Anchorpoll: Does Sex Ed Prevent Teen Pregnancy?

I just need to ask it.

Let me state up front that I believe Sex Education is the responsibility of parents, and that a part of responsible parenting is comprehensive sex education: talking clearly, openly and often with your kids about human sexuality, natural urges, hygiene, masturbation, abstinence, forms of birth control etc, along with moral guidance reflecting your family’s belief system or “humanist” ethics.

Does anyone know what the sex-ed curriculum is in Alaska?

Having endured sex education in school, I don’t know that school is where it should be taught. It seemed pretty ineffective to me, when I was a kid. Maybe THAT is the question that some of these hysterical newscasters – who are “using” the Sex Ed question as a means to beat up Sarah Palin and her 17 year old daughter – should be asking:

I had hoped, when the story of Bristol’s pregnancy had broken, that the nation might finally engage in a real “national talk” about teen sex and sex ed. But we’re not having that talk; we’re just seeing an issue framed thusly: Sex Ed in school is an unqualified success and a “good”, and there is no argument. As I remarked to a commenter below, I do not necessarily think there is no place for sex ed in the schools, but I am also not convinced that what is being offered in the schools is particularly effective.

Here is what this laywoman knows about Sex Ed:
It started out that kids in High School “needed” sex ed, to “prevent teen pregnancies and the transmission of STD’s”

Then so many kids were getting pregnant or STD’s that it was determined that sex ed needed to begin earlier, in Junior High School!

But teen pregnancies were declared to be a “crisis”, and so sex ed needed to begin even earlier – in elementary school. And condoms needed to be free at school.

I’ve heard talking heads mention that sex ed should begin in pre-school.

And yet, teenagers, with all of this sex education, coming at them all through their school years, are still managing to get pregnant. Still managing to get STD’s. Still managing to get lots of abortions. It’s all still a perpetual “crisis.”

My kids deplored “sex ed” in school; they found it a huge waste of time because they already knew everything. The only thing they heard in school that they did not hear at home was a different philosophy.

The one we taught here was:

Sex is natural; sex is good. Sex belongs in committed relationships because sex is POWERFUL; it is the only thing we can do that creates LIFE, so it must be RESPECTED. Respect yourself. Respect women. Porn is titillatingly but it reduces people to THINGS, and most of the women involved in porn, even if they say they’re there voluntarily, are actually there because someone has communicated a message to them – probably when they were very young – that sex was all they were good for. When you reduce people to mere vessels for your personal gratification, you are committing a grave sin. Masturbation is natural, but don’t let it take over your life, don’t let it draw you into a mindset of instant gratification, and don’t make a habit of it. As you grow up and mature, it will seem less engaging and less necessary. Try to wait for marriage. If that doesn’t happen, be responsible; acknowledge the fact that you’re engaging in behavior that can end up creating a new life; be ready to take care of that new life. Be READY for sex, because it is not simply good. It is sacred and holy.

The message they got at school was:

Sex is natural, sex is good, don’t worry about prudes and moralists. You’re going to have sex. Here are condoms. Put one on a banana. See? You needed a class to learn how to do that. Oral sex is one way to keep from getting pregnant. Have oral sex. Don’t worry about those sores in your mouth. Masturbation is natural; do it all you want. Everyone looks at porn and as long as it’s not violent stuff, that’s okay, it enhances sex. Recreational sex is fine as long as you’re respectful of your partner. Sex is no big deal. Have sex, don’t multiply; if you do, you’re old enough to decide on an abortion and here are where they are offered in this neighborhood. Oh, and have safe sex. You don’t want any STD’s.

I never feared what my kids would learn at sex ed classes in school, because I’d taken care of it at home, and I’d grounded them in our moral guidelines.

Perhaps a poll? Of course it’s not scientific or representative, but still: What do you think? Has sex education in schools been effective?

