"Two young people every hour are infected with HIV" (SIECUS, "The Division").
This startling statistic raises the question: How can we educate young people so that this trend does not continue? For the past three decades, abstinence-only sexual education (AOE) has been prominent in many schools and youth organizations across America. The government has poured millions of dollars into this type of program with the goal of preventing unplanned pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Nonetheless, the infection rates of HIV and other STDs are still rising in young people (SIECUS, "The Division"). This calls into question the true efficacy of these programs and raises doubts about whether their federal funding should continue. Given the current scientific evidence and studies, it is clear that AOE is not an effective form of sexual education for preventing HIV in American youth, so the government funding of abstinence programs should be reallocated to more effective forms of education.
In this paper I will present information and startling statistics on the current trends of HIV infection in the United States, increasing the importance of considering the most effective form of sexual education for youth. I will also discuss the history of AOE programs in the United States. This history will include a description of federally funded abstinence programs as well as the egregious amounts of money they have received. I will also discuss the main goals and ideology of AOE and provide information on the key demographics of support for it. This will demonstrate why there is still a danger of even more government funding being allocated to AOE programs. After presenting this background information, I will offer the best evidence and arguments in favor of AOE. I will rebut this information with scientific evidence that AOE is undoubtedly not effective in preventing HIV in youth. This will lead me to review an alternative form of education—comprehensive sexual education. After examining the effectiveness of comprehensive programs, I will argue that the government funding of AOE programs should be allocated to comprehensive sexual education programs instead.
HIV Facts and Trends
A key reason why adolescent sexual education is such a relevant issue today is the increase in sexually transmitted diseases in youth. The spread of HIV, in particular, among young people is of critical importance. HIV is a virus that is transmitted when infected blood or other body fluids come into contact with damaged tissue or enter into the bloodstream. The most common forms of HIV transmission are sexually, from mothers to infants during birth, and through injection drug use. If HIV is untreated it can progress to cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. AIDS victims suffer from a weakened immune system and can experience many negative symptoms such as rapid weight loss, tiredness, night sweats, sores, and many more. The first case of AIDS was reported in 1981, and despite efforts from the medical community, there is currently no cure. According to the U.S. Department of Human and Health Services, currently more 1.1 million people in the United States are infected with HIV ("U.S. Statistics"). Although HIV infection rates in the U.S. have remained constant in recent years, the number of youth infected is rising. The rate of HIV diagnoses between 2006 and 2009 increased in teens and was highest in 20-24 year-olds ("June 2012"). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports startling statistics: "About one in four new HIV infections is among youth ages 13-24. Most of them do not know they are infected, are not getting treated, and can unknowingly pass the virus on to others" ("U.S. Statistics"). In addition, most young people are infected with HIV through sexual contact ("The HIV/AIDS Epidemic"). The rising levels of HIV in youth are of critical importance, and they display the need for adolescents to receive the most effective sexual education for preventing HIV.
A History of Abstinence-Only Education Programs
One way in which educators, parents, and lawmakers have attempted to eliminate the risk of STDs and unplanned pregnancy is by promoting a message of abstinence to youth through abstinence-only education. AOE programs began receiving government funding in 1981 (SIECUS, "A History"). Under President Reagan the first of these programs, the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA), was created. According to the Sexuality Information Council of the United States (SIECUS), the goals of AFLA were to promote chastity and self-discipline, and to encourage abstinence until marriage as a means of preventing pregnancy. As the SIECUS report indicates, the AFLA received over $200 million in government funding while it was in effect, but Congress eliminated it in 2010. One of the other main government-funded AOE programs is the Community-Based Abstinence Education program (CBAE). Like AFLA, this program also received a substantial amount of federal funding throughout its existence. SIECUS reports that CBAE began in 2001 with $20 million in funding. That amount increased to $113 million in 2006, was cut down to $99 million in 2009, and was eliminated in 2010 ("A History"). Nonetheless, both the ALFA and CBAE programs received hundreds of millions of dollars worth of government funding in their duration.
