Let Valerie Huber, of the National Abstinence Education Association explain:
She states on her group's website that sex education classes across the U.S. have become an unfortunate battleground in this unacknowledged victimization. "The messages we give regarding sexual health are extremely important," says the longtime abstinence proponent. "We must not deprive our young women of their right to be empowered to achieve optimal sexual health by eliminating all risk."I have to ask myself, before I even begin, how much money do we think the National Abstinence Education Association will lose if our nation were to switch from abstinence-only sex ed to comprehensive sex ed? Just sayin'.
But over and above that, let's look at some reasons why abstinence-only is not empowering to women.
You don't empower women by denying sexuality.
Denying a part of yourself is not empowering--and this is what abstinence-only preaches. Sexuality is something that is almost unnatural and something to be consistently denied.
If we would like to explore the damages that denying sexuality can do, we need look no further than our LGBT+ community and the severe damage done by so many centuries of repression and oppression.
The difference? At least heterosexuals get a "go-point" when their sexuality becomes automatically A-okay.
Denying sexuality distorts women's view of men.
When you are consistently fed the message that males are sex-crazed beasts and females are responsible for guarding their reproduction and sexuality, it distorts your view of the male of the species.
Suddenly, men aren't interested in anything but sex, which means how you look far outweighs how you act, how you interact, how smart you are, how funny you are. Sex takes a role of primacy in relationships that it shouldn't--and wouldn't--necessarily have otherwise. Do not get me wrong: Sex between consenting individuals can be a wonderful, amazing thing. And there are absolutely relationships and arrangements where sex is the primary focus.
But preaching this to kids is damaging, particularly to young women that are already bombarded with the message that they are never good enough.
Abstinence-only doesn't work.
I'm seriously considering compiling these so I can just cut and paste, but here we go again:
- Teens under abstinence-only programs are no more likely to delay sex, have fewer partners or abstain than their non-abstinence-only peers.
- Teens under abstinence-only programs are less likely to use contraception than kids that aren't.
- In studies that showed that abstinence only delayed sexual initiation, it was only for 18 months.
- 95% of American engage in premarital sex.
- Only 14% of the 86% decrease in teen pregnancy over the last few decades is attributable to young women waiting to have sex.
- A University of Missouri-Columbia School of Nursing study showed that women who had comprehensive sex ed and less stigma attached to obtaining and using contraception were more likely to get healthcare and use contraception than women who had been through abstinence-only programs.
- 85% of Americans do not support abstinence only sexual education.
So why are we still having this discussion?
Comprehensive sexual education doesn't mean kids can't choose to be abstinent.
I absolutely believe that teenagers should be encouraged to abstain from sex until they are ready. Having sex is an emotional and physical commitment. It's not a bad thing, but it's an activity that one should be emotionally and physically ready for.
Approaching it like the coach from Mean Girls is insane, though. Approaching it in a positive and empowering manner is different. Teaching kids all of the health information that they need--AND a great heaping helping of what healthy relationships should look like--is crucial. Anything less is doing our kids a disservice--whether it's teaching them that their sexuality is something to repress and fear, or whether it's throwing in contraception because they are just going to do it anyway. Either way, we're making a situation where we are discussing teenage relationships only terms of sex. Which brings me to my next point.
Making teenage relationships all about sex sells our teens short.
Teens are capable of emotions. What we know as adolescence now hasn't always existed. My grandmother, for instance, married at eighteen. While my grandfather was slightly older, they were both still young enough that today we'd raise an eyebrow. And my grandmother was a teenage mother--she had her first pregnancy at 19, although the baby did not survive.
My grandparents' marriage wasn't the result of teenage lust. It was a real and beautiful relationship that lasted until his death. Even today, fifteen years later, my grandmother mourns him.
When we reduce teenage relationship to sex, we ignore their capacity to feel and to connect. Sex ed should be relationship ed, and it should take into account that "puppy love is real love", as those studying people reconnecting with first flames would say.
Cheapening it to be just about sex does teens a disservice. It essentially tells them they are not capable of higher emotions. It's wrong.
In case you're wondering, sexual education is absolutely a part of the "War on Women" in my opinion. But I think Huber and I would disagree significantly on what that means.
Empowering young women to take control of their sexuality by providing teens with medically accurate information on contraception and reproduction and accurate information on healthy relationships is crucial to creating an America where we experience true gender equality. Keeping kids in the dark is not the way.