Most people can recognize the glaring irony in the notion of abstinence-only sex education. Even if only for the sake of splitting linguistic hairs, consider what such a program actually consists of: teaching reproductive and health sciences without discussing contraceptives.
Somehow, proponents of abstinence-only sex education in the Bay area have managed to keep a straight face while shamelessly lobbying against the teaching of contraception methods in eighth-grade health class.
Such a position, shockingly, is not maintained in response to an abjectly pro-contraceptive sex-ed program being employed in Hillsborough County schools. On the contrary, Hillsborough County’s sex-ed program maintains a rather conciliatory position.
In a recent St. Petersburg Times article, the sex-ed program in Hillsborough County was described as stressing abstinence while discussing contraception so that non-abstainers learn to reduce the risks of pregnancy and disease. The most politically-correct part of the program – actually referred to as “abstinence plus” by teachers – is that eighth graders are not required to learn about abstinence or contraceptives if their parents don’t wish them to.
It seems like a win-win situation because it is.
If a parent equates learning about the birds and the bees beyond the realm of ‘thou shalt nots’ with moral decrepitude, the system does not impose its morals upon parents by forcibly teaching their children: Parents retain the right to keep their child in reproductive ignorance until that child is a legal adult.
But if parents want their children to learn potentially life-saving information should a child choose not to heed pro-abstinence advice, that child can do so without fearing one of those embarrassing American Pie-esque moments that make it so hard to learn from parents.
I would wager that with the abstinence-only proponents’, kids would actually learn the same thing through this voluntary rubric as they would under a sex-ed program that maintains an abstinence-only approach: absolutely nothing. Despite their current freedom of choice, Hillsborough County’s abstinence-only goody-goodies have mobilized as a moralizing force and wish to impose their own weakly-defended belief upon others.
The problem is not that the abstinence-only advocates want a say in the reproductive education of their children. This is a perfectly reasonable request. The problem is that they want to dictate the reproductive education of other’s children – rejecting a laudably balanced policy that encourages restraint and common sense.Of course, opponents will likely argue that an abstinence-only approach isn’t a weakly defended belief, since abstaining from all sexual activity will prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy 100 percent of the time. It’s not even a moral issue, they may argue, but instead a recognition that the lack of sex also equates to a lack of sex-based risks.
I admit the theoretical validity of such a position. After all, the lack of a cause (sex) does equate to a lack of its effects (sexual risks). I will, however, point out that this particularly polemic cause isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and appears to be undiminished by normative preaching, meaning that its effects will continue to be present, safely or otherwise.
This is evidenced by the notorious Mathematica study – also mentioned in the Times’ article – that found no correlation between abstinence-only sex education and actual abstinence. Rates of premarital sex weighed in at nearly 50 percent within test groups regardless of whether or not they received abstinence-only sex-education.
A comparison, perhaps, between the aims of contraceptive education and driver’s safety, could better show the benefit of the former. Most recognize the dangers of teenage driving, due in large part to the National Highway Safety Organization’s finding that it is the No. 1 killer of teens. Most adults reading this will immediately recall their own teenage driving experience: Even if they made promises to their parents not to drive or bum a ride from friends, they did anyway. Recognizing this, adults can either proselytize about not driving, or take a proactive approach and explain the need to drive sober and sport safety belts at all times.
If the aftermath of a belt-less teenage driver thrown through a windshield can be described as grisly, unfortunate and altogether unnecessary, so should the teen-AIDS case or education-wrecking pregnancy that likely could have been easily prevented by a mere condom.
Victoria Bekiempis is a sophomore majoring in history and French.