“A mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity (Collins, Alagiri, Summers, 1).”
But while parents, adults, teachers, and society attempt to promote this belief to the country’s youth, the reality of youth sexuality does not align with this statement. According to a 2005 study, by age 18, 70% of U.S. females and 62% of U.S. males have initiated vaginal sex (Advocates for Youth: Effective Sex Education, 1). Not only are teens more sexually active than many adults would like, but the teen pregnancy rate is the highest in the developed world, with about a third (34%) of young women becoming pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20 (Kaiser Family Foundation). In comparison to other countries, the pregnancy rate in the U.S. is at least twice that in England, France, Canada, and Sweden, and 10 times that in the Netherlands (Planned Parenthood, 4).
Unfortunately, pregnancy is not the only concern for teenagers. Currently, there are more than 20 prevalent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), infecting an average of more than 15 million individuals every year. Three million teens contract an STI each year, and two-thirds of all STIs occur in people who are 25 years of age or younger (Rector, 2). So how do we reduce these numbers?
With the various statistics showing the current trends of our youth, comprehensive sex education is the best approach to reduce STIs, unintended pregnancy, and the need for abortion. Through various studies, the comprehensive method has been proven to have long-term impacts including lower STI and/or pregnancy rates (Advocates for Youth: Effective Sex Education, 1).
Through different surveys, it has been overwhelmingly clear that adults and parents approve of comprehensive sex education for teenagers. In a 2004 study, 94 percent of adults and 93 percent of parents said that sex education should cover contraception (Advocates for Youth: Effective Sex Education, 2). Another survey discovered that 84 percent of adults agreed with the statement that whether or not young people are sexually active, they should be given information to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (Collins, Alagiri, Summers, 3). And it is not only adults that support comprehensive sex education; students have desired more information. According to a national survey of teenagers, 51 percent say they need more information about how to get tested for HIV/AIDS and 30 percent want more information on how to use condoms (Collins, Alagiri, Summers, 3). If one of the primary goals of sex education is to reduce the number of HIV infections and STIs, shouldn’t the curriculum meet the needs of our youth?
Even with adults, parents, and students desiring comprehensive sex education, they may not be knowledgeable about the best approach to teach youth about sex. But they do not stand alone in rejecting abstinence-only sex education; every reputable sexuality education organization and well-known health organization including the American Medical Association, have denounced abstinence-only sexuality education (Planned Parenthood, 4). But, you may be asking “why have they denounced this approach?”
Abstinence-only sex education has not been proven effective to lower sex initiation or increase contraception use. While Rector claims that abstinence-only programs have reduced early sexual activity, several other studies have proven otherwise. In a ten state study where abstinence-only sex education was implemented, none of the states demonstrated evidence of long-term success in delaying sexual initiation, and even resulted in some negative impacts on teen’s willingness to use contraception to prevent sexual health effects related to sexual intercourse (Advocates for Youth: Five Years… 4). Although there are promoters of this method, the programs’ emphasis on contraception failure rates has left teens hesitant to use them. By denying teenagers a broad spectrum of information regarding human sexuality, abstinence-only education fails to provide teens with the necessary information needed to protect their health and well-being (Collins, Alagiri, Summers, 14).
In contrast to abstinence-only sex education’s ineffectiveness to lower STI and/or teen pregnancy rates, comprehensive sex education has been proven to have a positive result in reducing these statistics. Several specific studies have demonstrated positive outcomes from comprehensive sex education by displaying delayed initiation of sexual activity, increased condom use, and decreased number of sexual partners (Collins, Alagiri, Summers, 9). While abstinence-only promoters fear an increase of sexual activity from other approaches, the Surgeon General has explained that, “evidence gives strong support…that providing information about contraception does not increase adolescent sexual activity (Collins, Alagiri, Summers, 14). Over the past decade, California, the only state that has not accepted federal abstinence-only money, has experienced more than a 40% drop in the teenage pregnancy rate, which is something the government should further examine (Planned Parenthood, 4).
Despite few, if any, positive results with abstinence-only sex education, the government has continued to fund it. From 1998 to 2003, states implemented abstinence-only-until-marriage programs using almost half a billion dollars in state and federal funds to support the Title V initiative, but unfortunately failed to yield positive results from representative samples of 9th through 12th graders throughout the country (Advocates for Youth: Trends…1). Through the analysis of these samples, it was determined that sexual activity among high school students declined significantly from 1991 to 1997, prior to large-scale funding of abstinence-only programs, but changed little from 1999-2003, with federal funding of these programs (Advocates for Youth, 1).
Results of the studies showed the percentage of students that had had sexual intercourse decreased significantly by 11 percent from 1991 to 1997, but there was no statistically significant decline from 1999 to 2003 (Advocates for Youth, 2). Similarly, the prevalence of multiple sex partners decreased by 14 percent from 1991 to 1997 but there was no statistically significant decline of the frequency of multiple sex partners from 1999 to 2003 (Advocates for Youth, 2). These programs improved teens’ attitudes toward abstinence, but were least likely to positively affect students’ sexual behavior. However, even with no evidence of effectiveness behind abstinence-only sex education…funding increased by nearly 3000% from 1996 to 2001 (Collins, Alagiri, Summers, 4).
With the lack of effectiveness that abstinence-only sex provides and the rates of teen sexual behavior, we must ask ourselves, is abstinence-only really the best method to meet the needs of our youth?
Advocates for Youth, “Trends in Sexual Risk Behaviors Among High School Students”
Advocates for Youth, “Effective Sex Education”
Advocates for Youth, “Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Education: Assessing the Impact”
Chris Collins, Priya Alagiri, Todd Summers, “Abstinence Only vs Comprehensive Sex Education”
Planned Parenthood, “Abstinence-Only Sex Education”
Robert Rector, “The Effectiveness of Abstinence Education Programs in Reducing Sexual Activity Among Youth”
“U.S. Teen Sexual Activity.”Jan. 2005. Kaiser Family Foundation: Your Resource for Health Policy Information, Research and Analysis. Web. http://www.kff.org/youthhivstds/upload/U-S-Teen-Sexual-Activity-Fact-Sheet.pdf