What’s Wrong With Primarily Teaching Kids Abstinence?

Earlier today, I was visiting Karen Rayne’s thoughtful blog, Adolescent Sexuality, where she had a post up on the follies of abstinence only sex education.  I think her post prompted me to articulate my own views of teaching kids about abstinence a little bit better than I normally do.  Because I want to give Karen’s blog a shout out (It’s very much worth placing on your schedule of blogs to regularly visit), and because I wish to prompt you to share your own views on the matter, I will quote the  comment I made there:

As someone who has been voluntarily celibate for years, I guess I would be a hypocrite if I did not support abstinence. And, indeed, I wish for a world in which no one — especially young people — is pressured into having sex when they don’t feel or intuit it’s right for them.

At the same time, though, I have increasingly come to the belief we should raise kids to anticipate that they will become sexually active at sometime in their late teens or early twenties, and, of course, to be prepared for it if and when it happens. In other words, I’m no longer of the opinion, if I ever really was, that we should tell kids their first choice should be abstinence and that having sex is only plan B.

For one thing, it’s my understanding that the average age of first sex in the US is currently somewhere around 17 or 18. For another thing, I recall that only one in ten people wait for marriage to have first sex. And, if those and other things are the real facts of the matter, then I find it a bit off to pretend — as so many of our leaders do — that most kids can benefit from being taught that abstinence ought to be Plan A.

I would turn it around. Responsible sex is Plan A, abstinence is Plan B, and Plan C is to take responsibility for neither and become a fool.

Of course, given the current politics of sex, I believe there is no way any public school system instructor in the US could get away with telling kids, “You should pretty much expect to have sex by your late teens or early twenties, and if you don’t, then that’s alright too.”

So, Karen, am I a nutcase for thinking the primary emphasis should be on preparing for sex, rather than on preparing for abstinence?

I will ask you the same essential question I asked Karen: Should the primary emphasis in sex education be on teaching kids to prepare for sex, rather than on teaching kids to prepare for abstinence?  What do you think?

15 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Primarily Teaching Kids Abstinence?

  1. It is one of the most incredibly stupid things on Mother Earth to teach kids “abstinence only.”

    Such idiotic policy makes it impossible for kids to make wise and informed choices about sexuality.

    Kids who are stupidly taught “abstinence only” end up pregnant or with numerous STDs.

    Whereas, kids who are given access to reliable, true information about human sexuality are also, when well-educated, able to avoid the commonplace seduction of the innocents that adult predators love.

    I sometimes fear that “abstinence only” sex ed is actually a tool devised by sexual predators to enlarge their population of possible victims.

    And, kids given comprehensive sex ed often choose to postpone sexual activity until they feel themselves old enough and responsible enough to practice “responsible sexuality,” which is the goal of comprehensive and complete sexual education.

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  2. I second Karen’s comments. Abstinence-only sex education is fraught with problems.

    I feel that comprehensive sex education is essential for young people. One of the purposes of education is to prepare young people to be knowledgeable, successful adults. Comprehensive sex education prepares them to have safe, responsible sex lives in adulthood. While I personally believe that adolescents should be encouraged to abstain from sex until adulthood, we should also prepare them for when adulthood arrives.

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  3. I have not read Karen’s BLOG and must say that I agree with Mr Sunstone entirely. Here is my simplistic rational…
    Teach these option.
    1. Have responsible sex if you choose to have sex.
    2. Practice abstinence if you are able to wait till you are mature enough.
    3. F*** anyone who will let you.
    ——————————-
    Most of you will default to selection three as it is the tendency of the human animal. You will be physically able to have sex long before you will be emotionally mature enough to mate. The divorce rate is proof of the prevalence of this. You will be capable of having sex and sex will cause extreme pleasure when you are ten-fourteen. Most will not be able to resist sexual desires or otherwise release sexual energy until mature. Most will be influenced by society to deny being a human and pursue option 2 or abstinence by older humans who were also unable to remain abstinent but who wish it on others. Society will not let you drink alcohol until age 21? The same idiots who teach you to be abstinent believe you are not mature enough to consume alcohol? How long will society promote moral sexual failure as the first option instead of letting youth take advantage of the progression of the human race? Too long.

