As school boards politicize, religious groups have gained influence over public education in a number of ways. When it comes to teen pregnancy, for example, many religious groups advocate practicing abstinence from sex until marriage. Public health advocates, on the other hand, advise talking to teens honestly and openly about sex, including some of the most common birth control options: condoms and oral birth control medication. With all the political posturing surrounding teen pregnancy (as well as the general taboo of talking about sex), it can be quite difficult to separate fact from bluster. Does abstinence-only sex education actually help prevent teen pregnancy?
The answer is a resounding no. The United States has the unfortunate honor of ranking first among developed nations in both sexually transmitted disease incidence and teenage pregnancy, despite a 10+ year federally funded abstinence-only sex education program. While undoubtedly effective if practiced continually, abstinence fails to acknowledge some very basic truths: 1) sex is an incredible human experience and 2) teens, generally speaking, have demonstrably worse impulse control than adults. Abstinence-only sex education fails to acknowledge that total aversion is simply unlikely given teenage behavioral tendencies. Compounding this fact is the absence of birth control information in abstinence-only sex education programs, which increases the risk for both teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Teens that have not been given birth control information are less likely to seek birth control as well as less likely to know how to use it effectively.
Even if we ignore the undeniable connection between abstinence-only sex education programs and religious lobbyists, we must confront the need for proper public sex education programs that emphasize birth control and safe sex. Teen pregnancy is highest in US states with abstinence-only sex education programs, a fact that is frequently overlooked in national conversations about public sexual health. The question of public sex education requires us to overcome our cultural taboo of public discussion of sex. It requires encouraging teens to come forward with their real questions about sex, rather than seeking advice through word of mouth or peers who may have even less knowledge of safe sex practices.
Most of all, we must implement a program of public sex education that prioritizes honest communication regarding sexually transmitted diseases and birth control. If your local school board has suppressed information regarding the effectiveness of birth control, interested parents are advised to organize a town hall meeting. Talk to each other, gather the facts, and then talk to your kids about the behavior you expect from them. Acknowledge the likelihood of sexual activity and emphasize safety and the importance of family planning, as well as the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.