Normally, social and political conservatives would be dancing with joy if a president cut a useless program from the federal budget. Many want to cut funding for Planned Parenthood but seem upset that President Obama has asked that millions of tax dollars to fund "abstinence-only" sex education be cut from the 2017 budget. While Obama should be praised for this, many Republicans in Congress are sure to oppose him.
In many school districts, especially those where religious conservatives control school boards or are otherwise a strong political force, schools take taxpayer dollars for these highly ineffective programs. The "catch" is that they can only teach that total abstinence until marriage is the only way to prevent pregnancy or sexually-transmitted diseases.
As is common among many social conservatives, the pro-abstinence people engage in half-truths. Sure, abstinence IS a sure-fire way to avoid these consequences but what if the students are going to have sex anyway? Should they not be taught how to protect themselves?
Abstinence-only sex ed is not only a failure but is based on the totally preposterous notion that if adults, especially teachers, tell teenagers over and over not to do something they will simply not do it! Also, when kids are given misinformation or disinformation about a given behavior and find out the adults were being less than honest, they are less likely to take adults seriously.
Such programs often include Christian guest speakers who stay "just on the line" of violating the separation of church and state. These speakers are even employed in schools which teach a comprehensive sex ed program.
Such sex "educators" often engage in a great deal of misinformation, such as the idea that teens can get pregnant through two layers of clothing. Or they are given misinformation about the efficacy of birth control when most modern methods of contraception are usually highly effective if used properly. Of course, these programs will not mention abortion or include youth who may be gay, lesbian, or transgendered except, perhaps, in a negative light.
Again, they engage in half-truths. Sure, there is always the possibility that contraception will fail but these speakers exaggerate the proven scientific facts.
These programs also engage in a great deal of "slut-shaming," which is mostly directed at girls. They are told that unless they are virgins until they are married, "no man will want them." What about the behavior of the boys?
In areas of the country where this model is the norm, local conservative churches pressure teens to sign "purity pledges." Studies show that that many kids who have had abstinence-only sex ed do honor these pledges, at least for awhile. When an if they do break them, however, they are more likely to engage in unprotected sex. Or, they engage in sexual behavior short of vaginal intercourse thinking that this maintains their "virginity." Predictably, schools employing the abstinence-only model often have much higher rates of teen pregnancy and STD infection.
Should abstinence be taught in public school sex ed classes? Of course, it should but only as a viable option. Many teens are not ready for the emotional impact of an intimate relationship. But, it should not be the only option.
Students need comprehensive sex ed. They need to be taught the plethora of options when it comes to sexual behavior. They need to be taught about contraception, STDs, sexual orientation, and scientific, medical facts about puberty, sexuality and their changing bodies. They should also be taught respect for others and themselves when it comes to sex.
As with drug and alcohol education, kids need to be taught the truth, not what some adults would like them to believe. And, since many teens are going to experiment with sex anyway, it is important that they have reliable information about puberty, sexuality, contraception, sexual and dating violence, and how to protect themselves from sexually-transmitted diseases.
Parents still have the right to teach their children sexual mores. So do churches. But, to use taxpayer dollars to fund what is blatantly a narrow religious agenda not only violates the doctrine of Separation of Church and State but also puts teenagers at risk.
(Scott Cracraft is a citizen, taxpayer, veteran and a resident of Gilford.)
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