I am a firm and enthusiastic supporter for Comprehensive Sex Education in schools. I think Abstinence Education should not be a federally funded program and should not be taught in schools.
Depending on who I’m sitting next to, responses to this sentiment have ranged from “Ride on” to “Heathen, heathen, heathen!”
Now, I could spend an unbelievable amount of your time running though the rock-hard facts of sex ed. I could give you a treatise on how Abstinence Education has not succeeded in its basic goals: schools across the nation teaching Abstinence Only have nearly identical rates of teen sexual activity to the National Average PLUS they suffer from significantly higher rates of teen pregnancy and STDs. I could bust out more statistics than you could shake a stick at (whatever that means). I could tell you that many states are now refusing federal funds to teach Abstinence Education (hear that? States are actually not taking money. What?). I could give you a pro-con list, graphs, interviews, curriculum, law code, ohhh so very many things to convince and persuade.
But I don’t want to make that argument here.
I want to make the case that Comprehensive Sex Ed is, in fact, a more ethical route-a more Christian route-than Abstinence Only Public Education.
Whoa. Take a moment there and get your footing back. A few deep breaths and a few shakes of the head.
Now we will go on.
Usually, when I try to tease out the reasons behind what I see as a knee-jerk reaction to Comp Ed, the first thing I hear is concern. Concern, of course, is a very positive thing. I’d rather hear concern than, say, defensiveness or egocentric ethics. And this concern usually falls along the lines of, “I think it is wrong to teach children about birth control or condoms or STDs or the actual act itself. It will give them ideas and then they will act on them without really thinking about what they are doing.”
Now, I know this might sound crazy…but I’m pretty sure that most kids, by the age of 13, have a pretty good idea what goes on. They are very much aware of differing physiques, the shocking lack of storks in the air, what that odd looking diagram actually was in Biology class…and those are the “innocent” ones. Throw in the masses of pre-teen-teens who a) have had open discussions about sex within their families and/or b)have had open discussion with their other little MTV-Grand Theft Auto-Gossip Girl Reading buddies…yeah, I’m pretty sure you’d have to be home schooled in Siberia to not already have “ideas.”
So, I bring up this point. The response to it:
“But, the problem is it shows them how to have sex without any consequences.”
Ah. That seems to be the real fear: the fact that Comp Ed teaches methods of prevention and safety to teens.
First off, one of the problems with the “without any consequences” fear is that it implies that this person believes there aren’t any emotional or spiritual consequences.
“No, no” they’d answer, “Of course there are. I’m sure they would feel bad about it.”
“Ohhh…” I’d say, “So, to you, these kids will already be having a hard time…But that’s not enough for you? You’d like there to be some sort of Scarlet Letter? Some leprosy for the sin? Some life stopped short by pregnancy? Some social alienation goin’ on?
“You’d like to see a bunch of girls punished more than the boys who also participated? You’d like to see more single mothers dropped out of school? More children born by children who can’t support them?”
The most horrible thing I ever heard in one of these real-life discussions was the flung-out diatribe, “But they deserve to be punished [with pregnancy, it was implied]. It is their fault, they messed up and that’s their lesson.”
Thank you, Mrs. Justice, because there’s nothing more Christian than a little stone-casting.
The point all comes down to this: Whether you do or don’t believe Abstinence is right (good, ethical, beneficial, etc. It doesn’t have to be only a religious reason), we all should find mercy in ourselves and give access to that mercy to teens.
Comprehensive Sex Ed is, you know, comprehensive. It teaches students (or should, by its institutional definition) how to protect themselves from disease and pregnancy, whether that be with pills, condoms, and/or abstinence. There has been a recent movement in Comp Ed to also include mandatory ethics lessons on how sexual activity requires consent, respect, mutuality, and careful consideration before action. Abstinence Only education does not allow the mercy of preventative information, but rather gives an ultimatum: Do this or face certain devastating consequences for your mistake.
But, that is not the social ethic I was taught in Sunday School.
On the contrary, I was taught that there is no “mess up” we make that can’t be fixed. There are no absolutely “devastating consequences.” No mistake should be able to irrevocably ruin an entire life. Punishment should not fall completely on the shoulder of one in a pair. And that our place is to always allow mercy, never judging.
The moral lessons of a child should not be the sole responsibility of our public schools; they come from parents. And what a parent chooses to teach their child is based in that home. Some teach that responsible sex before marriage is a beautiful and helpful relationship builder. Some teach that sex saved till marriage is a beautiful and helpful relationship builder. Comprehensive Sex Ed provides the least judgmental, most merciful, and most beneficial path for both of those homes (and all the homes in between). For the teen who sees sex as a decision between two consenting people, Comp Ed provides its ethics and method for ensuring safety and ensuring that any regret that might possibly come (though often does not, in fact) can be mended well and peacefully, without devastating consequence. For the teen who believes in Abstinence before marriage, Comp Ed gives due credit to the method and compliments its own ethics, safety, and value; it also gives that same teen valuable help for that moment that may come when resolve is shaken and a commitment broken. Hopefully, as I hope we would all want if this was our child, the already painful experience of breaking such a dearly held promise would not be made unbearable by a life-long consequence that was unnecessary, overly cruel and often placed completely on the shoulders of our daughters.
I would hope that we would be grateful for a little mercy rather than assume a cruel justice we have no place to claim.