As of now, there are 25 states in the U.S. that require educational institutes to stress abstinence and 19 states that require to stress the importance of engaging in sexual activity only within marriage, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
While I believe it’s okay for abstinence to be included in the education system, it should not be the only option, nor should abstinence be stressed to the point where one should feel “dirty” or worthless for choosing to have sex.
According to a 2013 article from the Salon, Jessica Ciencin Henriquez described her abstinence-only education as a horrific experience in which she was taught that, “Sex is only for marriage and to make babies.” She said at a young age she was put down and told she would be “broken” if she chose to have sex before marriage. Henriquez said she was even taught that a tampon could take her virginity. As a result, she said abstinence-only education didn’t make her any less curious about having sex, but rather distorted her views about sex and made her feel ashamed for having such thoughts.
“It took me five years of therapy, a failed first marriage and dozens of embarrassing questions along the way, to erase the ‘benefits’ that abstinence-only education gave me,” Henriquez said in the article.
While Henriquez case is extreme, there still are plenty of education systems and families teaching their teens that marriage before sex is the only way to go and reflects “American values.” However according to a 2007 Public Health Report, the average age of sexual exploration is 17, while the average age of marriage is 25 for women and 27 for men.
Abstinence-only or abstinence-stressed education will not prevent teens from having sex; it will only create uninformed teens, some of whom are partaking in sexual activities, thus increasing the risk of unplanned pregnancies and infections. Uneducated teens are more likely to use protection incorrectly or no protection at all. A typical woman who uses no method of contraception has an 85% chance of becoming pregnant within on year, while a woman who regularly uses contraception have a much lower chance of pregnancy, according to Contraceptive Technology statistics.
As a teen myself, I am thankful that I did not have abstinence-only education. However, I also believe fear should not be incorporated within sex education. While my high school taught us how sex works and how to be safe, they also used fear as tool to skew our perception of sex. They showed us frightening images of the worst cases of STDs and gentile infections and said, “If you have sex, this could happen to you.” While I do agree that it’s important to discuss the prevention of STDs and STIs, there are other ways to go about it rather than scaring the teens and displaying gruesome images.
I believe it is both parents and educators responsibility to teach teens about sex in a well-balanced manner. It is important to present teens with all the options within a sex education. I believe our health education system overall needs to be more rounded instead of a biased teaching that frightens teens or makes them feel ashamed for their actions.
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