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Do Abstinence Education Programs Scare Children Sexless?

Updated on October 26, 2013



Some elements of the secular media want us to emphatically sing from the rooftops in gay abandon about sex. While I agree that we should not be squeamish about the topic, one should also take into account the maturity of the recipients together with the evidence of how effective the approaches have been over the last three or so decades.

Why is it that such populist opinion states that abstinence programmes increase teen pregnancy rates? One merely has to probe into the research to find mounting evidence to prove the contrary. Research results have been published in such reputable publications as the Journal of the American Medical Association and have been undertaken by various institutes and universities.

Local and national governmental agencies in the US have also conducted studies and undertaken follow up research to see if they remain effective down the track. The results vary from 30%-92% of the recipients refraining from sexual activity, even two to five years after the programme. It is also noteworthy that girls are the leading contenders.

Furthermore the programmes have significantly reduced pregnancy rates in the various schools. San Marcos School reported that two years after implementing such a program their known pregnancy rate dropped from 20% in 1984 to 2.5% in 1986 and have remained remarkably low since. Yet Jefferson Junior High, a low-decile school, reported their pregnancy rates dropped from 12-15 a year to only 2 in the past two years.

Contrary to hearsay abstinence programmes are not about “simply telling teenagers not to have sex” as stated by Susannah. There are a variety of programmes which are character-based sex education. They focus on teaching the children or young adults how to make informed decisions which include how to say no to peer pressure or the hormone ravaged boy who has just breached puberty, or the popular media implying you are not a man or woman until you have had sex. Thus sexuality is not reduced to orgasmic thrills devoid of love but encompasses the whole person. Embracing one’s sexuality includes self-esteem, respecting a partner’s values and differences as well as teaching communication skills. Therefore self-control is a key feature of the programme.

How can a teenager learn to control alcohol intake or his or her anger if he or she can not control their sexual attractions? Some of the various age-appropriate programmes explain that STD’s are a very serious concern for the sexually active. Not all those who have STD’s show any symptoms, a quarter of those with genital herpes do not show any sign of the disease. While only 33-50% of males and 80% of females infected with gonorrhoea show any symptoms.

The US government with its financial clout, has conducted indepth and extensive studies to ascertain any effectiveness of such programs. The US Department of Education’s AIDS and the Education of Our Children cited Decision Making: Keys to Total Success as an exemplary success. It was also listed in the 100 outstanding school programs by the National School Boards Associations handbook in the US.

Such programs do in fact reduce pregnancy. But their effectiveness reaches further with helping kids reject drug abuse, set goals, work harder and take responsibility in their lives. Drug referrals, grade point averages, attendance rates, and test scores have all been affected remarkably positively by these programs.

I had a chuckle when I saw a claim in an opinion piece in a US paper stating that such programs scare the kids sexless. Sure, abstinence programs do have a flaw. Like regular “sex-education” programs, individual teachers can be tempted to impart their own biases while presenting the material. The teacher needs to be well trained to deliver such a presentation.

Uganda has been a shining light in the African continent, while the surrounding countries’ AIDS contamination rates have sky rocketed. The early 1990s, showed the percentage of Ugandans with HIV peaked at about 15%. But by the end of 2005 the number had decreased remarkably to about 6.7%. The laudation should go to the emphasis on abstinence education which included fidelity within marriage. Uganda still supported the use of condoms. But it is clear that either the combined abstinence education with condoms or the abstinence program itself made the difference. Condoms or a drugs syringe program alone could not be the answer as the surrounding countries experienced rapid HIV incidence increases at the same time as Uganda. Since they did not use abstinence education they were unsuccessful.

Are condoms fool-proof in preventing a pregnancy? Planned Parenthood marketing campaigns imply that they are. But in fact the failure rate is about 10%. This is like saying to your child you should only look while crossing a busy street nine times out of ten. While sex is not necessarily as deadly as the analogy, it can open one up to an STD’s, the worst being HIV or Aids. Why do we open up children to such Russian roulette?

Why is it we encourage children to have sex at the pubescent age when we restrict them from driving or buying alcohol? Many children are not mature to handle driving or alcohol responsibly but some members in society, including many politicians, think they are sufficiently mature to handle sexual relationships.

“Sex-education” programs are also flawed in that they suspect all teenagers are sexually active or soon will be. On the hand, the character-based abstinence programs equip some teenagers to put off sexual activity to later in life within a loving relationship.

I believe that sexual intercourse has a spiritual dimension to it. We merely have to recall Aristotle and his view that the body is united with the mind (soul). How could it merely be a bodily activity? Take the example of someone who has a sexual relationship and subsequently are dumped. Their heart feels shattered, they can’t sleep, and all hope seems to have been sucked out of them. If we compared this with taking away someone’s chocolate for a period of time, most people would not be as distressed or even come to the point where they lose hope. Additionally, it is axiomatic that sexual intercourse is also a moral activity as there is a right and wrong involved, for example if there is no consent given then it is constituted as rape.

Why are we not emphasizing the overwhelming importance of teaching kids to have confidence in themselves to say no to overwhelming pressure to have sex? Instead society says, “Just use a condom and everything will be fine!”? Even governments think our nations’ kids are too stupid to be able to say “No!” This condescending attitude needs to stop. If low-decile kids can be encouraged to put off sexual activity or refrain from further sexual activity in the US, can it not be tried elsewhere?

For about thirty years we have forced upon young people that they can have a sex-without-consequences attitude. During this time the abortion rate has exploded from 615,831 in 1973 to over 1.2 million in 2004. It is time to help teenagers to value and embrace their sexuality during a time of self-discovery. It is also time to remove emphasis from an attitude of “if you are attracted to someone go for it”. We should instead return to explaining sexual intercourse as a commitment of love to be reserved to a relationship of covenant. Pope John Paul II through theology of the Body has brought this message back to the fore. He emphasised that conjugal love is a love that is fruitful (open to the gift of life) total self-gift. We need to bring this message back to the young.

Brendan Roberts is a researcher and author. This article by Brendan was first published by catholicexchange and is used with permission. His website is


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