Why not both?

It seems that in today’s world there are only two options available to people facing tough issues. These options are best summarized by George W. Bush when he said “If you’re not with us you’re with the terrorists.” Not only is this a fallacy, but it is harmful to the discourse in this country. It is this attitude that has people on the left and the right shouting at each other and calling each other all kinds of uncouth names instead of having a rational, well thought out discussion/argument.

The latest example of this line of thinking is this.

On one hand there is the argument that abstinence only education works and is the only option because if we teach children about proper contraception usage then they are going to go out and have sex. This may be true, but at least they would be having safe sex, properly, and this is something. On the other hand there is the camp that says abstinence only education does not work, that teenagers are going to have sex regardless, and it is better to inform them of the risks of unprotected sex than to let them go out and find out first hand about syphilis, chlamydia, pregnancy, et al.

I fall into the latter camp, to be sure, because I truly believe that teenagers will have sex no matter what they are taught. Or at least the ones who are going to have sex anyway. Abstinence seem to me only likely to work if the person is predisposed toward abstinence because of either religious or personal convictions, and even these people sometimes give in to their baser carnal desires. When that happens all that abstinent only education just turns into a waste of time and money.

However, just because I personally disagree that abstinence only education is an efficient way to prevent the spread of STD’s and pregnancy among young adults, I do not necessarily disagree that abstinence should be taught as part of an all inclusive sexual education program. There is a place for abstinence education in our schools, just as there is a place for proper prophylactic education. After all, we can tell kids that the only guaranteed way to guard against STD’s and pregnancy is to remain abstinent, but they have to be willing to listen and take it seriously.

Plus, what happens when they leave high school and go to college? At my university we did not have sex ed classes–sure we had anatomy and other things but no real sex ed classes–and thanks to increased exposure to drugs, alcohol, and different viewpoints college students are almost more guaranteed to have sex than their high school counterparts, but people were having all kinds of sex. Now, most of them knew how to use contraception correctly, some of them did not, but that did not keep them from dancing between the sheets as it were.

My point is that part of high school education is preparing our kids for the adult world that they will soon be entering. This should include safe and responsible sex practices, and just because we do not like the idea of our kids having sex, does not mean that it won’t happen, and abstinence only education just serves to put them at risk for pregnancy or STD”s.

But see, the thing is we don’t have to choose between abstinence education and sex ed that includes how to put on a condom. We can teach abstinence (though to me abstinence is more of a moral stance than a scientific one–but it is true that it is nearly impossible to get an STD without having sex and it is impossible to get pregnant) and safe sex in the same program. It might even be better than just one or the other because it would offer more choices and information to students who might be feeling overwhelmed with sexual desire or pressured to have sex even if they do not really want to.

We should not be scared of sex education that teaches more than “don’t have sex.” We should embrace and utilize all of the tools and methods at our disposal to help stop the wildfire like spreading of teen pregnancy and STD’s.

But that is not the culture in which we currently live. In our culture there is no room for both, just one or the other, and to me that is a damn shame because we are effectively limiting ourselves to 50% and denying a more complete and reasoned discussion.


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