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  4. I am no longer happy with my original post. It might seem like I’m arguing for pushing kids into having sex by their late teens or early twenties. But I’m not in favor of pushing in any direction on this. Instead, I’m in favor of letting them decide for themselves whether or not they wish to engage in sex. The point I was trying to make might have been better put this way: If we are teaching kids that they are likely to remain abstinent — that abstinence is the norm — then we should not teach them that, because it is false.

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  5. I attended a high school in another country where social workers visited us periodically to tell us exactly how people went about having sex and also showed us birth control devices and explained how to use them. Not as much emphasis on disease prevention back in the late 70s as one would expect in such a program today. Boys and girls sat together in these small group sessions. Although we could submit questions anonymously and in writing, many of us simply asked the social workers about birth control, orgasms, STDs, etc. Speaking for myself, I became sexually active at the age of 17 when I was attending university. I am now 45. In the intervening years, I have become an attorney, an excellent parent and advocate for my disabled child and have never had an accidental pregnancy because I never had unprotected sex except when trying to conceive with my (now ex-)husband. )Not that I couldn’t have obtained an abortion fairly easily in the event of unwanted pregnancy. The fact is that I had been educated to prevent unwanted pregnancy and I am a product of that education. So, opponents of abortion should think twice before advocating for “abstinence first/only” education). I have been gainfully employed and have never been on welfare. Hardly the picture the “abstinence first/only” people would paint of someone who became sexually active at the age of 17 with someone she would never go on to marry. Of course, there are lots of people who receive “abstinence only” education who become parents while still in high school and must live off their families or go on welfare. Wasn’t there a girl named Bristol Something-Of-Other in Alaska? In short, abstinence education is as unrealistic as the writer states. If people would stop trying to prove themselves right and concentrate on helping other people have lives that work, we would not likely be the nation with the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the world. Good motto: “Sometimes it’s not about what’s right. Sometimes, it’s about what works.”

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  6. Maybe the root issue is giving teens the freedom to decide for themselves. By pushing abstinence only, the message is that teens WILL make irresponsible choices if authority figures don’t take that choice away. In the sexualized media, it seems as if teens are refused the choice of thoughtful abstinence. The message is that a teen cannot choose abstinence, it can only be forced on them by being unattrative or otherwise flawed.

    Maybe the issue isn’t really about sex, it is about autonomy and respect. Who knows best: daddy? the school bully? Only the informed teen can answer.

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    • I agree we should give teens the freedom to decide for themselves, provided they are mature enough for it. For instance, I don’t think most people in their early teens are mature enough to make that decision for themselves. But I do think most people in their late teens are mature enough to make that decision for themselves.

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  7. Wow! Those responses, all leading to the conclusion stated in one of them: “Sometimes it’s not about what’s right. Sometimes, it’s about what works”. . . . have left me in disbelief and speechless, almost. How are our children going to learn anything about their true value or why they exist at all if they are bombarded from all sides, included in their own homes, with such humanistic thinking? God help us!

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    • My sense of my true value came from having people invest in my ability to survive and flourish. Knowing how to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STDs is essential to having enough control over one’s own life to do those very things. Control on one’s own behalf may seem like a selfish practice, but our ability to contribute to the structure and path of our own lives allows us to do good in this world. We may need, but not so wholly as to be unable to help others in need. The people who taught me about sexuality (and I number among them authors and dear friends, as well as the social workers I mentioned in my earlier post) were examples of people doing good in the world. Being exposed to many people like that during adolescence had a great deal to do with my wanting to do good in the world.

      And what’s wrong with humanist thinking? It may be non-religious, but it is not unethical. Indeed, it emphasizes ethics and justice. If I am taught to be just to others, how can that not teach me something about my own value? If I am charitable to others, how the reflection of me in their eyes not tell me something about my own worth on this earth? Not all humanists are secular, for that matter. As for those who are? Why are you looking a gift horse– ie people concerned with justice and behaving ethically to others, which is the basis of justice which in turn is integral to every major faith– in its humanistic mouth? Don’t worry about why someone feeds the poor, visits the ill and the imprisoned, clothes the naked. Just be glad that something– humanistic or religious– influenced that person to do so.

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    • It is most certainly about what is right.

      Children have the right to correct and complete information about human sexuality so that they are enabled to make responsible decisions about their sexuality.

      Another very important aspect of full and complete sex ed is that it impedes sexual predators who like to prey on the ignorant innocent, unless you do not count that as a value and a very right value at that.

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