By Jadelyn Flores-Sierra
New Brunswick, NJ
You are only worth your virginity; once you lose it, no man will respect you,” my mother reminds me yet again. Though the phrase is familiar, I make it a point to look her in the eyes, and the longer I hold the stare, the more I am able to see centuries of female oppression that existed long before my mother was born.
The very idea that I am worth much more than one act in my life is not the result of some epiphany made during health education. Though that class didn’t teach me to respect myself—that was something I had to learn on my own—I was lucky to receive a health education that taught me about different forms of contraceptives. However, not all students in the United States have access to knowledge about safe sex. Sexual education, for some students, is reduced to abstinence-only. The danger in abstinence-only education is not only ignorance but also, and more significantly, the creation of a population at increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
According to the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One, “U.S. teenage pregnancy and birth rates are high compared to other developed countries.” The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research group, reports that “by 2000, the teenage birthrate in the United States had declined to 49 per 1,000, as compared with late-1990s rates of 7 to 9 in Sweden and France, and 20 to 31 in Canada and Great Britain.” What’s more, PLOS One writes, “abstinence education is positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates,” and it is “ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S.”
It is true that, as the Centers for Disease Control notes, “abstinence from vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse is the only 100 percent effective way to prevent HIV, other STDs and pregnancy.” Since an abstinence-only education emphasizes the delay of sexual activity, it could, in theory at least, protect teenagers.
But in reality, engaging in sexual activity is a personal choice—one that many high school students make. That’s why the federal government should require high schools to teach students how to have safe sex. The United States has already has “eliminated funding for two-thirds of previously existing abstinence-only programs,” according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council. And because $190 million is already used for “sex education initiatives to support both evidence-based programs and innovative approaches to prevent unintended teen pregnancy and STDs, including HIV,” a federal policy for contraceptive education should be easy to create.