The pitfalls of abstinence-only education

Jill Wooten
Staff Reporter

More than two thirds of teens will have had sex by the time they graduate high school. So, what is the problem? Abstinence-only education is failing.

‘Just say no’ doesn’t work. Statistics show that abstinence pledges are not only ineffective, but decrease the probabilities of safe sex and that teen pregnancy is on the rise. Federal funding provides $176 million a year to abstinence-only education: money well wasted. 88% of people with abstinence pledges have sex before marriage regardless.

Sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and protection are topics that are clearly relevant to teens. It is vital to reach teenagers with the right knowledge to prevent unwanted pregnancy and other unsafe side effects of sexual intercourse before marriage.

An alarming number of parents and schools choose to give their teenagers abstinence-only education, citing religious and moral beliefs. Teens are encouraged to pledge abstinence instead of learning about how to prepare for sex.

It sounds good in theory: If teens pledge abstinence, they won’t have to face any of the complications of being sexually active before marriage. But when teens are being told not to have sex, it is difficult to simultaneously prepare them for sex.

In a study, twice as many parents as teens claim they have talked about sex with their children. “My mom gave me a book about sex and felt that her job was sufficiently done,” says a McDaniel sophomore, who also said, “Don’t put my name!”

Teens are not likely to talk with their parents for a variety of reasons: Fear of their parents becoming protective and strict, feeling that parents will not understand, fear of not following their parents’ beliefs, or, let’s face it? it’s a little awkward.
Teens watch television an average of three hours a day. Only one out of seven programs conveys a ‘safe sex’ message. Television encourages teens to become sexually active by showing sex as a central part of every day life. Health classes in schools need to counteract the information teens are shown on television.

However, a lot of them don’t. Congress is proposing increasing abstinence-only funding by another $28 million. Teens who pledge abstinence have a higher rate of STDs than those who do not- 8.9% for pledgers vs. 7% for non-pledgers. Another alarming fact is that only 40% of pledgers used protection when engaging in sexual intercourse, compared with 59% of non-pledgers.

By their later teenage years, 75% of boys and more than two thirds of girls have had sex. Instead of withholding from teens knowledge about sexual intercourse, sex education classes need to prepare them.

There are places teens can go if they need information about anything related to sexual health, like the Carroll County Health Department, which offers huge discounts for students.