Although the original AOE programs have been eliminated from government funding, there are still millions of dollars each year being funneled into AOE through the Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Program. As Howell of Advocates for Youth explains in her history, Title V is a welfare law that was part of the Social Security Act, and it created a new channel of federal funding for AOE programs. Title V was enacted in 1996 and has received $50 million annually in federal funding since 1998 (Howell 2). States can choose whether or not to accept Title V funds. If they choose to accept funding they must match three state-raised dollars for every four federal dollars. Forty-nine of the fifty states have chosen to accept funding at some point, with California being the only exception. The states then must distribute the funds to schools, community-based organizations, health organizations, faith-based organizations, or others.Congress allowed the program to expire in 2009; however, it was reenacted by conservative lawmakers to receive $250 million between 2010 and 2014 (SIECUS, "A History"). Thus, although there have been considerable shifts in federally funded AOE programs, a substantial amount of taxpayer money is still being allocated to that form of education.
The specifics of AOE can differ between programs, but the basic idea behind them is that abstaining from sex until marriage is the best way to avoid sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, as well as unplanned pregnancy. According to SIECUS, CBAE had a more moral approach that "viewed sexual abstinence prior to marriage as an approach that would lead to a happier life, including having a healthier marriage and children, earning more money…having integrity, attaining a better education, [and more]" ("A History"). CBAE funding also explicitly prohibited programs from providing positive information about contraception (SIECUS, "A History"). Similar general principles apply to many AOE programs; however, Title V spells out the current specific definition of AOE that must be followed in order for programs to receive government funding. In order to receive funding, a program must:
- Have as its exclusive purpose teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity
- Teach that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems
- Teach that a mutually faithful, monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity
- Teach that sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects
- Teach that bearing children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child's parents, and society
- Teach young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increases vulnerability to sexual advances
- Teach the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity (Trenholm et al., "Impacts of Four" 3)
It is evident from Title V's educational standards that AOE has rigid educational guidelines that must be followed. In addition, this curriculum does not discuss the benefits of condoms and contraceptives or ways in which to prevent STDs while sexually active. In fact, federally funded AOE programs are only allowed to teach the negativities and failure rates of condoms and contraceptives (Lin and Santelli 56).
Support for Abstinence-Only Education
The question of who supports AOE is widely debated. It is generally assumed that the primary supporters of AOE are politically conservative and Christian. This assumption has some validity. AOE funding grew substantially under conservative Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Furthermore, the programs have garnered much support from Christian organizations. This is mainly due to the fact that the abstinence message is in line with many Christian ideals of morality, chastity, and fidelity to one partner. Many people believe for religious or other reasons that sex before marriage is morally wrong, and they therefore want that message taught to youth. Although a large number of the supporters of AOE fall into these two categories, a survey conducted by Pulse Opinion Research in September 2012 found that AOE also has a substantial amount of support from Democrats, with 60 percent of those surveyed indicating that they oppose Obama's efforts to eliminate all funding for AOE (Huber 2). The survey also found that 50 percent of people asked thought that more government funding should be given to teaching abstinence (Huber 25). Therefore, although funding for AOE has decreased in recent years, it should not be considered put to rest. With strong support from many conservatives and Christians, as well considerable support across the demographics, AOE funding could very well make a comeback within the next few years. For this reason, it is even more crucial to examine the effectiveness of these programs and reassess if they should really be receiving millions of taxpayer dollars each year.
Supporters of AOE argue for continued funding and implementation of the programs by citing studies that have reported, "effects of abstinence education on student knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and intentions towards abstinence" (Trenholm et al. "Impacts of Abstinence" 257). Many of these supporters oppose the addition of education that encourages the use of condoms and contraceptives when sexually active because they believe that it will increase sexual behavior in youth (Kirby and Rolleri 19). Although the scientific evidence supporting AOE has generally been lacking, proponents of the programs gained support in 2010 when a federally funded study conducted by John Jemmot, a University of Pennsylvania professor, found that AOE could have positive effects on middle school students. The study found that only one third of the students in the AOE program started having sex within the next two years. In comparison, about half of the students who received education about both abstinence and contraception became sexually active in the same time period (Stein). This study is an important victory for AOE supporters. According to Sarah Brown, the head of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy: "This new study is game-changing. For the first time, there is strong evidence that an abstinence-only intervention can help very young teens delay sex" (Stein). The findings of this study could help garner support for more funding of these programs.
