Is teaching abstinence the best method of sex education for students today? That’s been an ongoing debate for nearly a generation. With government funding supporting faith-based abstinence initiatives, the idea is pretty basic. The best way to not catch an STD or get pregnant is to not have sex in the first place. How effective that philosophy and educational style happens to be is likely dependent on your personal viewpoint on the matter.
Statistics About Abstinence Only Sex Education
1. A 2007 federal study on abstinence education found that these programs had no impacts on the rate of teen sexual abstinence.
2. The United States leads the world in teen pregnancy rates and teen birth rates. Compared to France, the US numbers are more than tripled.
3. Teens in states that prescribe more abstinence education are actually more likely to become pregnant.
4. Only 13% of teens in the United States have had sex by the age of 15.
5. By the age of 19, 70% of teens have engaged in sexual intercourse at least once.
6. 82% of the teen pregnancies that occur every year are unintended and 59% of them end in a successful birth.
7. Every year, roughly nine million new STIs occur among teens and young adults in the United States.
8. 1 in 4 teens in the US receives information about abstinence without receiving any information or instructions about birth control.
9. Among teens aged 18–19, 41% report that they know little or nothing about condoms.
10. 75% say they know little or nothing about the contraceptive pill.
11. Fewer male teens [62%] have received instruction about contraception than girls [70%].
12. About 33% of teens have not received any formal instruction on any forms of contraception.
13. The percentage of teens that have received abstinence instructions: 84%. Only HIV awareness and STI awareness are ranked higher.
14. In 2006, 87% of US public and private high schools taught abstinence as the most effective method to avoid pregnancy.
15. Girls are more likely than boys to talk with their parents about birth control or how to tell someone that they don’t want to have sex.
16. More than one-third of online websites that teens commonly use for reference information have inaccurate data about abortion and 46% have inaccurate information about contraception.
17. 37 states require that sex education include abstinence. Of these states, 26 of them require that abstinence be stressed more than any other form of sexual education.
18. Only 13 states require that the information provided in a sex education class be medically accurate and contain verifiable facts.
19. Only 2 programs that teach abstinence-only were found to be medically and factually correct.
20. $50 million of US taxpayer money is made available annually for grants to the states to promote sexual abstinence outside of marriage.
The problem is that many of the statistics say that abstinence only sex education isn’t helping matters at all. Although supporters will point toward the fact that teen pregnancy rates are at some of the lowest rates of all time, those who support contraceptive use and safe sex practices can point to effective uses of birth control, condoms, and other items that help to prevent the spread of disease or prevent pregnancy.
Modern teen pregnancy rates are at their lowest levels since the CDC began tracking them in 1940 and it seems to be because teens are having less sex and using the above pregnancy prevention efforts when they do. Is this because of abstinence only educational programs? Or is it because there is a comprehensive effort to provide a well-rounded education on human sexuality? Let’s take a look at the statistics and find out!
Changes to Abstinence Only Sex Education
With hundreds of millions spent already on abstinence only sex education with arguably no results, it seems like the time has come to make some changes.
Congress has already started taking some action to improve sex education across the country. Part of that process is the Personal Responsibility Education Program [PREP]. With PREP, both abstinence and contraception are supposed to be emphasized. There are also components about how to form healthy relationships, how to budget properly, and why it is important to have open lines of communication with parents.
No matter what side of the debate you happen to be, there is common ground in the fact that teen pregnancy rates are so low. That’s good news and it doesn’t really matter how that has happened. What matters now is how we together proceed forward to continuing to improve these statistics. When push comes to shove, abstinence only sex education makes very little impact on making teens want to stop having sex. Only 30% of kids are going to abstain from sex until the age of 20, not counting those who get married. If 7 in 10 kids are statistically having sex and a third of them don’t know anything about using contraceptives, then we’re hurting them, not helping them.
That’s not to say that abstinence only sex education is 100% ineffective. In a recent controlled trial, abstinence programs that did not criticize contraceptives or advocate waiting until marriage for sex AND were specifically tailored to the local community could be effective in delaying the first instance of sexual intercourse amongst younger teens.
Almost every public health and medical professional organization supports the use of comprehensive sexual education as the primary approach, not just one solitary method of sexual education. This allows teens to be able to make their own choices and take ownership of them. In doing so, it could be that the teens themselves are choosing not to have sex and it has nothing to do with abstinence only education. Whatever the case may actually be, we know this: teen pregnancy rates are the lowest they have ever been in the US. They’re still extraordinarily high compared to the rest of the world, but progress is being made.