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Richson: End abstinence-only education

BY BRIANNE RICHSON | MARCH 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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When I was 12 years old, I signed a chastity agreement along with my Catholic-school classmates after seeing a public speaker who regretted losing his virginity at a young age and had decided to become a “born-again” virgin.

Obviously, at the age of 12 I had next to zero experience in romantic relationships at all, let alone those of a sexual nature, and wouldn’t gain any insight for a few years to come. But regardless, I signed this plastic, credit-card looking contract that I could keep in my wallet, pledging to God and the heavens above that I would not have sex until I was married.

I cannot speak for the rest of my classmates who also signed the agreement, but I can say with confidence that I had no business making that sort of a decision about my sexuality before I had even kissed another human being. While it was not surprising that the only sex education I was exposed to in my time as a youth at Catholic school was the doctrine of abstinence, I now know that for me personally, the expectations set by this curriculum were unrealistic.

President Obama is setting his sights on cutting funding for abstinence education, which would save the country about $5 million a year. Whether you are pro or anti-abstinence, I think you will agree with me when I say, “Gee, that is a lot of money that I definitely am not seeing the products of anywhere.”

No matter what you teach kids in school, they are influenced by outside factors such as the popular media, their peers (who are also influenced by the same media), and their own internal, physical drives. Particularly in today’s popular media climate, abstinence education seems archaic; any merits it does maintain stifled by the reality that sex is increasingly all around us.

It is OK to teach kids that the only way to protect themselves from the risks sex entails — disease, unwanted pregnancy, possible emotional vulnerability — is to, logically, not have sex. In fact, it is more than OK. However, this important sentiment can be taught with supplementary information as to how one would have safe sex. Abstinence presented as the overwhelming, single option to today’s youth is counterproductive.

Compare an abstinence-only education to the 40 minutes of gym class kids might experience per day: Even with the best intentions to get all kids, including “couch potatoes,” engaged in physical activity, the reality is that the majority of work must be done outside the school day … gym does children no good if they are just going to go home and sit eating a jar of peanut butter (not speaking from personal experience, of course). Similarly, if you tell a child or teenager that bottom-line, they should not have sex, but the media tell them otherwise the other 23 hours of the day outside of health class, which message is going to prevail?

I respect the decision to wait for marriage, but I think it is a commitment people must make once they have gained experience and the proper sex education. And it is certainly not for everyone, so perhaps abstinence education funding would be better spent elsewhere.


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