Home > feminism, philosophy, Politics, religion, sex > Why I think abstinance-only education is bad

Why I think abstinance-only education is bad

In response to my post about why I think Bristol Palin is a valid political issue, an angry woman wrote a comment to me. Her post, in full:

what is so bad about abstinence? lets see: having confidence and pride in yourself, not having any of those regrets, making your marriage special, not worrying about pregnancy or std’s, regarding yourself as special and sacred…ohhh no! god forbid! how horrible. lets just tell everybody that they are worthless so its no big deal.

I have a two-part response. 

First: I’m very sorry for whatever in your past has caused you to equate sex and worthlessness. Please, let me assure you that sex can be wonderful, glorious, affirming, and even sacred. Especially sacred. And, it doesn’t need to be within the confines of marriage to be all those things.

(It can also be poisonous, degrading, and painful, yes. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it should never be.)

Second: Let me correct your misreading of my text. I’m not against abstinence. I’m against abstinence-only education. I feel that ignorance, in all its forms, is a bad idea. There’s no reason not to tell teens about birth control, about STD prevention, and about different ways to enjoy each other without actually having sex. Study after study has shown that this education doesn’t increase the rate at which teens have sex. 

And study after study has shown that withholding this information — via abstinence-only education — does increase the rate at which teens have unprotected sex, resulting in more STDs and more teen pregnancies. Just like what happened to Bristol Palin. (I promise, at some point after I’ve had caffeine, I’ll find those studies for you.) 

What’s more, the attitudes conveyed in abstienence-only education perpetuate the societal mores that lead to exactly what you’re talking about. Explicitly calling sexuality shameful is exactly what leads to toxic sexual culture. Well, that in combination with the overt and excessive sexualizing of everyone and everything. (Including, for instance, the teen starlet that you glorify on your fansite.)

Also, abstinence-only tends to be very specific in what it views as “ok” sexuality. Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are made to feel freakish and shameful. Masturbation is regarded as sinful. And those are all very very normal. The people who have sexualities that are outside the norm — those who have sexual feelings around spanking, for instance, or those who enjoying wearing the clothes of the opposite sex — are generally vilified and degraded.

There is no reason for ignorance. Ever. Willfully perpetuating ignorance (and then calling it education) is purely evil. I’ve got nothing against abstinence. If you want to abstain from sex then go for it! I did until I was 18. But you should abstain while having all of the information, not from blind ignorance that’s been enforced upon you by an older generation.

  1. cogitoergosum
    September 5, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    I think that was very well put jamanda…
    Sex can be all those things, but it is up to yourself
    to know what you want and if you feel confident
    with yourself and your partner there is no need to
    have to wait because some parts of the society
    (I used to live in such a society) says it is wrong.

    Teenagers will always try out things they are not taught,
    and if no one tells them about the best ways of doing it,
    then how can we expect them to know that they should use a condom etc..

    Of course, there is TV there are books, but in the society I
    lived in, even these things were forbidden, and then it is
    even more difficult to know what to do.

  2. Westlin Wind
    September 5, 2008 at 2:51 pm


    “Both comprehensive sex education and abstinence only programs delay the onset of sexual activity. However, only comprehensive sex education is effective in protecting adolescents from pregnancy and sexually transmitted illnesses at first intercourse and during later sexual activity. In contrast, scientifically sound studies of abstinence only programs show an unintended consequence of unprotected sex at first intercourse and during later sexual activity. In this way, abstinence only programs increase the risk of these adolescents for pregnancy and sexually transmitted illnesses, including HIV/AIDS,” said psychologist Maureen Lyon, Ph.D., Chair of the committee that produced the report.

    Government report that finds abstinence only programs have no impact on teen sexual behavior — http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/abstinence07/index.htm

    Evaluation of ten state abstinence-only programs (Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, Missouri and Nebraska) showed few short-term benefits and no lasting, positive impact on teen sexual behavior. A few programs showed mild success at improving attitudes and intentions to abstain. No program was able to demonstrate a positive impact on sexual behavior over time. — http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/stateevaluations.pdf

    “Abstinence-only programs show little evidence of sustained (long-term) impact on attitudes and intentions. Worse, they show some
    negative impacts on youth’s willingness to use contraception, including condoms, to prevent negative sexual health outcomes related to
    sexual intercourse. Importantly, only in one state did any program demonstrate short-term success in delaying the initiation of sex; none
    of these programs demonstrates evidence of long-term success in delaying sexual initiation among youth exposed to the programs or
    any evidence of success in reducing other sexual risk-taking behaviors among participants.”

  3. September 5, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    There’s absolutely no reason not to educate teens about all of their sexual options.

    If they really are intent on abstaining, learning about how to use a condom or what contraceptives are isn’t going to suddenly make them hump everything in sight.

