Mary Barz wrote a column last week for the Morning Sun extolling the virtues of "Sexual Risk Avoidance", or abstinence only education. I don't know where she got her statistics from, but they were a real doozy. And the quotes? The quotes were even better.
According to Barz, SRA programs "approach sexuality from a holistic approach and further develop the concept of abstinence to empower youth to make the best choices to achieve optimal health".
I repeat: What a crock of shit.
Abstinence-only programs don't empower kids. They attempt to control them.
Barz operates on a system of flawed assumptions about "Abstinence Plus" programs. For one, she assumes that the only teens that need them are those that are sexually active. She says:
The National Center for Health Studies (NCHS) reports that 72 percent of boys and 73 percent of girls, ages 15-17 have never had sexual intercourse. By teaching the Risk Reduction method (Abstinence Plus) to only those teens that are sexually active we ignore the majority who choose abstinence.My question is: How do Risk Reduction programs ignore those that do choose to abstain?
I don't understand how giving kids a greater grasp of reproduction is a bad thing. If they choose not to have sex, great. If they choose to have sex, as teens or at any point in the future, they have accurate information. Talking to kids about sex doesn't mean they are going to run out and do it. In fact, if sex ed is effective, it should be exploring all options with kids--including abstinence. Accurately, equitably, and fairly.
She also writes:
And, when we lump all teens into a category of "hormonally active and easily persuaded" we reduce all teens to a level that makes them no more teachable than the family pet. Why must we set the bar so low?"My question is: Why is sex something we need to train teens not to do?
With SRA, discussions are designed to empower ALL teens to receive information to make the best and healthiest sexual choice, which is to abstain, regardless of their previous sexual experimentation.It empowers all students...except those that decide to have sex. Those students it alienates and isolates. Oh, and those students who are sexually active would of course be the ones most a risk.
SRA education is a comprehensive teaching approach that focuses on real life struggles that teens face as they navigate the sexual minefields of the 21st century. SRA programs include topics bout how to avoid unhealthy relationships and identify healthy relationships, and how to develop skills to make good decisions. With accurate medical information, SRA program also include information about contraceptives and their effectiveness in preventing STIs and pregnancy, and practical ways to avoid inappropriate sexual advances.This paragraph was honestly a big heaping pile of WTF for me. Let me break it down.
For one, "sexual minefields" is ridiculous. Sexuality isn't a battlefield. It's not a war. It's a natural part of the human experience. Classifying it as anything else is damaging--potentially greatly damaging--to young people.
Then, there's the concept of healthy versus unhealthy relationships. In the context of SRAs, what does that look like? Does that many that any relationship that broaches the sexual is unhealthy? There's also the idea of "best" and "good decisions", which imply that sex outside of the parameters of the program is always bad. This too is unhealthy and potentially damaging.
The problem with Abstinence-Only in all of its forms is that it's a victim of its own confirmation bias. When you seek have a program that is based on pushing an agenda, that's a natural outcome.
Over and above all of the issues with her statements (including grammatical and poor sources), we've covered time and time again that Abstinence-Only doesn't work. Abstinence groups continue to refute this claim--but the studies themselves continue to pile up.
Sex education programs should cover all of the options available to teens. It should cover relationships, and what they look like. It should cover how relationships are portrayed in the media versus what real life looks like. And yes, it should cover the idea that sex can be a good thing, and that your sexuality is not a plague. None of that is "lowering the bar" for our kids.
True empowerment is understanding all of your options and making (and owning) your own decisions.