Evidence of Abstinence-Only Education's Ineffectiveness
Determining the most effective sexual education program is no easy task, and it continues to be a topic of much debate. In recent years, many studies have been done in an attempt to determine what effect AOE programs are actually having on the sexual behaviors of teens and young adults. One key study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research evaluated four AOE programs funded by Title V and found alarming results. The programs were reviewed eight years after their implementation using a program group and control group of over 2,000 teens. The programs reviewed all began receiving funding in 1998, followed the educational guidelines listed above that had been specified under Title V, and were well implemented and intense. One could argue that these programs were the idealistic models of abstinence education. However, the study found that these programs did not reduce teen sexual activity (Trenholm et al. "Impacts of Abstinence" 272). A 2008 study of nine AOE programs conducted by scientist Douglas Kirby had similar results. The study found that the programs had "no overall impact on adolescents' delay in initiation of sex, age at initiation of sex, return to abstinence, number of sexual partners, or condom or contraceptive use" (Kirby 24). In addition, there is a lack of results showing increased knowledge of STDs and use of protection when sexually active, two things that should be the goals of any successful sexual education program. This failure of AOE programs at achieving these results should be considered reason enough to rescind their government funding. However, the most detrimental failure of these programs has yet to be addressed.
As I mentioned earlier, federally funded AOE programs are extremely restricted in the education about condoms and contraceptives that they may provide. Specifically, they can only discuss their failure rates. This particular educational aspect has consequences that could potentially affect thousands of people. Additional studies conducted by Mathematica Policy Research have found that about half of all teens are sexually active by the time they leave high school, despite the encouragement to remain abstinent (Trenholm et al. "Impacts of Four" 61), which further indicates the need for those youth to be educated on methods of preventing the transmission of STDs like HIV. Promoting condom use is one of the crucial methods of preventing the spread of HIV used by health professionals, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease found that condoms are effective in protecting against HIV when they are used correctly (Lin and Santelli 58). A 2002 study conducted by scientists Alison Lin and John Santelli also "found an 80% reduction rate in the transmission of HIV with consistent use of condoms" (Lin and Santelli 59). Unfortunately, youth in AOE programs are not taught this potentially life-saving information. Instead, they are presented with out-of-date statistics that underestimate the ability of condoms to prevent HIV, and they are led to believe that condoms do in fact allow the spread of HIV. The curriculum of one program even stated: "Condoms do not prevent pregnancy, STDs or AIDS" (Lin and Santelli 60). This information blatantly opposes the current standards accepted by the medical community, and the fact that the government is funding this type of education is unacceptable.
The effects of this misinformation on youth have also been studied, and the results are disheartening. The aforementioned study conducted by Dr. Kirby found that the youth in the AOE programs were much less likely than youth not in AOE programs to see condoms as effective at preventing STDs. Also, according to the report, "about one in seven reported being unsure about condoms' effectiveness for preventing HIV," and 21 percent of those in the AOE programs answered that condoms never prevent HIV (Kirby 44). This obvious lack of understanding about how to effectively prevent HIV poses a significant threat to the current efforts at reducing the spread of HIV and AIDS. Although it is understandable to want youth to abstain from sex for as long as possible, we must still make sure that they are properly informed and prepared for when they do begin having sex. Yet, according to Lin and Santelli, the current abstinence "curricula do not equip youth with the information or the skills they need to use condoms to protect themselves from HIV, other STIs, or unintended pregnancies" (Lin and Santelli 62). As the rate of HIV infection in teens and young adults is on the rise, we can no longer allow for this misrepresentation and lack of education to go on, or the trends of HIV transmission will undoubtedly continue.
