Students need facts, not scare tactics

Two years ago, as part of Republican welfare legislation, $50 million was allocated for programs that teach abstinence education in public schools. The program, however, misplaces the priorities of sex education and ignores practical measures that effectively reduce the negative consequences of sex. Sex is one of the most fundamental human activities and should be taught to teenagers as part of an enjoyable, healthy life, when practiced responsibly, not as part of a conservative, religious agenda.
The money was allocated over a five-year period for states that teach abstinence education in public schools. Currently, 700 public schools and community organizations in 48 states have procured the funds. Participating schools must agree to teach the “harmful psychological and physical consequences” of premarital sex. In addition, abstinence-only sex education has been recently mandated in five states.
Teaching that sex outside of marriage has only dangerous consequences is untrue and inappropriate. The most common negative consequence — disease — can be almost entirely prevented by proper safe-sex techniques and periodic testing. Often distorted figures are part of abstinence’s defense, as one teacher informed his students that condoms are unreliable from 10 to 43 percent of the time, a figure that disagrees with the 1 percent failure rate cited by the Centers for Disease Control. Unwanted pregnancy can also be prevented by teaching proper preventive behavior.
Teenagers and adults who are uneducated about the consequences of sex will be unprepared to make safe, prudent decisions and are likely to experience these negative consequences. Only by fully disclosing the consequences — both physical and emotional — will people be able to make prudent decisions and participate in their sexuality, which they have a right to do. Realistically, a large percentage of teenagers engage in premarital sex, and by refusing to teach students effective ways to minimize the risks of sex, the programs do students a potentially life-threatening disservice.
The abstinence-only education programs result from conservatives attempting to apply their morals, and implicitly their religious beliefs, on others. A teacher in Texas was quoted as saying that “virginity is a gift you get to give only once in your life.” Teenagers have the right to choose the manner in which they wish to behave and should not be persuaded to do so according to any group’s values, especially in public schools.
Abstinence-only sex education will be a part of the presidential elections next year, as well. Gov. George W. Bush has already allocated $6 million for abstinence-only programs and has expressed his desire to use $135 million — the amount currently spent on contraceptive education — to federally finance similar programs nationwide, which he refers to as an “urgent priority.”
Abstinence-only education discourages people from participating in healthy sexual behavior. People deserve to be educated according to reliable and comprehensive data, not coerced into agreeing with a narrow moral agenda. Sex should be taught from a respectful, informative perspective that allows individuals to make their own decisions based on a thorough understanding of the consequences of their behavior.