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Cameron Smith / Her Campus
Sex + Relationships

Sex Ed Needs to Stop Preaching Abstinence

I don't know about you, but the high school I went to preached abstinence in sex ed for four years. It was four years of hearing the same thing: "the only sure-fire way to prevent pregnancy is abstinence kids. You have sex, and you end up pregnant." While abstinence is the only sure-fire way to avoid pregnancy, the class is called sexual education, so one would believe that they would be educated on safe sexual practices and not have abstinence preached at them. According to the CDC, in 2017, a total of 194,377 babies were born to women aged 15–19 years, for a birth rate of 18.8 per 1,000 women in this age group. This is why safe sex practices need to be taught in schools.  

Abstinence-only education often focuses on it being the only "morally correct" option and avoids talking about the use of condoms and contraceptives altogether. This doesn't stop teenagers from having sex; it just leaves them more at risk of STDs and unplanned pregnancies because they weren't taught how to protect themselves.  

Most abstinence-only education teaches "abstinence-only until marriage," which excludes LGBTQ+ youth. To make it even worse, some abstinence-only programs teach young girls that they are worthless if they don't "remain pure." Even though supporters of abstinence-only education can take issue with sexual education at every grade level, it has been proven to prevent sexual crimes since kids feel like they have enough information to speak up at anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. 

[bf_image id="q5m3wh-bxllko-1v4fpi"] Abstinence-only education does not yield good results. It does not teach teenagers about how to prevent STDs and STIs or delay teenagers from having sex. Abstinence-only education instead only teaches teens to avoid having sex until marriage, leaving teens with no knowledge whatsoever of how to have safe sex. As a result, 10% of teens are not aware of HIV or AIDS, and others think that STDs are an "inevitable result of premarital sexual behavior."  

President Trump's budget has not only harmed women and families by barring Planned Parenthood from receiving any money from the federal government, but it has also invested $277 million on abstinence-only education, which disregards all of the studies that prove that abstinence-only programs don't work. A  2011 study found that an "increasing emphasis on abstinence education is positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates." Additionally, the states with the highest teen pregnancy rates—Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi—have policies that emphasize abstinence-only sexual education. The Guttmacher Institute also found that "no program of any kind has ever shown success in convincing young people to postpone sex from age 17, when they typically first have intercourse, until marriage," and that teens who claim to practice abstinence often still have oral sex, which can put them at risk of STDs even if they aren't having intercourse.  

I did not learn anything about birth control, STDs or STIs, and this left me woefully uneducated about safe sex practices. I feel like even if a teenager is going to wait to have sex, they still need to know how to practice safe sex when they do. The federal government needs to stop sponsoring abstinence-only programs and give students the comprehensive and honest education they desperately need. 

Tara is a junior HPEX health science major at Virginia Commonwealth University. She likes hanging out with friends and family, trying out new places to eat and scrolling through dog videos in her free time.
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