I really hate abstinence-only sex education.
I have a lot of reasons for this. There’s the way its supporters regularly distort medical facts for their own benefit. The fact that it doesn’t actually reduce pregnancy rates or prevent sex outside of marriage. That because abstinence-only programs often lie about the effectiveness of contraceptives, people who have taken virginity pledges are more likely to have unprotected sex. The fact that it refuses to acknowledge that the majority of students will have sex before marriage, and that it ignores the existence of queer students.
I’ve experienced the harm that can be caused by abstinence-only sex education first-hand. I was raised Catholic, and went to an all-girls Catholic high school. All of the sex education there happened during religion classes, and all of it was awful. It was full of misinformation about basic medical facts and flower analogies – that a person who had lost their virginity was like a rose without petals, “a beautiful part of them gone forever.” I distinctly remember being told things like “As a woman, it is your duty to protect the dignity of men.”
I was lucky enough not to internalize all of this bullshit. While some of my classmates were making chastity pledges and wearing purity rings, my reaction was more “fuck that noise.” But that’s not how it works for everyone. For a lot of people, years of shame over completely natural and healthy sexual feelings make it incredibly difficult to develop healthy attitudes about sex. Without ever learning anything about pleasure, communication with sex partners, or consent, how are you supposed to advocate for yourself? If you’ve been told that condoms don’t even work, why are you going to insist that your partner use one? If you’ve believed your whole life that masturbation is wrong, how are you going to learn anything about your body, and tell your partner what you want? That’s the thing that pisses me off most about the prevalence of abstinence-only sex education in America: by ignoring the realities of a mature, healthy sex life. it leaves people utterly unprepared to have one.
Despite being told for years that having sex before marriage was the worst thing I could do for my relationship, about a year in to my first serious relationship, I decided to do it anyway. And I’m incredibly glad I did. It wasn’t at all the horrible, life-ruining experience I was told it would be. I was told that because sex was like a fire – “safely contained in the fireplace of marriage, but dangerous if uncontrolled.” But after I had sex for the first time, the world did not, in fact, end. My boyfriend didn’t dump me for being a trollop, and I didn’t get pregnant or die. It was the first time for both of us, so we were a little nervous, and awkward. But that didn’t stop it from being one of the most romantic, emotional, and beautiful moments of my life. And it only strengthened our relationship: having this new, wonderful thing to explore together was amazing.
Having experienced abstinence-only sex education firsthand, it pisses me off to know that so many people are being subjected to it. I think of the times that I saw people do things like show high-resolution photos of people with STI’s as a scare tactic, and then offer no information about safer sex (except of course, that condoms weren’t effective at preventing pregnancy) and I just want to send a link to Scarleteen to every high school student in America. People deserve sex education that doesn’t lie to them, and doesn’t leave them feeling guilty for the rest of their lives.