Comprehensive Education: A Better Approach
The prevalence of HIV among youth makes it even more crucial to determine what type of sexual education is effective. Since it is clear that AOE is not the answer, we must turn our attention to the other prominent form of sexual education—comprehensive education. Proponents of comprehensive education often agree with the benefits and safety of youth abstaining from sex, but they also "recognize that many young people do engage in sexual behavior that places them at risk of STD and pregnancy, and that therefore they should be encouraged both to abstain from sex and to use condoms and/or other contraceptives if they do have sex" (Kirby and Rolleri 19). AVERT, an international HIV and AIDS charity, explains that comprehensive programs teach the benefits of waiting to have sex until they are ready, but they also make sure that the youth who do become sexually active know how to protect themselves from STDs and pregnancy ("Abstinence Sex Education"). Opponents to comprehensive programs use the program's duality as a basis for attack, claiming that teaching both abstinence and contraceptive use sends a mixed message to youth. However, supporters of comprehensive sexual education programs rebut the attack by arguing that the programs emphasize abstinence but also encourage the youth who are sexually active to use condoms and other contraceptives (Kirby and Rolleri 19). Prior to 2010, comprehensive sexual education programs received no government funding, while AOE received millions. However, in 2010 comprehensive education gained momentum and federal financial support in the form of grants worth $375 million to be spread over the course of five years (Rabin). Nonetheless, the government funding of these programs is not necessarily permanent and could easily revert back to old ways.
The evidence supporting comprehensive education is much more abundant than the evidence supporting AOE. A review of 48 comprehensive education programs also conducted by Dr. Kirby found that two-thirds had positive effects including delayed initiation of sex and increased condom use (Kirby 18). In addition, "one fourth [of the programs] reduced the frequency of sex, and nearly half reduced the number of sexual partners" (Kirby 24). A study done in 2012 by numerous scientists in conjunction with the Community Preventative Services Task Force reviewed 66 comprehensive programs and also found positive results. The review found that youth involved in comprehensive education had a significantly decreased number of sexual partners, amount of unprotected sexual activity, prevalence of STDs, as well as a significant increase in the use of protection during sex (Chin et al. 288). The study concluded that, "Based on these findings, group-based comprehensive risk reduction was found to be an effective strategy to reduce adolescent pregnancy, HIV, and STIs" (Chin et al. 272). Although these studies don't imply that comprehensive education is the perfect solution, they do show much more promise towards the goal of reducing the spread of HIV than abstinence-only programs.
Overall, it is evident that AOE programs are not effective at preventing the spread of HIV in American youth. Numerous studies have shown that AOE programs are ineffective at delaying the age of first sexual interaction, decreasing the number of sexual partners, and increasing knowledge and awareness of the dangers STDs and how to prevent them. Furthermore, the lack of understanding in youth involved in AOE programs about condom and contraceptive use could have detrimental effects and revert the efforts of the medical community at preventing the spread of HIV. Lastly, the minimal evidence in support of AOE is hardly enough to warrant the millions of dollars of government funding that the programs are currently receiving. Teens and young adults are being infected with HIV at troubling rates, and we cannot idly sit by while this trend continues. Rather, we must ensure that government funding is channeled into the most effective form of education for youth in order to combat the problem. Although more studies need to be done in order to make sure every young person receives the most beneficial sexual education, current evidence shows that comprehensive sexual education is a much better answer. This issue is far from solved, but one thing is clear: Abstinence-only education is not the answer, and comprehensive education is a more effective solution deserving of increased government funding.
 The health and medical community has recently begun using the term sexually transmitted infection (STI) in place of STD; however, since STD is the more commonly recognized term, I will be using it in place of STI throughout this paper.
"Abstinence Sex Education." AVERT. AVERT, 2014. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.
Chin, Helen B., et al. "The Effectiveness of Group-Based Comprehensive Risk-Reduction and Abstinence Education Interventions to Prevent Or Reduce the Risk of Adolescent Pregnancy, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and Sexually Transmitted Infections: Two Systematic Reviews for the Guide to Community Preventive Services." American Journal of Preventative Medicine 42.3 (2012): 272-94. Print.
"The Division of Adolescent and School Health: Promoting Effective HIV and STD Prevention through Schools." Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. SIECUS, May 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
"A History of Federal Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs." Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, SIECUS, n.d. Web. 1 May 2014.
"The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the United States." The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 7 Apr. 2014. Web. 1 May 2014.
Howell, Marcela. "The History of Federal Abstinence-Only Funding." Ed. Marilyn Keefe. Advocates for Youth. 2007. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
Huber, Valerie, and Mary Anne Mosack. "Parents Speak Out: National Survey Indicates nearly 9 Out of 10 Republican Parents and 8 Out of 10 Democratic Parents Support Abstinence Education." National Abstinence Education Foundation (2012): 1-26. Print.
