promiscuous people are promiscuous whether or not they’re married; It’s not necessarily the case that being promiscuous in one area leads to it in another area.

  5. Scott

    I can see and agree with most of the points that have been made. But I think that instead of just pointing out to kids/teenagers how to have safe sex we need them to realize what kind of decision they are making. Sure there are ways of having safe sex but one little slip up can result in major unwanted consequences. People need to realize when having sex that there is a possibility that they are not the only ones who will be affected by they decision. I know of too many people or families who don’t have a dad of were adopted due to promiscuous premarital sex. And I emphasize “too many.”

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