Why Abstinence Education Works
Family North Carolina MagazineMay/June 2007
by Traci Griggs
Reports in the news question the worthiness of abstinence education. Specifically, Abstinence Until Marriage curricula is under attack in many states by those who favor comprehensive sex education (CSE). A basic premise of CSE is that sex before marriage is assumed. CSE finds sexual freedom acceptable. In North Carolina, legislation has been introduced to replace abstinence until marriage education with CSE. Lost in the debate is the value of abstinence education, which holds that people are able to choose not to have sex before marriage. Therefore, below you will find an article exploring the properly taught benefits of abstinence.
Caution: some of the material in this article is unsuitable for children.
Legislation on sex education was recently introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly entitled Modify School Health Education Program (HB-879/SB-1182). It would gut a 1995 law that requires public schools to teach that “abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the expected standard for all school-age children.” In addition, the bill would expunge every mention of “abstinence until marriage” from the lawyet another assault on the institution of marriage. Instead of the Abstinence Until Marriage message, school systems would be required to teach what’s being called, Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE).
When abstinence education is correctly implemented, it is found to be highly effective in delaying teen sex and the many negative factors that go along with it. (Robert Rector, The Effectiveness of Abstinence Education Programs in Reducing Sexual Activity Among Youth, April 2002)
It is also true that the 1995 abstinence law has always provided local school systems with the option of teaching comprehensive sex education if they follow a certain approval process in their community. The vast majority of local school systems have rejected this option. Therefore, this proposal in the General Assembly would have the effect of forcing school systems to teach something they have already rejected.
The opening language in the House bill implies an endorsement from a long string of professional associations. These associations are said to endorse “responsible sexuality education that includes information about both abstinence and contraception.” You would be hard-pressed to find too many people who don’t support that broad statement. In fact, this already occurs within the existing law. Opponents of the abstinence law would like CSE to be the new standardor should we say the old standard is being brought back. This message is the same condom-based, “everybody’s doing it,” message that was found so ineffective in the 1960s.
Support for Abstinence
North Carolina public school parents overwhelmingly support the teaching of “abstinence until marriage” education. The North Carolina Parent Opinion Survey of Public School Sexuality Education (October 2003) shows 91.2% of parents find the teaching of “abstinence until marriage” to be very important or somewhat important. Only 1.5 % oppose the teaching of it. The Modify School Health Education Program bill would remove every mention of “abstinence until marriage” from the law. In addition, this study also revealed that 96.1% think parents should be the ones to decide how sex education should be taught in public schools. This bill would take that decision-making out of the hands of parents and local school boards and mandate the teaching of a counterfeit “abstinence-based” curricula. This so called comprehensive sex education is found to have less than 5% of its content pertaining to abstinence and strategies for remaining abstinent.
CSE’s message has found little support among parents. When parents are provided with the specific information on what comprehensive sex education teaches, they overwhelmingly reject the major themes of CSE, according to a 2003 Zogby International poll. CSE promotes sexual freedom for adolescents, and then relies on condoms and other contraceptives to help negate the consequences that result.
Reducing the Risk
Here are a few examples from Reducing the Risk, a CSE curriculum found in at least one school system in North Carolina:
• Students are instructed to take a tour of a local family planning clinic which provides contraceptives (and often offers abortions). They are encouraged to do so with their boyfriend or girlfriend, even if they are not in the class with them. (p. 125)
• Students are told to visit a local drug store and list the different kinds of condoms that are sold there. They are also required to write down the operating hours of the store in case they need to buy a condom at a late hour. (p. 109/p.31 in student workbook)
• Students are told to plan how they will obtain and use condoms and foam. A worksheet is provided for them to fill out answers to related questions including the most romantic way to use these items.
• They are given suggestions for expressing their affection without having sexual intercourse including bathing together, mutual massage, and other ideas not suitable for a family magazine.
Below are some samples of curricula in a program recommended by the Centers for Disease Control called Focus on Kids provided by The Physicians Consortium, Sexual Messages In Government-Promoted Programs and Today’s Youth Culture (April 2002). The goal of this program is to reduce the risk of HIV infection among urban youth”:
• Condom Race: “Youth will practice the proper way to put on a condom.” “Divide youth into two teams and give everyone a condom. Have the teams stand in two lines and give the first person in each line a dildo or cucumber. Each person on the team must put the condom on the dildo or cucumber and take it off...The team that finishes first wins.”
• Ways to Show You Care: “State that there are other ways to be close to a person without having sexual intercourse. Ask youth to brainstorm ways to be close. The list may include...body massage, bathing together, masturbation, sensuous feeding, fantasizing, watching erotic movies, reading erotic books and magazines... .”
In stark contrast, Abstinence Until Marriage education incorporates informationas mandated by existing state lawabout sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS, along with risk factors and strategies for avoiding these diseases. Students are told the truth about the in-use failure rate of condoms and that condoms are not 100 percent effective against STDs, AIDS, and pregnancy. Young people are given a hope-filled message about why waiting until marriage to have sex is best for their lives, and how to communicate this to those who are pressuring them to have sex. They are taught that sex is more than just a physical act, but that mental, emotional, financial, and yes, even spiritual factors should be considered.
CSE claims to teach abstinence, but this has been found to be cursory at best in most CSE curricula. Meanwhile, sexually abstinent teens have been found to be among the most healthy and happy of their peers.
Teens who abstain from sex are less likely to be depressed and to attempt suicide, less likely to contract STDs, become pregnant, and live in poverty as adults. They are more likely to do well in high school and go to college, and more likely to have stable and enduring marriages as adults (Robert Rector and Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., Teenage Sexual Abstinence and Academic Achievement, Heritage Foundation, 2005).
The legislation introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly entitled Modify School Health Education Program would force local school systems to teach comprehensive sex education, an option schools have had and most have rejected since the State abstinence law went into effect in 1995.
The bill would close the door on teaching “abstinence until marriage” education, something that a majority of North Carolina public school parents have indicated is important. And the proposal would mandate the teaching of a message that has found very little support among parents once they understand the true nature of the curriculum.
Traci Griggs is Director of Communications at the North Carolina Family Policy Council. She is also on the board of directors for a pregnancy resource center that sponsors Abstinence Until Marriage presentations.
Copyright © 2007. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.