Sex Ed Scare Tactics Won't Work With Teens

Sex EdPresident Bush's national campaign pushing for abstinence-until-marriage sex education within schools only furthers a stream of sexual ignorance within the emerging generation.

A case in point is Texas. While Bush was governor, it became the third state to create a law forbidding any form of sex education other than the abstinence-only doctrine. Yet, the state's teen pregnancy rates still teeter above the rates of other states and above the national average. A rise in sexually transmitted diseases has also been noted within the state.

The University of Washington, along with Duke University and the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, recently did a study of 779 women ages 18 to 24. The study's results showed an alarming rate of women did not know how to use condoms properly. According to The New York Times, 44 percent of women in heterosexual relationships waited too long to apply condoms. Another finding showed that 59 percent of women waited until after penetration to apply a condom.

Abstinence-only education makes no mention of condoms or their proper usage -- the only mention is of their failure rates. With today's 18- to 24-year-olds lacking proper knowledge about family planning and contraceptive use, what should we expect from children in middle school and high school who aren't being properly educated?

In October 2002, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. issued a press release containing poll findings that indicate American parents of numerous ethnicities were in overwhelming support of sex education programs that included information on prevention of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy as well as about sex and sexuality, giving children a very comprehensive look at sex vs. the use of scare tactics to frighten children into abstinence.

Obviously, national statistics have shown that these scare tactics aren't working. These students, taught only that a condom won't protect your heart and that only "bad kids" have sex, experiment with their developing sexuality anyway, often as a form of rebellion brought on by the shroud that envelopes sex. Only these children must bear consequences that a student with a comprehensive sex education would be less likely to face. Those educated in abstinence-only sex education can only rely on Trojan's instructions to lead them, if they even understood the necessity of a condom at all. It won't protect your heart, so why bother?

And what about those couples that do wait for marriage like they were told? Some married couples use condoms. Others use various oral contraceptives, the best known being "the pill." But what happens to those who didn't receive adequate education? Not everyone ventures off to college where information about sexuality is highly accessible. What are couples to do when they follow all the rules but don't have the knowledge to avoid multiple pregnancies within the marriage they waited for?

In addition, it should not fall upon the public school system to teach ethical standards to students or base their education on predetermined standards. Many families have varying attitudes on sex before marriage - some don't agree with it, and some are unopposed to the idea within the right situation. Neither the public school system nor the government is the moral authority for millions of families of differing beliefs and ethical standards. This narrow form of sex education fails to take into consideration this fact and teaches a narrow view, thus ignoring diverse ideas on sexuality.

Another element of this educational approach is the lack of acknowledgement for other forms of sexual expression. Men and women engage in same-sex intercourse. It's as real, as natural and as valid as heterosexual intercourse. Yet, abstinence-only programs with their highly conservative agenda also fail to educate gay and lesbian students who also need information and guidance during sexual development since they face many of the same risks that heterosexual students do. Ignoring the existence of these students and their educational needs only furthers the ignorance that this take on sex education fosters.

Abstinence-until-marriage education is not the plan for our nation's schools. Instead, we should take a more sex-positive approach, teaching students the realities of sex and sexuality.

Teaching a high school freshman girl what a condom is won't make her more likely to jump into a sexual situation -- it will teach her the realities and responsibilities that sex entails and leave her informed rather than ignorant as she approaches womanhood.

Callie Elizabeth Butler is a junior journalism major at Middle Tennessee State University.

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