abstinence-only sex education
Is it a widespread tendency of conservative politicians to both promote abstinence-only sex education, which research shows contributes significantly to increasing teen pregnancy rates, and be anti-abortion. As Bristol Palin’s pregnancy in 2008 strikingly demonstrated, holding these seemingly contradictory beliefs even holds strong in the face of teen pregnancies galore (almost 1 million per year in the U.S. — the highest rate of any industrialized nation) as a direct result of abstinence-only education. Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich are all staunchly pro-abstinence-only education and anti-abortion.
So what’s the problem here?
Let’s start with the basics. Research has proven abstinence-only education is not only ineffective, but in fact detrimental, because it puts teens who decide to become sexually active at a much higher risk for pregnancy and contracting STIs. And according to the National Abortion Federation, 4 out of 5 Americans have sexual intercourse before age 20, so the wait-until-marriage-camp is the stark minority. I believe it is important to note that abstinence-only education is not “sex education” but rather a promotion of one subjective view of “morality.” In my own middle school’s abstinence-only program, the teacher showed us a glass of water that had had an Oreo soaking in it for about an hour next to a nice, clear glass of water and asked us which one we would rather give to our future spouse. Sex is portrayed as dangerous and dirty (outside of marriage – of course it’s completely heteronormative). Our teacher told us that even if you had a condom that covered your entire body, you could still get your partner pregnant and/or get an STI. Just don’t have sex, it’s that simple, she told us. Really.
Nearly 20% of abortions in the U.S. are for women between the ages of 15 and 19. In the U.S., because of cultural norms and governmental policy, young people have a lot of difficulty accessing contraception and other reproductive healthcare: abstinence-only education only aggravates this crisis and contributes to a higher abortion rate.
The mentality of current conservative politicians regarding sex education and reproductive rights completely denies people – women especially – any power over their own sexual and reproductive decisions. Subjective views of “morality” and politics should have no place in dictating what people can and can’t do with their bodies: only individuals should make those decisions. Sex education needs to be comprehensive. This means presenting abstinence as a legitimate and viable option, but also explaining all types of contraception and STI-prevention and the facts about their relative efficacy. Moreover, a young woman should not be condemned for choosing to carry a pregnancy to term (and be labeled a teen mom) or choosing not to do so (for having an abortion). This is especially true when that woman was never given access to resources to learn about birth control in the first place.
For more information on the fight for comprehensive sex education, check out what Planned Parenthood is doing about it. For more information on different types of birth control, also check out Planned Parenthood or Bedsider.