Youth / OPINION : ‘Abstinence-Only Programs Not for Everyone’
Contrary to the popular adage, I’m inclined to believe that, in most circumstances, ignorance is not bliss. In the case of denying birth control information to students, ignorance can be downright deadly.
There have been conflicts in public schools across the country over whether and/or when such birth control curricula should and would be taught. Some who object argue that any contraceptive method that is not 100% effective should not be taught in schools. Others see this as a religious issue rather than one of health education, attaching words like “immoral” and “sinful” to the discussion.
Their answer to birth-control education almost always consists of religious-based curricula that are often short on facts and long on propaganda. Some widely used abstinence-only programs have been challenged in court for presenting inaccurate medical information.
The public should look at any sex-education curricula that stress abstinence only and compare them to what common sense tells you about sexuality and teen-agers. In other words, is it realistic to expect that every student will heed an abstinence-only message?
Undeniably, abstinence is the only 100% way to keep safe from pregnancies and disease. But if this message is not reaching 100% of the students, wouldn’t the program, according to beliefs of abstinence-only supporters, be a loser? I believe so.
In a perfect world, students could receive barrages of abstinence-only messages before they experiment sexually and elect to wait based on health concerns or religious reasons. But this is not a perfect world.
Students who have decided to engage in sex and are not educated about protection are at great risk of disease and pregnancies and the complications of life that accompany them. The realist realizes that most teen-agers do not receive this education at home and that the student who has already made up his or her mind will never regard an abstinence-only message, regardless of how it may be presented.
People who object to birth-control education often cite concerns that it undermines their role as parents to decide what to teach their children. This argument is a fallacy, for if these pious parents teach their children morals and values and set good examples, those children will not sway from their beliefs.
Responsible educators would agree that programs stressing religious themes could have devastating psychological effects on the psyche of a sexually active student who would receive the message that he is immoral, sinful, and wrong--bearing out already-existing confusion and guilt.
Abstinence-only programs are not for everyone. They should not be, for students are as diverse religiously as they are racially and each comes from a home where values and morals are being stressed by religious and non-religious parents alike. Just because some methods of contraceptives are only 80% effective does not mean that they should not be used. This is as crude as suggesting that chemotherapy should not be used to counteract cancer, since it does not work for everyone.
Sexually active students who are ignorant about protection become victims of cruel and misguided censorship. A responsible protective program must stress abstinence first and foremost, but also must reach out to students who choose not to abstain to avoid sending the message of “I told you so!” to any who fall victim to AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases or premature parenthood.
I ask those who oppose sex education: How could education ever be wrong? How could ignorance ever be right? What good is reading, writing and arithmetic to a student who will die of AIDS because he or she was denied education by our schools? There are many reasons why schools must educate students on life issues like protective sex education.
Ignorance is not bliss.