Part 4: Abstinence Is Better

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In my three previous posts (“Vote No on Abstinence,” Misunderstanding Abstinence, and Why Abstinence?) I set out to persuade readers that Abstinence Education is ultimately better and more effective than Comprehensive Sex Education.

Laying aside the statistical discrepancies between the two (namely, that both are supported by statistical studies), one main reason I advocate for AE is the goal for which it shoots, as well as how it gets there. AE shoots for total risk avoidance, and gets there by giving students information that is specifically designed to direct them to the healthiest lifestyle—abstinence outside of marriage.

In that way, AE is automatically prescribing what the healthiest lifestyle is, while CSE does not. But I would argue that this is what makes AE fundamentally more pedagogical than CSE. CSE does not define a “healthiest” lifestyle, and therefore “teaches” students that varying lifestyles of varying degrees of risk are all acceptable for them to pursue. That’s not being helpful to the student! They should know, and be encouraged to follow, the path that leads to a healthy sexual lifestyle.

Inside Comprehensive Sex Education

For example, one well-known CSE curriculum discusses identification of “values” for a portion of the course. The course defers to the personal, family, and community values of the student. This may be good for the student to consider in general, as they ponder the greater meaning of morality and life. But, this has very little bearing on what the healthiest sexual choice is, and what choice teachers ought to be directing students toward making. I do not understand the fear of prescribing which sexual lifestyle students ought to pursue if they care about themselves and their bodies.[1]

Additionally, the same curriculum goes on to give students a wealth of information about contraceptives. That’s not terrible; the problem is, while abstinence is mentioned as the only way to avoid any kind of risk, there are no activities or critical thinking exercises to push the students to actually make that choice. There’s not even one activity associated with choosing abstinence. All the activities are geared toward correct use of condoms, or finding out their availability to students in the community.[2]

This is the kind of thing that makes AE advocates wary, wondering whether the CSE curricula are intentionally pushing an agenda. Because, at best, the example above is simply a bad teaching method, undermining the [assumed] goal of directing students toward the healthiest sexual lifestyle—abstinence. At worst, the curriculum says one thing (that abstinence is the healthiest choice), but intentionally teaches students to have sex whenever and however they might choose. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

3 Concrete Reasons Abstinence Education is Better

Based on my observations about CSE versus AE curricula so far, I want to clarify 3 concrete reasons why AE is better for students.

1. Abstinence Education actually teaches.

We’ve been over this one already. AE actually helps students identify the healthiest lifestyle choice, and gives them the tools to begin applying that knowledge to their lives. The goal, and method of getting to the goal, is inherently pedagogical.

This does get some people huffy, though. Abstinence Education is ultimately founded on the principle that sex outside of a life-long, monogamous, heterosexual relationship is sexually risky. AE teaches students that abstinence until marriage is the only healthy sexual lifestyle; all others are unhealthy in some capacity. Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you have a different sexual appetite) this is irrefutable.

If you’re astute, you’ll also notice homosexual activity is not included in this healthy sexual lifestyle. Statistically speaking, anal intercourse significantly increases the risk of STD transmission, especially HIV. Just because the facts go against the cultural norm of acceptable behavior, doesn’t mean we should refrain from communicating the best (healthiest) sexual lifestyle to pursue. If you practice homosexual intercourse (or any kind of anal intercourse, for that matter), you’re putting yourself at risk. Students need to know that, and be urged to avoid it![3]

2. Abstinence Education empowers students.

Building on the first point, AE gives students the confidence and ability to make the best choice… because they’ve been properly equipped. Setting abstinence as a standard shows students they have a responsibility—mainly to themselves and their own body. Giving them this standard says a lot about how we as educators view their ability to make healthy choices. If we treat them like idiots, they’ll make decisions like idiots—based on desire and emotion, only.

In other words, when you take the view that “students will have sex anyway so we might as well just help them reduce the risk that comes along with it,” that underestimates their ability to think for themselves and make healthy choices once they’ve been properly equipped to do so.

Holding them to that “high” standard demonstrates to them their own self-worth and ability to make the best choice. When we give up on them immediately, we undermine the value they ascribe to themselves and their own bodies. They will never rise to the occasion if we don’t give them the opportunity in the first place.

3. Abstinence Education communicates value.

Finally, AE shows students that they have inherent value as human beings (physically, and metaphysically). Teaching them to completely avoid sexual risk communicates that they are valuable; they’re worth keeping safe and staying healthy. They are more than a physical act [sex], and should never define themselves by one dimension of who they are, because they have value simply by virtue of being a human.

Comprehensive Sex Ed. does not do that. It says: “Abstinence is the safest choice to make; but really, you’re free to choose any kind of sexual lifestyle, no matter the consequences.” Almost as if to say: “Do whatever you want, who cares.”

Abstinence, rather, says: “Every sexual choice outside of this one lifestyle is risky. Because you’re valuable, and your body is valuable, don’t put yourself at risk! Live the healthiest and best lifestyle you are able to live!”

You Be the Judge

Ultimately, you will have to do your own research, and decide for yourself which method actually has the better, and acceptable, outcome. I hope what I’ve written here has started you down that road. I also hope what I’ve communicated has at least persuaded you that AE is not backward and old-fashioned. It’s fundamentally better than CSE, and therefore better for our students.

If I can leave you with once piece of wisdom: Don’t let this issue drop. Bring it up with your student’s teachers, and school administrators. But, do it in a helpful way, not a confrontational, or uncongenial way. It’s a touchy issue, but it’s too important to the future lives of our students to ignore. We need to be willing to talk with each other about these issues, instead of continuing to talk past one another.

Thanks for engaging with me in this important issue.

Carter Mundy is the Outreach Director at Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center. He enjoys spending time with his wife, new daughter, and the family dog. He also loves his church family, Mercy Hill Church, and serves as a community group leader.

 

[1] “Chapter 2: What Are My Personal, Family, and Community Values?” http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/555-life-planning-education-a-youth-development-program, accessed August 4, 2014.

[2] “Chapter 13: What Reduces Sexual Risks?” http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/555-life-planning-education-a-youth-development-program, accessed August 5, 2014.

[3] “HIV Transmission Risk” http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/policies/law/risk.html, accessed August 5, 2014; “HIV transmission risk during anal sex 18 times higher than during vaginal sex”

http://www.aidsmap.com/HIV-transmission-risk-during-anal-sex-18-times-higher-than-during-vaginal-sex/page/1446187/, accessed August 5, 2014.

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