Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Abstinence-Only: A Small Drop for a Big Thirst

*I wrote this a few years ago when I started college*

A young man calmly walks into the bathroom for a routine visit to the “porcelain god”, and all is good. He taps his fingers on the cold white surface of the countertop as he makes his way to the back of the room, anticipating some long awaited bladder relief. As he unzips the fly of his pants and takes hold of, what he might describe as, the eighth wonder of the world, he notices that something is terribly wrong. What once felt like any other warm living body part now felt more like a rotting dead fish, cold, clammy and unwelcoming. It is suddenly hyper-sensitive to touch and pain spirals throughout his groin. The boy looks down in terror as a drop of pus oozes out of the swollen opening of his glowing red member. He has gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease (STD). This scenario may have been avoided if the boy had abstained from sex or used a condom; however, his high school does not provide information on condom use, and he is a bit of a rebel.

The punishments for disobedient students in areas where abstinence-only sexual education is implemented are AIDS, unplanned pregnancies and a myriad of painful and traumatic sexually transmitted diseases. Some teenagers have informative parents who explain the necessary methods of preventing STDs but those who do not are being denied valuable information that could change their lives forever. Abstinence-only sexual education is a threat to society and withholds information that students have a right to know.

Abstinence-only Sexual Education is a program in which students are taught solely to sustain from sex and are not comprehensively taught about contraceptives. The program is intended to reduce the amount of STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) among teenagers and young adults in high school. The students take the course and most take a vow of virginity (In some private religious schools the vow has different theologically based names) and according to journalist Cheryl Wetzstien, “Taking a virginity pledge is ‘strongly associated’ with lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – teen pledgers are twenty-five percent less likely to have STDs as young adults than non-pledging peers, Heritage Foundation researchers Robert Rector and Kirk A. Johnson said in their reports”. The inverse is also true, however, and other studies have shown that those who pledge are more likely to engage in non-traditional forms of sex that keep them at risk for STDs. In fact, according to journalist Jill Colvin, a study by the Journal of Adolescent Health found that those who take virginity pledges are “six times more likely to have had oral sex than a non-pledger”. It also found that pledgers who were male were as much as four times more likely to have had anal sex than abstinent males who did not make the pledge. While the efficiency of virginity vows can be somewhat unclear, the vows of abstinence are only a small pixel of the Abstinence-Only Sex-ed image.

One of the most controversial attributes of Abstinence-only education is the biased contraceptive information. The program insists that abstinence is the only one hundred percent effective method of preventing STDs, which, aside from extremely abnormal occurrences, is true. In response, however, almost all schools which utilize the program discuss only ineffectiveness of contraceptives. It is a widely known fact, and statistic confirmed by the AVERT organization’s website, that, when properly used, condoms can drastically reduce one’s chances of being infected with STDs and have an eighty-six to ninety-seven percent success rate in preventing unplanned pregnancies and STDs. While the programs do teach the most effective method, they provide no other methods and severely limit students’ options. Students who do not follow the doctrine of the program face possible exposure to dangerous STDs and unplanned pregnancies without the proper protection. There are numerous types of contraceptives and birth control with very high success rates when properly used. Sexually transmitted diseases are obviously not the only problem teenagers face today; teen pregnancies are a very important factor.

Unplanned pregnancy has become a large issue in the United States. Less than fifty percent of schools in America provide information on obtaining birth control and only roughly thirty-three percent of schools educate students on abortions and sexual orientation. According to the Planned Parenthood® Organization, the United States of America has “the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world”. Our teen pregnancy rate is almost double that of many other countries. Teen pregnancies are traumatic to both the mother and father; often times there are severe financial problems. Teenagers today are having sex and having children, despite the futile attempts of Abstinence-Only Education. Abstinence-only education is not effective in preventing teenagers from having sex. It is also a largely theological movement.

The abstinence-only method of sexual education was first suggested by Christian religious groups and is a teaching in almost every private Protestant or Catholic school. The groups have received millions of dollars in funding from conservative politicians and bills designed to provide money only for abstinence-only education. Abstinence until marriage is a very important part of both the Christian Protestant and Christian Catholic religion and the ism is focused around this. Unfortunately this does nothing more than delegate a moral on teenagers. There is no law that defines the appropriateness of contraceptives. The constitution specifically states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . .” Government funding exclusive to schools which adopt a doctrine of a religious group is unconstitutional, as it would establish the government’s support for a particular religion and exclusion of others.

The program is merely endangering students by not providing precious information in the hopes that every student will listen and obey. Almost every aspect of the Abstinence-Only movement is based on theology, and not on safety. While it teaches a valuable practice that will save many teens the anguish of STDs and pregnancies, it is not effective enough. It is no secret that all teenagers do not follow the rules they are given. It is inevitable that students will have sex despite what they’ve been taught. Vows of virginity prove to be of little help, anyone with a working mind can break a vow, and many teenagers try to find a “work-around” such as oral or anal sex, which still lead to STD infection. With abstinence only sexual education the young adults and teens are ignorant to the proper ways of protecting themselves from STDs and conception. They are left defenseless in a cold world of disease and death. If Abstinence-only programs were implemented across the United States our country would eventually suffer a plague of overpopulation and disease.

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