During my move to my new apartment, I stumbled across something interesting: my abstinence pledge from junior high. Yes, you read that right. In my junior high health class, everyone was encouraged to sign an abstinence pledge. Abstinence is the practice of restraining from something, with connotation often associated with sex. Abstinence-only sex education, like that put forward in my own health class, is meant to prevent teens in high school from having sex until marriage. The only problem: it doesn’t work.
STD rates in 2016 were up 40 percent in Utah from 2015, according to Deseret News. While this is alarming, it’s not surprising. Abstinence-only sex education fails to educate students about healthy sexual practices and, as a result causes the spread of STIs and teen pregnancy. If you stick a bunch of emotional and hormonally-changing teenagers in a box for four years, it appears sex is inevitable, no matter the religion or current education policy. This doesn’t mean everyone is going out and having sex, but nothing seriously stops those who do.
When you teach abstinence only, you know what you get? Either a bunch of teenagers who are getting married as fast as possible so they can have sex or a great number of uneducated teens having unprotected or risky sexual encounters. Sound familiar, Utah?
Many students don’t know what counts as sexual activity because it isn’t clarified in class, so they spread diseases without knowing it. You know what I learned in my sex ed class? I learned about periods and the great journey sperms take. This information, while great, won’t help me when it comes to the nitty gritty. Knowing how sperm is produced isn’t going to stop it from entering my body. People say that it’s the job of the parents to teach kids about safe sex, but the problem is most students don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about that kind of thing and vice versa. I was lucky. I have a mom who was very strict but also very informative. We’re close, so I felt happy to talk to her. Not everyone has this same relationship with their parents.
Heaven knows you can’t always trust what you read on the internet — or trust your family to not read your search history — so what does that leave?
The main argument for abstinence-only education is that it scares kids into not having sex and if you don’t teach kids how to use protection, they just won’t risk it. I think we’re all very aware that in the heat of the moment, however, concerns over risk factors fly out the window. With the possibility of birth control and abortions being even more expensive or hard to come by in the near future, it’s especially important we teach students how to use other methods of protection.
In light of a picture I recently saw on Facebook, the best way to keep someone from drowning is not to get rid of their life jackets for the reason that life jackets make people think it’s okay to jump into dangerous waters. That’s just stupid. The best way to keep someone from drowning is to make sure they have life jackets, maybe a floaty, a rope to pull them to shore, and to hope they don’t leap into dangerous water. The best way to prevent pregnancy and the spread of STIs is to make sure those who are sexually active know how to use condoms, female condoms, how to get birth control, how to check for STIs and how to treat them, how to access Plan B (“the morning after” pill) and if necessary, how to safely get an abortion procedure.
Not all kids, but many, are going to have sex no matter what. We can either teach them to be safe and stress the importance of protection or we can ignore the problem altogether and hope, ignorantly, for the best.