Abstinence education advocates believe the healthiest choice for a non-married youth is to remain sexually abstinent.
Presenting the highest health standard remains the goal of any public school health education; abstinence education is no exception. Parents, not state or school administrators, have the right to determine if their teen is in need of additional medical information and services.
Myth: Abstinence education is instruction to “just say ‘no.’”
• Abstinence education is a primary prevention model designed to assist unmarried youth from becoming sexually active.
• Abstinence programs teach and equip students on diverse topics. These include relationship skills, STDs, HIV, refusal skills, body image issues, emotional bonding, differences between men and women, condom effectiveness, teen pregnancy, and the benefits of marriage.
• The benefits of remaining sexually abstinent until marriage are well established. Likewise, the physical, mental and emotional consequences resulting from sexual activity outside of a life-long relationship are not disputed. The education community is aware of these benefits and consequences; presenting them is much more than saying “no.”
Myth: Condom-based education (also known as comprehensive sex education) plus abstinence education addresses all students’ needs.
• In other areas of health education as well as abstinence, the highest health standard is communicated (i.e. alcohol, drugs, cigarette use, weapon carrying, etc.) The healthiest choice for school-age youth is to remain sexually abstinent.
• Children need directive education – education that points them to a specific outcome. If sexuality education is taught in a condom – plus – abstinence format, the message is mixed and nondirective. Students are left confused as to the best health choice.
• Teaching students how to reduce inherent risks of sexual activity by emphasizing condom usage fails to integrate the highest health education standard. Eliminating inherent sexual activity risks by teaching abstinence from such activity is teaching according to the highest standard. All youth deserve the best.
Myth: Condom-based sex education programs teach about abstinence education in addition to teaching about condoms and contraceptives.
Truth: A 2004 Heritage Foundation study determined that
• Abstinence education programs devote 54% of page content to abstinence-related material – whereas “comprehensive” sex education programs devote 5%.
• Abstinence education programs devote 17% of page content to healthy relationships and the benefits of marriage – whereas so-called “comprehensive” sex education programs devote 0%.
Myth: Abstinence education is all about shame and guilt.
• The emotional consequences of sexual activity outside a marital relationship are a reality. All high-risk behaviors, such as illegal drug use, involve emotional consequences. When an individual reconsiders his/her dangerous habits during a drug education class, the curriculum is not blamed for teaching shame and guilt. This indeed may be a student’s emotional response. However, lesson content of any health education curricula, including abstinence education, avoid the intent of eliciting shame and guilt.
• Most sexually active teens wish they had waited longer to have sex. Youth may have varied feelings during instructional class periods. When it comes to communicating health standards, educators do not adjust to the lowest common denominators according to potential feelings that may be engendered within select youth. The focus is what is in his/her best health interest.
• Sexually active youth may have uncomfortable feelings. Those feelings can be strong motivating factors to explore healthier mindsets and ensuing behavioral changes.
Myth: Abstinence education is not medically accurate.
• Medically accurate teaching imparts knowledge based upon current scientific research. Abstinence curricula use the latest data from peer-reviewed journals and government agencies and adhere to the same scientific standard and accuracy common to all educational fields.
• As is applicable with all textbooks, all sexuality curricula, including abstinence and condom-based, should be updated when new advances in information emerge.
• All sexuality curricula, including abstinence and condom-based, should be scrutinized for inaccuracies and receive rigorous oversight for medical accuracy.
S. Martin, R. Rector, M. Pardue, “Comprehensive Sex Education vs. Authentic Abstinence: A Study of Competing Curricula,” The Heritage Foundation (2004).
Bill Albert, “With One Voice 2004: American’s Adults and Teens Sound off about Teen Pregnancy, an Annual National Survey,” The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (December 2004).
Sexual Health Update 2005