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Uppers, Downers & All Points in Between





The 411 on Sex Education
Author: Cynthia Pérez





Sex is everywhere. You can find sexual material in 
movies, posters, television and the radio. Teens can 
get confused about sex since family and adults in our 
lives often say that sex is bad or don’t even talk to 
us about it. Some parents even think that talking to 
teens about sex will encourage their child to have 
sex. For many teens school is where they get their sex 
information. We learn about the reproductive system 
and all this new information that we may or may have 
not have already known. Yet one issue regarding sexual 
education is that politicians are debating what should 
and shouldn’t be taught about sex. 

Some schools teach abstinence-only sex education 
programs. The point of this program is to teach teens 
that abstinence—not having sex until marriage—is the 
only guaranteed way not to get a sexual transmitted 
disease or become pregnant. This past year president 
Bush doubled federal funding for abstinence-only 
programs to about 270 million dollars. At the 2004 
State-of Union Speech Bush said, “abstinence for young 
people is the only certain way to avoid sexually 
transmitted diseases.” Some schools are changing their 
sexual education programs to abstinence-only programs 
in order to receive extra federal funding. 

Teen-Aid Inc., a non-profit organization that 
advocates reducing out-of-wedlock teen pregnancies and 
its consequences, says that abstinence-only 
education “presents information and skills for 
successful relationships and someday, a monogamous or 
married relationship.” They add that abstinence-
only “presents reproductive system information, fetal 
development, consequences of out of wedlock pregnancy, 
child support and how infections are sexually 
transmitted.” 

Yet the criticism of abstinence-only education is that 
it teaches teens how to say no to sex before marriage, 
but it does not inform students about contraception. 
That means teens all over the nation may not know 
about, or how to get a hold of condoms or birth 
control. According to Population 
Connection, “abstinence-only-until marriage” education 
programs bar the discussion of contraception and its 
benefits for pregnancy and STD prevention. They say 
that abstinence-only programs have never been shown to 
be effective. Douglas Kirby, PhD, a senior Research 
Scientist at ETR associates, reviewed evaluations from 
six abstinence-only programs and found that none of 
the programs statistically changed sexual behavior 
among youth. He also noted the failure of the program 
to give out any information about condoms and birth 
control that would help sexually active teens avoid 
STDs and unwanted pregnancies. The studies also 
demonstrate that some of the comprehensive sex 
programs increased condom and/or contraceptive use 
more generally. 

Another criticism is that abstinence-only education 
does not relate to gay youth. Technically, gay 
marriage has not been legalized so gay youth are 
excluded in abstinence-only education. Gay teenagers 
cannot be expected to turn straight and get married in 
order for him or her to have sex. Gay Men’s Health 
Crisis statistics show that gay men have the highest 
risk of getting AIDS, and if they are not taught about 
protection it could be fatal for them.

The difference between abstinence-only sexual 
education and comprehensive sexual education is that 
comprehensive education gives a student all of the 
information they need in order to make their own 
sexuality choices based on all the facts. Abstinence 
only education gives you restricted amounts of 
knowledge in hopes that teens will abstain from 
sex. “Comprehensive sex education is education that 
works to prevent risky sexual behavior by educating 
about abstinence, communication skills, and proper 
contraception use,” said Misty Koger, a facilitator 
and coordinator for Population Services 
International. “It also includes topics about the 
development of sexuality as an ongoing life process, 
not just one act.”

On the contrary, opponents of comprehensive sex 
education say that abstinence only is the only way to 
teach teens about their sexual health. Health Watch 
says that, “abstinence-education supporters believe 
that teaching young people about contraception sends a 
mixed message: ‘Don’t have sex; now, here is how you 
do it.’” In other words telling teens where to get 
condoms and birth control will encourage youth to have 
sex.

In the end politicians will be controlling what we 
will be learning in our schools, but we will be the 
ones making decisions about our bodies.