What Abstinence Only Doesn’t Teach

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When I was in high school, I took a Family & Relationships course. At one point in the class, we talked about intercourse, protection, pregnancy, STDs, and pretty much almost everything else connected to sex. While the teacher did believe that abstinence was the best choice we could make, she acknowledged that it wasn’t the only choice. As a teacher at a Christian school she also pointed out that, even though God had a lot to say about sex, that didn’t mean we couldn’t enjoy it.

It was a great class, and I got a lot of questions answered. But I didn’t take that optional class until I was eighteen and in my last semester of high school. Until then, I was subjected to both my church and my school giving me the abstinence only view of sex. In that time, all I knew about sex was that I should avoid it as much as possible—even talking about it if I could.

We Americans have a weird way of talking about sex no matter where we go. Some communities like to avoid the topic altogether. As a result of the way we refuse to acknowledge the subject, America’s teens will often go into high school—even college—without a full understanding of sex. Sadly, this leads to unanswered questions. And in some cases, the consequences of letting these questions go unanswered are too severe not to address. Here’s just a few of those questions.

  1. What is sex?

John Oliver discussed the lack of sex education in America’s sex ed programs (link to his segment below), summarizing that it’s easier to find out what kids aren’t learning than it is to find out what kids are learning. And…yeah, that’s the best way to summarize abstinence only programs. They’ll tell you that it involves getting naked, but they don’t usually teach about protection, getting pregnant, or even what consent looks like.

  1. What’s the Appeal?

One of the questions I never got answered growing up is “if it’s so wrong, why have sex at all?” The media in particular has a strong fixation on sex. There are several factors that could explain the phenomenon, including but not limited to a) you can make almost anything appealing by forbidding it, and b) it’s a human drive—not a need, but a drive. Point is, there’s truth to the phrase “knowledge is power.”

  1. Is Shaming Okay?

On one hand, we believe that the “old-fashioned” notion doesn’t exist anymore. But it does, and it’s weird that we’d gloss over the idea of saying no. The other day, I found an ad from dating coach Matthew Hussey saying the best reply to a new acquaintance asking for a naked photo is “I think you’re mistaking me for a future version of myself who’s been on more dates with you.” Okay, but what if we don’t want to exchange naked photos at all? Come on, Hussey, let’s forget about my love life and talk about the legal and emotional importance of consent for a minute, shall we?

But on the other hand, people still make fun of you if you’ve had sex outside of marriage, whether you chose to or not. When I was in high school, a girl in my youth group was pretty popular with boys. To my knowledge, she never went beyond casual kissing. Yet my youth group leader made it seem perfectly acceptable to humiliate her for her “suggestive behavior,” turning our group into a hierarchy and saying she needed to earn her place in the clique despite already being part of the small group. That kind of non-virgin shaming isn’t just appalling in Christian communities, it’s commonplace. The sex education programs at Christian schools give students the right to compare non-virgins to dirty shoes or walking STDs.

As mentioned before, there’s a lot of other things about sex we don’t learn in sex education. The John Oliver segment—again, link below—is both funny and informative, so please check it out when you have the chance. But the point is, sex is more than just getting naked and experiencing bodily pleasure. So if we want to prepare our youth, then maybe we need to be more candid and willing to talk about it in a safe environment where kids can ask anything without fearing paranoid criticism.

Photo source: http://act4entertainment.com/issues/human-rights-civil-justice/sex-education/

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