Comprehensive Sex Education vs. Abstinence-only-until-marriage Programs

Because teen pregnancy and STD rates are so high in the United States, parents, policymakers, and educators all share a common interest in finding sex education programs that will lower these rates.

Everyone has an opinion about sex education, myself included, but the state governors are the ones who must decide whether to apply for federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs OR more comprehensive sexuality programs.

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Supporters of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs aim to create an environment in which young people are prepared and able to remain abstinent. These supporters believe that abstinence is the only completely effective form of birth control and the only way to completely avoid the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

A section within Title V known as the “A-H guidelines,” provides eight criteria that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs had to conform to in order to be eligible for federal funding.

They state that an eligible program:

A.  Has as its exclusive purpose teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;

B.  Teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children;

C. Teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;

D. Teaches that a mutually faithful, monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity;

E.  Teaches that sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;

F.  Teaches that bearing children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society;

G. Teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances; and

H. Teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.

The A-H guidelines provide a clear sense of what is valued in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. These programs preach that sexual activity outside of marriage should not happen, and is considered improper, that sexual activity and childbearing outside marriage are likely to have a plethora of negative personal and societal effects, and lastly, they exclude LGBTQ individuals and conclude that their “lifestyle choices” are also considered to be improper.  

On the other hand, comprehensive school-based sexual education complements and augments the sexual education children receive from their families, religious groups, and healthcare professionals. Comprehensive school-based sex education emphasizes the importance of introducing sex related topics at the appropriate age and developmental level and respecting the diversity of values and beliefs represented by the student population. 

Comprehensive school-based sexual education includes teaching adolescents not only about abstinence, but also about contraception, including emergency contraception; reproductive choice; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning issues; as well as, anatomy; development; puberty; relationships; pleasure, masturbation, and all other topics one would expect to see in a sex education classroom.

It makes sense that most people choose one of these approaches over the other based on their own personal morals, ethical, political, and/or religious beliefs, however, just because an educational philosophy reflects an individual’s personal beliefs does not mean that it is effective program to support. 

With effectiveness in mind, there has been a multitude of studies prove that teen pregnancy and STD rates are reported less with comprehensive school-based sex education programs than with abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.    

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Based on past research found and my personal experience with sex education, my opinion on the matter is that comprehensive school-based sexual education is the superior program of the two. Additionally, I believe the law should mandate sex education classes, assure these classes are being taught at the appropriate age and developmental level of it’s students, at regular intervals throughout their school careers, and lastly, that any form of sex education should be science-based and medically accurate, no matter what program that is being used. Once it is a law that these topics be covered in a sex education classroom, in a medically accurate way, students will have an appropriate understanding of the information necessary to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and STDs.

Comprehensive sex education vs. Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/human_rights_vol38_2011/human_rights_spring2011/comprehensive_sex_education_vs_abstinence_only_until_marriage_programs/

One thought on “Comprehensive Sex Education vs. Abstinence-only-until-marriage Programs

  1. I totally agree that the superior program is comprehensive school-based sexual education. You pointed out how more STDs and pregnancies are reported in schools with abstinence-based programs, and this is something I think should hold more weight than it does. Telling students not to have sex doesn’t work – sex is a very natural part of being human and trying to stop high school teenagers from doing it is pretty much pointless in my opinion. An argument I’ve heard against comprehensive school-based sexual education is that it encourages kids to have sex, but I think the point about higher STD and pregnancy rates at schools that preach abstinence disproves/invalidates this. I don’t think it encourages teens to have sex but instead introduces it as a normal, destigmatized topic with consequences, and how to avoid those consequences. Yes, abstinence is the only 100% effective form of birth control, but just crossing your fingers and hoping kids listen to that is very dangerous. If teenagers don’t know about proper protection when they start having sex (no matter when that is, even in marriage you need to know about proper birth control methods), it ends in more STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Even further, if someone is raped or assaulted and weren’t taught about emergency contraception, what are they meant to do? Even if someone DOES choose to remain abstinent, it doesn’t protect them from situations like this. In my high school, we had a two-week sex education program in health class, and all we learned about was why you shouldn’t have sex, not what to do if you do, and not once was sexual assault mentioned. I believe, at the appropriate age, students should be taught about sex, its possible emotional and physical consequences, and how to be safe about it. Great post, this is an important topic!

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