“Abstinence-centric” Education?

Yesterday I was teaching at a local high school. After the last class period, the health teacher walked up to me and handed me an article from the Chicago Sun Times. “Illinois could set tone for sex ed nationwide”, blared the headline. So, I read. Parents, you should read it here, too.

This article makes me upset for a variety of reasons. The most frustrating paragraph is the following: “In the place of ineffective abstinence-only sex education, we need comprehensive abstinence-centric sex education. What’s the difference? The former only preaches the need to wait. The latter also encourages teens to wait, but additionally teaches them how to negotiate condom use and how to practice safer sex, along with illustrating the realities of STDs and pregnancy. There’s a big difference in scare tactics and education — one is effective, and one isn’t.”

This paragraph makes me think this woman has never seen actually seen an abstinence-until-marriage program executed well. Yes, ATM (Abstinence-til-Marraige) education teaches students the need to wait. But I know of no ATM program that uses “scare tactics” to shock their listeners. Futhermore, although we do not explicitly show students how to use contraceptives, good ATM programs do alert them to the risks of STDs and pregnancy. They also report the failure rate of contraceptives. Consider the following:

1/4 sexually active teens contracts an STD. Condoms do reduce the risk of STDs transmitted by bodily fluid. They do not, however, protect as well against diseases passed by skin to skin contact. The HPV vaccine protects against 4 of the 100 strains of the virus. The yearly rate of pregnancy with perfect condom use is 16+/100 females. Actual use jumps up to closer to 30%. Teenagers who choose to be sexually active often suffer depression, and even suicidal feelings – boys more so than girls.

W4YM gives these statistics in order to encourage the message of waiting. Because we believe it is best, and we believe they can. We know many people who have.

Amd this is perhaps what bothers me most. The question that lingers in my mind is, “What happened to the concept of self control? Why do we insist on believing that, with our help, our teenagers cannot be self-controlled enough to choose abstinence before marriage?” ATM education believes in teens’ ability to control their desires. They believe teens to be smart, empowered, and able. They want to encourage them to healthy living – not just give it lip service. Telling a teenager, “You should wait, but you probably won’t be able to, so do it safely. Here’s a condom,” not only sends them a contradictory message, it undermines their belief in their own strength of character. This is harmful to their psychological growth and development.

Dr. Berman’s idea of sex education in essence says, “No, you can’t. This might protect you. Good luck.” Abstinence-until-marriage education says, “Yes, you can. And I will help you.”

*If you’re curious about the statistics above, check out the Center for Disease Control, Stan Weed’s testimony before the House of Representatives, and the CASA teen survey from 2004.

**If you are curious to find out more about Dr. Berman’s philosophy towards sex, see her website . Please note that her site does not reflect the opinions or beliefs of W4YM.