The other day I had the opportunity to debate Greg Williams, the president and CEO of Heritage of Kentucky. Heritage is an “abstinence-only-until-marriage” organization that “aims to change adolescent perceptions about the importance of value of remaining abstinent outside of marriage.” Greg and I met on the stage of Memorial Auditorium at the University of Kentucky. There were several hundred University of Kentucky students that came to hear our debate.
I was eager to hear Greg’s story and to learn more about how he came to believe that abstinence-only education is what today’s kids need. He talked about how he believed that talking to kids about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases was condoning teenage sex. If we only gave kids the option of abstinence, he said, then they wouldn’t think of sex as something to consider. He talked about rising STI rates and increased teenage pregnancy. He talked about all the money the federal government is pouring into comprehensive sex ed. He talked about broken families and failed marriages. He talked about John Money’s gender research (he lost me on this one and I’ll never understand what point he was trying to make here). Finally, he talked about how his wife called him a “sexologist” because he was so skilled in bed. In fact, he told the crowd he couldn’t wait to get home and make love to his wife. She was looking forward to it as well, he said.
I learned alot about debating that night. Most of all I learned that the audience really never gets a chance to know what is accurate. Greg encouraged them to “go to the research” and “check it out for themselves,” and I sincerely hope they do.
Here are some of the facts about sex education in the U.S. today:
-89% of public school kids take sex ed at least once sometime between 7-12th grade (some as early as 5th grade).
-91% of parents support sex ed and of these, 89% support comprehensive sex ed (CSE). But most parents wish the content wasn’t determined by politicians (which it often is).
- While abstinence-only (AO) sex ed believes that kids should only be taught to abstain from sex and does not discuss contraception (except to mention failure rates), CSE discusses a wide range of issues relating to sexuality, including abstinence, birth control, STDs, communication, decision-making, risk reduction, and where to go for more information.
-While there has been over $1.5 billion spent on AO since 1996, there is no dedicated federal funding for CSE. Medicaid and Title X are health services for low income women and teens, not funds for educational programming.
-Research has consistently shown no evidence to support AO and the federal investment of money. As a result, by 2009, over 50% of states refused federal fudning because of the abstinence-only restrictions.
-Although 13% of teens have had sex by the age of 15, over 64% of them have sex by the end of 12th grade. The average age of first sexual intercourse is about 17 years old.
-The U.S. has one of the highest teenage pregnancy and STD rates in the world. Yet there are minimal differences in the levels of sexual activity in comparable countries.
-In the Netherlands all secondary schools provide sex education (and parents cannot take their kids out of these classes – they are required). Ironically, the Netherlands has one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in the world.
-Overall, countries with conservative attitudes towards sex education have higher teen pregnancy and STD rates.
So, where does this leave us? I have so much more research to share with you and so much more to say. Unfortunately, I found that debates can totally zap you of your energy – I am exhausted. I am certain, however, that the truth will prevail.
Check back soon and I’ll continue my rant. To be continued….