The abstinence-only programs that were promoted and funded by the Bush administration may have contributed to an unsettling decline in the use of contraceptives by teenagers. From 2003 to 2007 condom use has leveled off but contraceptive use across the board has decreased by 10%. This is while the level of sexual activity has stayed the same. Not surprisingly, the teen birth rate increased by 5% from 2005 to 2007. [Source here.]
President Obama has decreased funding for abstinence-only programs in favor of comprehensive sex education. I say good for him. And I am a Christian. But I have never seen the wisdom in handicapping young men and women by ignoring the very real threats of pregnancy, AIDS and sexually-transmitted diseases. Teenagers are in a hurry to grow up, they are curious about sex (especially when it seems like the whole world is having it) and their sexual hormones are starting to kick into high gear. The chances are that they are going to have sex sometime before they get married. To refuse to arm them with the information they need to make informed decisions seems to be both unwise and irresponsible.
There are ways of teaching our children about sex without encouraging it, just as there are ways to discourage sex without making it seem dirty or unpleasant. Abstinence-only sex education is like teaching a person to drive but neglecting to teach him how to drive defensively. There are ways to limit tragic consequences in both instances without relying on “just say no” slogans.
One weakness of the abstinence-only programs is the reasoning they follow. For one thing, they try to convince our teens that they are not mature enough for sex. They’re not mature enough to drive either, but we allow them to. They also teach that sex outside of marriage is unsatisfying, but teens see evidence to the contrary everywhere they look. And when we tell teens that they will become impure if they have sex, what kind of sexual problems are we setting them up for as they travel into adulthood and marriage? If they have engaged in sex, will they feel anything but guilt ever afterwards? And even if they haven’t. will they be able to make the transition from seeing sex as “bad” and sex as “good” when society finally gives them permission to engage in it?
Another criticism I have of abstinence-only programs is that they put the greatest part of the burden on our young women. They are to safeguard their virginity at a time when being popular often means giving it up. Boys are taught to abstain as well, but they aren’t expected to have the self-control that girls have. Along with these messages is the confusing one that children are a blessing from God, even if they don’t wait until marriage to have them. (Think of Bristol Palin as a trend-setter.)
I am glad that the Bush years are over, but I’m afraid that his legacy will continue for many of our teens whose parents and teachers are unwilling to face the facts, the same facts they don’t want their children to have access to.