Sex education is at a crossroads as the Trump era begins, after a Bush Administration that promoted abstinence-only programs and an Obama Administration that tried to cut them. Given President Donald Trump’s own debauched sexual history, educators are understandably unsure of the new administration’s strategy on Sex Ed. Despite their many detractors, abstinence-only programs should continue to play a prominent role.
The case against factual but abstinence-based sex education is pretty simple: it doesn’t work. Or at least not in minimizing the consequences of teen sexual activity. Virtually all the studies about abstinence-only programs, their detractors emphasize, find them no more effective than comprehensive Sex Ed in preventing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases – and sometimes less so.
But statistics cannot be the only factor determining how we educate our children. If “safer drug use” education was proven more effective in preventing overdoses and HIV transmission than “Just Say No,” should schools teach schoolchildren “harm reduction” in smoking marijuana and shooting heroin? (Perhaps students could use the same banana to practice proper use of both condoms and clean needles.)
Certainly, “safer sex” classes must be off the table before 10th grade. They butcher the first rule of sexual intimacy: consent always. In all 50 states, it’s illegal to have sex with a minor age 15 and below. (Sex with 16-year-olds is illegal in nineteen of them, including eleven which also consider 17-year olds underage.) The consensus reason for these laws is that young brains are too immature to make responsible, informed sexual decisions.
Seducing someone who has not consented is despicable. Do young people somehow gain sexual maturity and responsibility just because their partners are often also underage? Nonsense. The victim’s violation, confusion, and loss of innocence remains. Studies and statistics about “effectiveness” cannot be allowed to muddy the fact we are teaching kids how to rape each other.
(It’s true half the states – but not California or Texas – have “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions when both parties are young. But such laws have rational bases such as compassion when both partners are victims and providing for the offspring if a pregnancy occurs. They don’t mean kids can consent to sex.)
Of course, with high school seniors and others above the age of consent, “safe rape” is not a concern, but comprehensive sexual education cannot be the sole approach in our schools. Put simply, it conflicts with the values of too many American families.
Many liberal “harm reduction” advocates, not used to speaking in terms of morality or values, are flabbergasted that people would prioritize intangibles over proven techniques to keep kids safe. They mock abstinence-only, calling it “ridiculous,” “dangerous,” and “stupid.”
Perhaps they could better understand by mentally swapping places with traditionalists.
As a Jewish educator, I know teen pregnancy in Orthodox high schools is exceedingly rare. Let’s say for the sake of argument that research shows even better outcomes with “God-said-so” education than either comprehensive or abstinence-only sex ed.
I ask liberals: if future Supreme Court rulings allowed your child’s public school to choose among abstinence, comprehensive Sex Ed, and “God-said-so” curricula, and the third choice was statistically the most effective, would you want your child learning religious reasons to avoid sex?
Of course not. Sure, “God-said-so” education might successfully avert disease and pregnancy. But it contradicts the values of many parents, who would have to “un-teach” their kids when they get home because their family doesn’t believe God rejects teen sexuality.
After all, studies and statistics don’t dictate how most parents raise their children. Mothers and fathers focus on their specific sons and daughters, whose circumstances, abilities, and needs they know better than anyone. Even parent who accepts that, on the whole, comprehensive Sex Ed averts pregnancy and disease can still feel her daughter would benefit more from learning about sex without specifics of birth control.
Analogy: voluminous research shows a positive correlation between childhood obesity and later health problems. Does that mean an individual parent mustn’t decide for his child that the drama club is a better fit than the swim team?
Particularly with older teens, parents should be similarly empowered to choose among abstinence only, comprehensive, and even “God said so” curricula. Ideally that would be under a school choice system where parents decide which school – public, private, or religious – provides their child with the ideal education, sexual and otherwise. When that’s not feasible, schools should offer parents two (three?) tracks.
Abstinence-only is sometimes proffered as evidence conservatives don’t respect science. But raising a child is not a science. It’s a complex process in which – for both liberals and traditionalists – values and visions matter. If research showed traditionalist curricula were the most effective, liberals would not want to be forced to educate their kids with someone else’s values. Don’t conservative parents deserve the same right?
David Benkof is a columnist for The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.