I received a letter from the Director of Health Services of the school district my son attends. The title of the memo read as follows:
Fifth Grade Maturation/AIDS Education Program
In the body of the letter, however, it refers to “maturation and abstinence education”. I wanted to clarify this, to find out if it is an abstinence-only program. Well, sure enough, it is. She said that they teach the kids to avoid pregnancy and STD’s by abstaining from sex “until marriage”. What? I take issue with this on several different levels:
1. It’s completely absurd and unrealistic. We know that, and anyone who doesn’t in this day and age must be trying very hard to remain ignorant – research has shown time and again that children taught abstinence-only are still likely to have sex before the age of 15, and three times more likely to have sex without birth control pills or condoms, more likely to get pregnant, more likely to get STD’s, including AIDS.
2. These children are also less likely to come to their parents with questions about sex, or for help if they find themselves in a predicament. These parents stop them in their tracks by saying, “No sex. End of discussion.” Besides shutting down communication, I would think it causes them to feel ashamed about their sexual development. How sad!
3. Abstinence-only programs are thinly-veiled religious programs. There is no basis for teaching kids not to have sex until marriage, other than religion. I challenged her to give me one and she couldn’t. Can you?
I explained that I am not opposed to abstinence but to teaching abstinence only. We need to teach children that there is no shame in what is happening to their bodies, and that our sex drive is a normal, healthy part of human development. The only time abstaining until marriage even factors into this is within the context of religion – something which has no business being in public schools.
I could allow my son to attend and teach him alternatives myself, but I don’t think I will: by signing this consent form I am encouraging, supporting, and helping to promote a program which is ineffective, counter-productive, and dangerous to our children’s health and well-being.
Besides, I don’t want him getting mixed messages or being made to feel that sex outside the bonds of “holy matrimony” is something shameful. The idea goes against the grain for me.
Those who oppose sex education in public schools often say that it’s a private matter which should be taught at home, at the parents’ discretion. I say likewise to abstinence/religious programs, which are people’s personal, religious opinions and moral views regarding marriage and relationships, and have nothing at all to do with facts about sex.
To take it a step further, a stronger argument could be made for teaching sex education in school and leaving abstinence-only to be taught at home by parents. After all, we know for certain that our children will develop a sex drive, and as responsible, intelligent adults, we have to acknowledge how powerful the human sex drive can be. How else would we have kids?!
What we don’t know for sure is that our kids will some day marry, or that they will even want to. Why force the idea on them? Why shame them into believing that sex is acceptable only within marriage?
As parents and educators, we have a duty to teach our children realistic ways of taking responsibility for their newly-developing sex drives. Telling them to ignore it until they find someone to marry (which they may never do, or even want to do) is unrealistic and irresponsible. Not to mention the message it sends to gay and lesbian teens – that their sexual feelings will never have an acceptable outlet; yet another religious/moral opinion being promoted by public schools that endorse these programs.
We must stop burying our heads in the sand, pretending that if we tell them enough times to “just say no”, their hormones will magically stop racing. It’s absurd. To continue taking this approach is a grave injustice to these children who are in desperate need of mature, responsible guidance.
Sex is a normal, natural, and healthy part of human development. Let’s keep it healthy by teaching our kids the facts about it, and leave the marriage/religious aspect at home or in church. Let’s teach them to embrace and care for this aspect of their lives, rather than insisting that they neglect, ignore, or feel ashamed of it.
And keep in mind: it is just as easy to require parental consent for one as for the other.
I am going on record as stating that I will not give consent for my child to attend any abstinence-only program. To do so would be to condone it, and assist in promoting an unhealthy and potentially dangerous approach to addressing our children’s budding sexuality. I will take no part in that.
Abstinence-only education has been criticized in official statements by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the American College Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association, which all maintain that sex education needs to be comprehensive to be effective.