Virtue and Virginity

Abstinence-Based Sex Education

A comic strip in the Wall Street Journal shows a teen-aged couple sitting on a couch, embracing. The bubble over the girl’s head says, “C’mon, aren’t you a real man?” The boy answers, “I’m man enough to respect you.”

So it goes through the rest of the strip. The boy shows teenagers how they can successfully resist sexual temptation.

Strange stuff for a comic strip, you say. But this wasn’t your ordinary newspaper strip. It was taken from a sex education curriculum entitled Sex Respect, one of several programs that encourage young people to abstain from sexual relations.

As teen pregnancy rates continue to escalate, abstinence-based programs are starting to be in great demand all around the country. But there are two kinds of abstinence programs–with a world of difference between them.

Programs like Sex Respect are openly value-based. They take an unapologetic stand against adolescent sexual involvement. They teach that sexual intercourse is a powerful means of affectional bonding that should be reserved for building strong marriages. They have students act out skits to give them practice in learning refusal skills.

These abstinence programs are a radical departure from the standard, value-free approach to sex education, where students decide for themselves what is “right for them.” By contrast, abstinence programs are very directive about the things that are right for kids–and sex isn’t one of them.

There’s another kind of abstinence program, however, that looks similar on the surface but is really very different. A lot of schools are adopting these programs because they do give students reasons to postpone sexual involvement, and they do train students in refusal skills.

In fact, some of the exercises look like they were lifted right out of Sex Respect.

But here’s the catch: These imitation programs put abstinence right back into the context of the old value-free approach. In fact, they’re usually written by the same folks who gave us the old materials–organizations like Planned Parenthood, or its offshoot ETR Associates.

In these programs, abstaining from sex may be stressed more heavily than it used to be–but it’s still offered as just one option among many.

Listen to this example. A curriculum called Choosing Abstinence recommends teaching students that “at this time in their lives it would be a wise choice to say no to sex.” But the text quickly cautions teachers not to give the slightest hint of a “negative reproach” to students who are already sexually active.

The implication is that sexual abstinence is a pragmatic choice for certain age groups, but certainly not a matter of right and wrong. As one sex education teacher put it, it’s alright to teach abstinence, but “kids have the right to say yes, too.”

That’s the underlying premise of these wanna-be abstinence programs–that kids have a right to say yes, too. What a sad commentary on how deeply America’s educational system has succumbed to relativism.

So check what’s being taught in your schools. Don’t be taken in by imitation programs that teach abstinence as a pragmatic option. Find out about programs like Sex Respect that bring real values into the classroom.

There’s a world of difference between the real thing and the counterfeit.


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