In third grade, the nuns at my elementary school split up the girls and boys and sent us to different rooms. I still don’t know what the boys observed, but us girls had to watch a movie about “becoming women.” I learned about having a period, a little about S-E-X and a little about things called condoms. With even this relatively small amount of information, I was ready to cry. I had no idea those things would happen to my body and no idea about things that a boy could possibly do to it. I was confused.
Years later, in eighth grade health class, a guest speaker came in and showed us how to put a condom on a banana. After she showed us graphic charts of people stricken with chlamydia and gonorrhea, we quietly pledged to ourselves we didn’t want to have sex. Ever.
Without this information, I may have unknowingly ended up with a venereal disease. But now, programs for sex-education like the ones we learned in middle school will no longer exist. With strong backing from President Bush, abstinence-until-marriage programs have replaced sex-ed classes.
From the $50 million given under the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, Bush has not only nearly tripled the funding for abstinence-only programs, but all funding for preventative sex education in elementary and middle schools has been cut out. Period.
The onslaught of the radical right’s Christian beliefs is infiltrating the schools. Children are being taught the bliss of ignorance until knowledge. So much for 10,000 years of civilization evolving through sexual reproduction; abstinence-only programs are throwing us from the sexual revolution straight back to the chastity belts of the dark ages. Advocating ignorance of sexual health is not a means of prevention.
Teenagers need to know how to protect and take care of their bodies. Without this knowledge, teenagers will come to face decisions they will be unable to make correctly. Abstinence-only programs teach nothing but that putting off sex until marriage is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs. This program is designed for ageless heterosexual couples who plan on getting married; homosexuals and those who plan on staying single are out of the equation.
Abstinence-based sex ed does not work. The Alan Guttmacher Institute reported the decrease in teenage pregnancies between 1988 and 1995 was due to one quarter of teens remaining abstinent while the other three-quarters was attributed to more effective contraceptive use. With the federal government cutting out all funding for education in contraceptives, teens will have to use the “Just Say No” tactic for both drugs and sex.
But the truth is, teens will want to have sex. Sex exudes from every part of society, especially the media. When teens (whose schools have failed them) decide to give in to their raging hormones, their sex-ed class’ emphasis on contraceptive failure rates will only result in their failure to use prophylactics.
According to AGI, teens in the United States have higher rates of both unintended pregnancies and STDs because they are less likely to use contraceptives, have shorter relationships and have more sexual partners. Teens need the power of knowledge. For example, in AIDS-stricken Uganda, the implementation of the “ABC” approach has significantly reduced HIV/AIDS cases.
The effort to stop the spread of the virus teaches “Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condoms.” This is an effective method that keeps abstinence and sex-ed working hand in hand, whereas the ignorance taught in abstinence-only programs will only increase the likelihood of unwanted pregnancies or transmission of STDs and AIDS.
With abortion policies tightening to allowing only cases of incest, rape or jeopardy of the mother’s health, pregnant teen girls have few options. These teens need to know about preventative methods in order to avoid becoming another statistic, such as condoms, the pill, spermicidal creams, the morning-after-pill or the shot (Depo-Provera). The AGI also reports that adults in other countries “give clear and unambiguous messages that sex should occur within committed relationships and that sexually active teens take steps to protect themselves and their partners from pregnancy and STDs.”
Perhaps the best place for wait-until-marriage lectures is from parents of teens, who can provide moral reasoning. But, most moms won’t teach their teens the comdon-banana. This delivery of knowledge is best left to health classes, which informs teens the best ways to protect themselves. A school’s duty in sexual education should give time to the abstinence approach, but should also give teens the option to make rational decisions about sex.
Until the government realizes the importance of a healthy sexual education, President Bush will have to play the conscience to every teen who ends up in the backseat of a car: “But Mr. Bush said not to,” explained the horny teen, with a hint of guilt. Or maybe an advocate of abstinence could surface from the media, say, Britney Spears.
Alysha Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.