    And if they plan to have sex anyway or if they don’t plan to but have a moment of “weakness,” it’d be good for them to know how to limit STD transmission and prevent unwanted pregnancy.

  4. September 5, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    first, i am not a teenager (21) sorry you dont like my website.

    the reason i believe what i do is because i did it myself. waiting for marriage is something you will never regret. but what about those who dont? well i know them too and ive seen how bad it effected them.i dont believe that they can teach kids how bad it may hurt them later on emotionally.

    the way to help kids abstain would probably be teaching them self esteem, i think id be happier about my tax dollars going there.

    forgive me for acctually wanting kids to live into their 40’s:

    When the first birth control pill came out in 1960, it was lauded as a symbol of women’s empowerment and liberation. Now, women could enjoy sex just like men did, without worrying about getting pregnant. Of course, there was the diaphragm, but it had to be inserted before sex, and was therefore less convenient than a miracle pill that allowed one to have sex whenever and wherever she wanted. And condoms of the time were unerotically thick, with seams on their sides.

    To this day, the Pill and other hormonal methods remain some of the most popular contraceptives out there. It seems so easy and modern to take a small pill every day, or to get a shot or implant like Depo Provera or Norplant, or even to wear a patch like the Ortho Evra. But there’s definitely a dark side. Aside from the fact that these methods don’t protect against HIV and STDs, hormonal birth control increases one’s risk of many serious illnesses. Let’s take a look at a few cases.

    Norplant, the implant that can be placed under one’s skin for five years, was pulled off the market in 2002 for many reasons, one of them being the number of lawsuits it received for causing conditions like depression, ovarian cysts, hair loss, and dangerous blood clots that could lead to stroke and heart disease.[1] Another controversy around Norplant, and the long-lasting shot Depo Provera,[2] was in regards to their use in women prisoners, who were forced to use these products as a condition of parole despite severe health risks. This became an equal rights issue because it disproportionately affected working class and minority women, as well as those with handicaps like mental illness. [3]

    The Ortho Evra birth control patch has been linked to 23 deaths, including a 17 year old who died of a pulmonary embolism, which is a condition usually found in senior citizens.[4] Young people contracted these illnesses because they used hormonal methods like Ortho Evra, which put chemicals called progestins in the body. Although they are similar in structure to the natural hormone progesterone, which is produced during pregnancy, progestins’ effects are very different and sometimes dangerous. The NuvaRing[5], an externally worn ring endorsed by celebrities, causes some of the same problems as Ortho Evra.

    Pills like Mircette and Ortho-Tri-Cyclen, which contain a compound called desogestrel, are coming under scrutiny as blood clot sufferers have filed a class action lawsuit[6]. Again, girls as young as 16 have been dying from these products, and doctors, including family doctors and, in Canada, school nurses, have been prescribing these dangerous substances[7].

    Does this mean that we should only avoid Norplant, Depo Provera, Ortho Evra, and pills with desogestrel? No, because although some types of birth control have not been proven unhealthy, they all contain the same category of substances, some of whose dangers have not yet been discovered.

    Blood clots and strokes aren’t the only dangers inherent in hormonal birth control. These contraceptives also raise the risk of breast cancer, which is commonly known as one of the top killers of women over the age of 40. Although older women, particularly those who feel like they have enough children, often opt for more long-lasting birth control methods such as tubal ligation or the IUD, those who have used hormonal birth control in the past are more at risk for breast cancer than those who have not.

    and please dont think i am being angry, because my opinion differs from yours. i just honestly believe that i am right.


  5. paulmcneil
    September 5, 2008 at 7:51 pm


    It sounds like you have done your research and that’s great.

    Now why would you withold this information from students?

    That’s what abstinence-only education does. Instead of having student learn about contraception, both the pros (what it can protect you from) and the cons (the risks of hormonal contraception, the failure rates of barrier methods), abstinence only education tells them none of this.

    I would argue about some of the risks you mention for hormonal contraception. These risks need to be compared to the health risks of pregnancy (very many) and even the risks of never having children (again the dread spectre of breast cancer).

    It’s never simple.

    In a world in which things are never simple, why with hold information? Ignorance is rarely an effective defense.

  6. elcynae
    September 6, 2008 at 12:33 am

    I completely agree with paulmcneil. Personally, I have many opinions on this topic, most of which it sounds like stellastewart would disagree with. However, hormonal birth control does scare me. I choose not to use hormonal birth control. I can make that decision because I have access to the information, and enough education that I can make sense of it. Any time most people dive into a new subject (which CD player is the right one for me?) there is an overwhelming amount of raw data and propaganda out there. Providing people with background information gives them the tools they need to make sense of what’s there.

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