"June 2012: Teens and the HIV/AIDS Epidemic." U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Office of Adolescent Health, 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 1 May 2014.
Kirby, Douglas, and Lori Rolleri. "The Impact of Sex and HIV Education Programs in Schools and Communities on Sexual Behaviors among Young Adults." Family Health International (2006): 1-76. Print.
Kirby, Douglas. "The Impact of Abstinence and Comprehensive Sex and STD/HIV Education Programs on Adolescent Sexual Behavior." Sexuality Research and Social Policy 5.3 (2008): 18-27. Print.
Lin, Alison Jeanne, and John S. Santelli. "The Accuracy of Condom Information in Three Abstinence-Only Education Curricula." Sexuality Research and Social Policy 5.3 (2008): 56-69. Print.
Perrin, Karen, and Sharon Bernecki DeJoy. "Abstinence-Only Education: How We Got Here and Where We're Going." Journal of Public Health Policy 24.3/4 (2003): 445-59. Print.
Rabin, Roni C. "New Spending for a Wider Range of Sex Education." New York Times. New York Times, 10 May 2010. Web. 2 May 2014.
Rotheram-Borus, Mary Jane, et al. "Prevention of HIV among Adolescents." Prevention Science 1.1 (2000): 15-30. Print.
Stein, Rob. "Abstinence-Only Programs might Work, Study Says." The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 2 Feb. 2010. Print.
Trenholm, Christopher, et al. "Impacts of Abstinence Education on Teen Sexual Activity, Risk of Pregnancy, and Risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases." Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 27.2 (2008): 255-76. Print.
Trenholm, Christopher, et al. "Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs." Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc (2007): 1-64. Print.
"U.S. Statistics." U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, AIDs.gov, 6 June 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Charting the Course of Education and HIV. Paris: UNESCO, 2014. Print.
Of all the content students learn during their school years, sex education is arguably the most important. Few people will need to know the date of Battle of Gettysburg or the Pythagorean theorem on a daily basis in their adult lives; however, knowledge about one's body and how to take care of it and protect it will prove essential day after day. For many, memories of sex education typically involve awkward discussions with one's school nurse or gym teacher and horribly corny videos of middle-aged men and women dressed like teenagers using what they think passes as current slang to discuss a topic no teenager really wants to talk about. However, aside from the slight awkwardness, sex education is a crucial part of every student's education as the information provided applies to everyone; it is an opportunity, and at times the only opportunity, that allows young adults to discuss their changing bodies, sex, and sexualities without fear of judgment or condemnation. Or rather, that is what sex education should be. In America, however, judgment, fear, and condemnation are cornerstones of government-funded abstinence-only (AO) education. Though not every state receives government funding for AO education, the vast majority of them do. In 2005 alone, the US government spent $168 million on AO programs. This would be a small price to pay for informing today's adolescents about their changing bodies and the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unwanted pregnancies, and other matters if AO programs actually worked. Sadly, they do not. In fact, "teens in states that were prescribed more abstinence education were actually more likely to become pregnant" (Stanger-Hall 2). Not only are AO programs ineffective at prolonging the onset of sexual activity in teens (their main goal), they are also exceptionally dangerous as they withhold information from adolescents about safer sex practices and reproductive health. Government funded AO education in America is antiquated, dangerous, and based in politics and morality rather than fact.
Teaching teenagers to practice abstinence is not inherently bad. On the contrary, abstinence is the only method 100% effective at preventing teen pregnancy and all STD's. It is a valid option for many people but, like any form of birth control or preventative care, it only works when used properly, meaning that no sex of any kind occurs at any time. A recent study suggests that as many as 95 percent of Americans engage in premarital sex. Another study showed that 60 percent of teens that made a public pledge to remain abstinent until marriage broke that pledge within 6 years. So what changes? Why do so many teens take pledges of abstinence only to break those pledges less than 10 years later? Some may have simply changed their mind, as teenagers are known to do, but the more important question here is not "what changed?" but rather why did such a large portion of these teens feel the need to make abstinence pledges to begin with? The pressure teenagers feel to remain abstinent (or make it appear as though they are abstinent) is enormous. Most of the time, the 'choice' to remain abstinent until marriage is not the informed choice of the individual, but rather the choice imposed upon them by their teachers, families, or other adult figures. This imposed abstinence from parents as well as AO education programs is the reason abstinence pledges fail 95 percent of the time. Rather that providing adolescents with accurate, judgment-free information and allowing them to decide what is best for themselves and their own bodies, they are coerced into abstinence with misleading, false information and fear. In 2004, a report ordered by Democratic representative Henry A. Waxman found that "over 80% of the abstinence only curricula used by over two-thirds of the SPRANS [Special Projects of Regional and National Significance] grantees in 2003, contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health" (Gresle-Favier 716). Specifically, these programs were portraying false information about the effectiveness of contraceptives, false information about the risks of abortion, and they portrayed stereotypes about boys and girls as scientific fact.
