Through out the years, pre-marital sex has become more and more accepted in our society. It is depicted everyday in magazines, television shows, and movies. Because of this wide portrayal and acceptance of pre-marital sex, many more teens and young adults have chosen to engage in sexual activities. According to a 1992 Centers for Disease Control study, 54 percent of American high school students (61 percent of boys and 48 percent of girls) say they have had sexual intercourse (Lickona 84). One out of ten U.S. teenagers become pregnant every year and approximately 416,000 teens have abortions (Donovan 28). Also, one in four children is born out of wedlock, compared to one in twenty in 1960. Because of the rise in pre-marital sexual activities, there has also been a rise in the number of people infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Twelve million people are infected with STDs each year, and of these infections, 63 percent are under the age of 20 (Lickona 316).
Many people believe that the answer to these problems with adolescents and young adults lies in the teaching of sex education in the school systems. However, what type of sex education works the best? Advocates of comprehensive sexuality education believe that their approach seeks to help young people understand sexuality as integral to their identity and enables them to make responsible life long decisions (Brick and Roffman 90). There are more than sixty main stream organization that support this approach through their membership in the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education. Some of these organizations are the American Medical Association, American School Health Association, American Association of School Administrators, National School Boards Association, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine. Under the comprehensive plan for sex education, students learn to ask questions, predict consequences, examine values, and plan for the future (Brick and Roffman 91). This education starts during the preschool and elementary years, which helps students to receive a total understanding of sex and its pros and cons by the middle and high school years.
Advocates of the comprehensive style believe that it is unproductive to present only one option (abstinence) to students in a world that promotes pre-marital sex through advertising and the media. They feel that students in programs that only teach abstinence are at a high risk of contracting STDs or becoming pregnant if they do decide to become sexually active, because they were not taught the proper use of contraceptives. Peggy Brick, a director of education at Planned Parenthood of Northern New Jersey, and Deborah Roffman, a sexuality educator and consultant, believe that advocates of abstinence only programs, do not prepare youth to make decisions in a highly complex world. They permit choice but their choice and deliberately deny potential life-saving information to those who do not conform to their viewpoint (325). These two women also feel that demanding an abstinence only approach dismisses people whose values regarding sexual behaviors differs from their own, asserting that these people are without values (325). However, Brick and Roffman believe instead that comprehensive sex education is based on values appropriate to our democratic and pluralistic society, which includes respect for peoples diverse viewpoints about controversial issues (326).
Despite the fact that comprehensive sex education may respect many peoples viewpoints, it does not prove that this type of education works. During the years 1971 to 1981, government funding at all levels for contraceptive education increased by 4,000 percent. During this time period teen pregnancies increased by 20 percent and teen abortions nearly doubled (Lickona 88). In 1986, a study by Johns Hopkins University concluded that comprehensive sex education did not reduce teen pregnancies (Dawson 162). Another study done in 1986, the Lou Harris Poll, was commissioned by Planned Parenthood (a leading sponsor of comprehensive sex education). Through this study they found that teens that took a comprehensive sex education course (including contraceptive education) were significantly more likely to initiate sexual intercourse than teens whose sex education did not discuss contraceptives (Lickona 317).
Dr. John Sholl, a retired medical doctor, calls the term safe sex, which is taught in comprehensive sex education classes, a misleading and incongruous combination of words (Ferriss 3). He believes that teaching students to use condoms and other contraceptives, which are not 100 percent reliable, is giving them a false sense of security (Ferriss). According to an article in Family Planning Perspectives, condoms have a 10 percent annual failure rate in all age groups, and up to 36 percent failure rate among teens (Lickona 318). In addition to the physical consequences that may result from the use of contraceptives, there are also many psychological consequences that can results, but vary from person to person (Lickona 319). For these reasons many people feel that it is wrong to tell students that using condoms is a responsible way to practice sex.
Seeing how the comprehensive approach to sex education clearly has not worked, it can be assumed that there is a better approach to sex education, which has more positive results. This type of education is abstinence only education. Advocates of abstinence only education feel that sex education should help students to gain sexual self-control, help them to realize that abstinence is the only 100 percent safe sex, and that the use of contraceptives does not make pre-marital sex responsible, emotionally or physically safe, or ethically loving (Lickona 316). By learning and understanding these points, hopefully, students will turn to abstinence, rather than the risky use of contraceptives.
Still, the good intentions of abstinence only education does not mean that its results coincide with these intentions. In San Marcos, California, an abstinence only program was implemented in 1985 by the school system in an effort to reduce a serious teen pregnancy problem. After the program was initiated, the number of known pregnancies at the high school dropped from 20 percent in 1984 to 2.5 percent in 1986 and then to 1.5 percent in 1988. In addition to the reduction of pregnancies, scores on basic skills tests went up and San Marcos won an award in 1988 for the lowest drop out rate in the state of California (Lickona 320). Another abstinence only education program called Postponing Sexual Involvement was created by Marion Howard of Emory University, and was specifically designed for inner-city, low-income 8th graders. Approximately 70 percent of the students in this program said that they learned that they can postpone sexual activity without losing their friends respect. Students who participated in this program were five times less likely to become sexually active than those who did not take the program (Lickona 321). Yet another abstinence only program, called Teen S.T.A.R. (Sexuality Teaching in the context of Adult Reasoning) has helped teens to choose abstinence. More than half of the teens who entered this program sexually active stopped all sexual activity by the time they leave the program (Lickona 321). The United States Congress has recognized these positive effects of abstinence only programs, and has appropriated $250 million in abstinence education grants to the states (Lickona 315).
The government supporting abstinence education is a step in the right direction for the problems pre-marital sex has overwhelmed our world with. We must stop and think, what if pre-marital sex never occurred?. What if the only type of sex that ever existed was monogamous sex between a married couple? Would there be such a thing as sexually transmitted diseases? Would HIV even be around today? Would there be so many unwanted children being born every day? The answer to these questions is most likely, no. Pre-marital sex has made all of these horrible nightmares turn into a reality. For this reason, it is important for everyone to understand the dangers and consequences of pre-marital sex, especially teenagers who just want to act on the hormones that are new to their bodies. That is why it is so important for abstinence education to be taught in schools where the students are in a serious environment to learn the shocking information and statistic of pre-marital sex. However, everyone must do their part to reinforce to their peers, children, siblings, relatives and friends, the dangers involved in not abstaining from sex until marriage. In promoting abstinence among young people now, perhaps it will start a new trend of values for the generations to come.
Brick, Peggy, and Deborah M. Roffman. Abstinence, No Buts is Simplistic. NewYork: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1993. Vol. 51 of Educational Leadership.
Dawson, D. A. The Effects of Sex Education on Adolescent Behavior. Family Planning Perspectives May-June 1986: 162-170.
Donovan, Patricia. Sex Education in Americas Schools: Progress and Obstacles. USA Today July 1992: 28-30.
Ferris, Lloyd. The Case for Abstinence. Maine Telegram 2 Feb. 1992: 1G+. SIRS Articles. Online. SIRS. 26 Nov. 2000.
Lickona, Thomas. Where Sex Education Went Wrong. New York: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1993. Vol. 51 of Educational Leadership.