Returning to ‘Abstinence’ Sex Education in Schools Is Critical
A mom, physician and educator shares the need to protect the 'hearts, minds and bodies' of our kids — and to teach dignity
I’m a mother, a practicing radiologist, and a volunteer sexual education teacher in the Miami area, working with students in elementary grades through high school. As a physician on the front lines of trying to keep young people safe from pregnancy, STDs, and the emotional mayhem of the hookup culture, I wholeheartedly applaud the recent turn taken by the Department of Health and Human Services.
This department has redirected a small bit of funding away from sex ed programs that normalize sex for increasingly young kids — and toward the kind of curriculum I teach, in which teenagers are encouraged to avoid sex the way they are encouraged to avoid other risky behaviors, like smoking and drug use.
It’s not just sex ed teachers who are happy about this. Most Americans want their teenagers to wait for sex — and they want programs that encourage their kids to do so. Programs like mine are popular, effective — and terribly underfunded. They are popular partly because parents know that once their children become sexually active, not only are they exposed to obvious dangers, but they also become prey to other, less obvious ones.
A 2016 report from the CDC confirmed what most parents already know, that “students who had no sexual contact have a much lower prevalence of most health-risk behaviors compared with students who had sexual contact.” Most teens who are smart and informed enough to avoid and delay the risks of sex are also avoiding smoking, drug use, underage drinking, and violence.
My curriculum is a standard risk avoidance program. I teach young people, using details and age-appropriate pictures, how dangerous sexually transmitted diseases are, and how easy they are to catch. I tell them about how some cause infertility (gonorrhea), cancers (human papillomavirus, or HPV) — while others are incurable and painful (herpes), and one kills many thousands of Americans each year (human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV).
Yes, I mean to scare them.
I talk to them about condoms, and remind them that even when used properly — something they can’t count on, especially after a couple of drinks — they can break and leak. I talk to them about contraception, and I give them the failure rates for each method, and the side effects, such as stroke, of hormonal interventions for young women. I tell them sex is shockingly intimate, and sharing themselves physically with someone who doesn’t love them in a committed, permanent way can break their hearts.
You can see that my curriculum starts out from one basic idea: Sex is just bad news for a pre-teen or teenager. Romance is lovely, and so is romantic dating. But for their own good, they need to resist the relentless pressure from most pop music and from Hollywood, which depict sex as pure fun — never showing the emotional and physical toll paid by those who live in the sordid hookup culture. They need to protect their hearts, minds, and bodies, and also to respect the dignity of others, who should never be used simply as routes to physical pleasure.
Since 2010, when then-President Barack Obama canceled all federal funding for this type of risk avoidance sex ed, nearly a billion tax dollars have been spent on the approach known as Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP).
This method is based on a radically different premise: Sexual activity is normal and acceptable for pre-teens and teens, as long as they are fully consenting and using contraception. Our tax dollars are spent encouraging every kind of sexual experience a young person may be exposed to, like pornography, bondage, anal sex, and every variation thereof. Children as young as 11 are sent to sites especially developed for pre-teens.
There is a constant affirmation with TPP that every desire is good and should be pursued, as long as everyone involved is equally enthusiastic. Here is a quote that illustrates that position: “If you take time to make sure you are ready for sex, then it will feel good and you won’t regret it later. And isn’t that the point?”
Parents want their children to be safe and healthy, physically and emotionally.
No, that isn’t the point. Parents want their children to be safe and healthy, physically and emotionally. Slightly defunded by the current administration to the deep dismay of liberals, TPP effectively promotes sex — and some of the riskiest types. Instead, parents and communities are choosing the kind of risk avoidance program I teach, because it shares critical information without normalizing early sex.
And this is happening across the U.S., where more communities are choosing this type of program over sex-normalizing ones.
It’s a wise choice for parents who want health promotion — not sex promotion.
Dr. Grazie Christie is a Miami radiologist and a policy adviser with The Catholic Association.