Is teaching ONLY Abstinence the Best Option?

Being raised in a Christian household, I was constantly educated on abstinence by my parents. I also had several friends at church who were raised in a similar fashion. The biggest difference between me and my church friends is they were homeschooled and I attended public school. This environment did expose me to many things that my friends would not be exposed to. There is a part of me that believes that being exposed to sex topics other than just abstinence is what educated me most on sexually transmitted diseases. Kids at school talked about things they had talked to their parents about or had seen on television and would discuss with their peers. In 5th grade we got a brief insight on sex and some more but never really got all the nitty gritty details until 10th grade. By this time, most of my classmates had already begun engaging in sexual activities. My point with this is that I saw friends who were only exposed to abstinence and then other friends who were educated on sexually transmitted diseases but lacked intense abstinence lecturing.

Now looking back, I am extremely grateful for the way my exposure to sex and related topics occurred. Like I said, my parents, mostly my father, taught abstinence which was accompanied by his famous saying, “I just don’t want you girls to get something you can’t wash off with Ajax.” I am not sure why Ajax, but as we all know, it is a harsh and very strong substance that can remove virtually anything. The quote has forever stayed with me and helps me make better decisions when engaging in sexual activities. My parents were strong on the abstinence front but lacked discussing sexually transmitted diseases. I knew they were bad and some never went away (not even with AJAX!) but that was about all I knew. Public school education, along with my school peers, I began to learn more about these sexually acquired diseases and how to prevent from contracting them. I got a brief exposure to them but I don’t believe that it was enough. People who are not exposed to both sides of education are seriously lacking the knowledge they need to participate in any type of a sexual relationship. I had the advantage growing up and I think everyone should get that chance.

My biggest concern is with children who are only exposed to abstinence. They need to know everything from what STDs are, how you can get them, but most importantly how to prevent getting them including the best option which is none other than abstinence. I found an article which inspired me to write about this topic initially which addresses this very concern. Jenelle Marie, the founder of The STD Project, interviews a female who recollects her experience of contracting herpes simplex virus at the age of 19. She, at the time, claimed herself as a virgin and had contracted this STD due to her subpar education on the topic. “No one ever told me you could contract an STD by having oral sex,” she said. “I thought I was being responsible, because I was saving myself for marriage…I come from a very religious background, and that’s what I was taught. Good girls don’t practice safe sex; they don’t have sex until marriage.” She believes a comprehensive sex education would have helped. The now 23 year old describes her only exposure to sex education as a bunch of giggling from her classmates, gross slides, and the teachers instructing them to abstain from sex. She strongly believes that if she had a more in-depth education on sex, rather than just vaginal sex and to avoid it all together, she believes she would be better off. I respect her when she says, “I don’t even know if I would have done anything with boys to begin with, if I knew what I do now. But even if I did, I would have understood why and the risks I was taking.” This is important because she is not saying if she was educated, she would not have engaged in oral sex because there is no way to know for sure; however, she would have been the only one to blame for contracting HSV1 because she was informed on the risk. The girl is a native of South Carolina where STD reports are near the highest in the country, they also have a large number of abstinence-only programs.  I do not believe this is ironic or due to coincidence. Jenelle believes it is a direct outcome to the lack of sexual education in these programs. Guttmacher Institute conducted a study in 2012 that revealed “that more knowledge about sexual health and contraceptives was directly correlated to a decrease in adolescent and young adult risky sexual behaviors, like having sex without barriers or contraceptives, and increased numbers of sexual partners.” Again this proves that more well-rounded sex education is a direct link to preventing contraction of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy in school-aged children.

No parent or guardian looks forward to talking to their children about S-E-X, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Giving children a dense sex education, even topics that a parent/guardian may not agree with, is the best option. Discussing sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, and condoms will make abstinence look like a pretty great option and you won’t even have to pound it in their heads; although, in my case that works quite well too. Until school sex ed programs change to this well-rounded model, it is up to the parents to educate their children. I am not a parent but hope to be one in the future. I plan to educate my children the way my parents did, but also discuss what I learned from school and my own personal continuing education on the topic. I must say that just because this method worked for me, there is still a chance that even after discussing sex with your children and the possible repercussions of these actions, they will still engage in sex at an early age and possibly contract a STD. If this is the case, you cannot regret not discussing the implications of their actions and just continue educating them until they learn.