The notion that boys' only goal all of the time is to have sex and that they lack self control while girls lack a desire to have sex and must ward off the advances of boys are stereotypes that pervade western culture. In a study conducted by researchers Heather Hartley and Trisha Drew, it was concluded that as a culture we "reinforce a sexual double standard in which male erotic desire and sexual agency is legitimized whereas female erotic desire and sexual agency is minimized." We "convey a 'sex as danger' message regarding female sexuality, thus creating a social context conducive to the suppression of female sexual desire, pleasure and initiative" (Hartley and Drew 1). These gendered misconceptions about sexuality that pervade our culture show up in movies (the main focus of the Hartley study), media, and sex-ed programs. By presenting these notions as fact in what is supposed to be an academic-like course, AO programs are perpetuating harmful and inaccurate stereotypes in successive generations that greatly affect how we as gendered people approach sex in our lives.
These programs also contained blatant "scientific errors" (Gresle-Favier 716) in its content. Regardless of what is being taught in these programs, it is paramount that the information presented is at the very least accurate. If the basis of why adolescents are choosing to remain abstinent is based upon inaccurate information, they will not be very likely to stick with that decision when the choices become hard. But, if schools are not going to offer students accurate sex ed information, who will?
The notion that information about sex should be taught at home is a cornerstone argument for opponents of comprehensive sex education. Though it is important that there be an open dialogue between parents and children about sex, these discussions are often "deeply tainted by familial ideology" (Gresle-Favier 717). Much like AO programs, parents often withhold options and information from adolescents because it is not what they would or did choose for themselves or because they do not agree with it. However, an integral part of the maturing process for young adults is developing their own opinions, independent of their parents/guardians. When it comes to decisions about their sexuality, though, they are hindered from making these decisions because of this "mother knows best" mentality. It is impossible to make an informed decision about something that first, one doesn't know about because they've never been told or secondly, that has been presented to you in a biased, inaccurate fashion. For example, birth control and contraceptives are highly debated in the United Sates, especially their distribution to teenagers. Some people disagree with them for religious or moral reasons, while others believe that the distribution of contraceptives encourages premarital sex and think that they are dangerous. There are an infinite number of reasons why someone may find themselves disagreeing with the use of contraceptives but, regardless of their reasoning, should these people become parents, it is highly unlikely that they will discuss options for birth control with their children. Should their child be a girl, this is not only dangerous and a violation of basic human rights as established by the United Nations, it could be considered downright cruel.
As previously mentioned, there is a 95 percent chance that this hypothetical child will not be waiting until marriage to have sex and, without knowledge about proper preventative care, she will be depending completely upon her partner and, hopefully, a condom to keep herself from getting pregnant or contracting an STD. For this reason, lack of knowledge about birth control is obviously dangerous but it is very likely that she won't be using birth control as a contraceptive. In fact, "more than half of pill users, 58 percent, rely on the method at least in part for purposes other than pregnancy prevention. Thirty-one percent use it for cramps or menstrual pain, 28 percent for menstrual regulation, 14 percent for acne, 4 percent for endometriosis, and 11 percent for other unspecified reasons" (Jones, 3). Should this hypothetical child suffer from any combination of these ailments, she will be unable to access the care she needs as her parents have instilled in her the belief that birth control has only one purpose, preventing pregnancy, and that it is not a valid option for her. Though she may agree with her parents and decide that birth control or any other form of contraceptive is not right for her, the purposeful withholding of information about these options and the inaccurate portrayal of their effectiveness both at home and in AO programs is unacceptable and a violation of the basic international human rights to health and freedom of information as established by the United Nations (Gresle-Favier 718).
Though abstinence is a valid option for many adolescents, the 95 percent of people who do choose to have sex before marriage need to be informed of other safer sex practices which many government funded AO programs prevent from happening. Ignoring 95 percent of the population like this is dangerous and, quite frankly, reckless. Based upon the research available, the best method for sex education today is to have a baseline curriculum that is taught in all classrooms across the United States, regardless of location or teacher. In establishing this base curriculum, the large knowledge gap that exists between students when it comes to sex ed because of varying teachers and locations can be closed. Not only will this set a standard for education, hopefully it will standardize the language that we use to discuss sex and consent and possibly decrease the number of non-consensual sexual situations that occur out of miscommunication. This standardized program will present abstinence as a primary option, stressing why it is the safest route to take to protect one's self from unplanned pregnancies and STD's. However, just as abstinence is presented as an option (not the requirement), a comprehensive overview of preventative care and safe sex practices will be a part of the curriculum so that the 95 percent of people who do not choose abstinence until marriage will have their needs met by this curriculum as well. Ultimately, researchers argue that "comprehensive sex education that includes an abstinence (delay) component is the most effective form of sex education, especially when using teen pregnancy rates as a measurable outcome" (Stranger-Hall 8).
Another huge downfall in the current state of sex education in America is the disregard for LGBTQ+ students. It is estimated that "1 in 10 adolescents struggle with issues regarding sexual identity" (Santelli 78) and current sex ed curriculums do nothing to help these students. Unlike heterosexual students who have grown up being told who they are and encouraged to pursue heterosexual relationships from birth, LGBTQ+ students have never had their relationships normalized. When a baby boy is born, he is automatically referred to as a "little ladies man" or a baby girl is born and adults say, "The boys better watch out, she's going to be a heartbreaker!" In this way, their relationships are normalized. This acceptance and normalization does not exist for non-heterosexual students yet but by placing issues of sexuality and gender in sex ed curriculums, a huge step towards normalization could be taken.
Ideally, schools would serve as an unbiased source of information for students that would teach them the pros and cons of all their options ranging from complete abstinence until marriage to safe practices for sexually active teens. Perhaps the best example of this can be illustrated in discussions of sexuality outside the heteronormative script. In a study by Renee DePalma and Elizabeth Atkinson, analysis of web forums revealed a societal perception of adolescents as asexual beings and the hyper-sexualisation of homosexuality (DePalma). Each of these factors (the perceived asexuality of adolescents and the hyper-sexualization of homosexuality) would have a large impact on representation in sex education programs independently of one another but together, they are a perfect cocktail for silencing. In the case of sexuality and the LGBTQ+ spectrum, silencing refers to the conscious and unconscious ways which society avoids acknowledging and addressing its LGBTQ+ members and their existence. "1 in 10 adolescents struggle with issues regarding sexual identity" (Santelli 78), meaning that an estimated 10% of high school students are not only not benefitting fully from their sex ed programs, by not including them within the standard curriculum their identities are being invalidated and relegated to a "less than" or "other" status not worthy of mentioning in standard sex ed. However, upon analysis of the data, with 5 percent of people remaining abstinent until marriage and 10 percent of high school age students struggling with their sexual identity, sex ed programs would be pertinent to a higher percentage of people if they focused solely on education for LGBTQ+ students than it is as an AO program. I am in no way suggesting that sex education become centered solely on LGBTQ+ students; however, by including information on sexual identity and information on safe sex practices for homosexual couples, these programs would be statistically twice as relevant than they are currently.
Ideally, AO education in America will soon become a thing of the past, much like victory gardens or leg warmers. Societal norms about sex have progressed rapidly over the past 50 years, but our policies on sex-education have remained more or less stagnant leading to outdated, inaccurate information being presented to students. Not only is the current state of AO-education a violation of basic human rights, it is dangerous and ineffective. By implementing a comprehensive sex ed program in the United States which includes an abstinence component rather than an abstinence focus, an emphasis on options for safe sex practices, and content addressing the concerns of LGBTQ+ students, we as a society will be able to properly inform our coming generations about sex and effectively change the "hush hush" culture we have currently surrounding issues of sex and sex-education.
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