Is Sex Education in Schools Effective?
Very effective
Somewhat effective
Not too effective but necessary
Ineffective but necessary
Ineffective but not harmful
Ineffective and harmful free polls
Do YOU teach openly and honestly about sex at home?
Yes, It’s an ongoing thing.
Yes, but not recently and not enough
Yes, a few times
Yes, but it was uncomfortable
No, my spouse will do that
No, the schools do that, and that’s enough
No, my church will do that, and that’s enough free polls

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Kimsch

    One of the talking heads over the weekend said “We all know abstinence doesn’t work.”

    Of course abstinence works. It’s the only method that guarantees no pregnancies and no STDs.

    Sex education in the schools or at home, and whether abstinence only or birth control options only – will only work if practiced.

    Abstinence works if you abstain.

    Other birth control methods aren’t as sure, not quite 100%, but they, too, will only work if you use them.

  • a. depaul

    Sex education absolutely does prevent pregnancy. The only thing I remember from sex ed is seeing a diagram of a penis and hearing “always use a condom.” Condoms, for the most part, prevent pregnancy.

    Condoms don’t give you a conception of your own dignity. They do not give you anyplace to stand when you’re trying to figure out your personal boundaries or negotiate them with the opposite sex. They do not prevent a lack of self-worth as you treat your own body like something disposable, or a lack of respect for others that you view merely vehicles for your sexual pleasure. They do not tell you that it’s okay not to have sex sometimes too. They do not tell you that there are ways other than pregnancy that casual sex can harm you.

    Plus, the sex education I got was a lie. Sex with a condom isn’t the same as sex without, either physically or emotionally. Admitting that would undercut the message that there is no downside to sex with a condom.

    So no, I don’t believe that sex ed is effective.

  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    It really depends upon how one defines “sex education.” If one defines it like the contemporary culture, then it can be quite destructive. If one defines it properly, then it is absolutely essential.

    More specifically, I think most people would be surprised that the Catholic Church teaches that education of human sexuality should begin early — very early. Early as in infancy, if not before. Now, of course, you need age appropriate instruction, but the basis of all proper “sex education” is to recognize and teach the truth of the human person — that we are social creatures meant to exist in relationships and meant to love and be loved as persons, not as things to be used and exploited. These are things that can and should be taught as early as possible. Baby should see mommy and daddy interacting in a caring, loving, and self-giving way toward each other. Simple respect for one another in all things is a central component of successful sex education.

    The error is to treat sex ed as a stand-alone matter, where we must reinvent the moral wheel. The error is to treat sex ed as situational ethics, where everyday standards of moral behavior in every other context do not necessarily apply.

    It is only when there is a foundation of selflessness, giving, and love of others in truth at all times, it is only when such a foundation is built and applied to every aspect of life, that one can successfully apply it to the biological context of sexual activity. And even then, it must be taught in the context of the truth of the act itself, that it involves the entirety of our persons, body and soul, and that, using the organs it does, it is necessarily procreational, and for us to be true to ourselves, it must be true to that fertile/fruitful/procreational aspect, as well as being open to the truth of the unitive nature of the act, i.e. in the context of marriage. Anything else is a lie to who and what we are.

    When what is taught is the truth of human persons, that we are meant to exist in love and truth in all things, then “sex education” can be successful. If what is taught is sex is fun and recreational and you have a fundamental right to stick it wherever you want whenever you want, if what is taught is utilitarian relativism — all of which is contrary to the truth of who the human person, male and female, is, then it will fail miserable.

  • Klaire

    Like most major problems, there’s always a deeper “root cause.” For starters, we can’t teach what we don’t have. Being that the REAL problem re: sex is how “disordered” we “understand” it, the problem is, most of all, a theological one. Consequently, will only continually be made worse by the secular world throwing condoms, STD lectures, and abortions on demand.

    I’m well aware of hormones, but I’m also well aware, that when I was a kid, there was still enough of a morality (in the 60-70’s) that at least to my knowledge, sex at school was nonexistent. At the most, in high school there were a few “rumors”, but if anything, it was not acceptable.

    Bottom line, our distortion to sex is directly related to our loss of mysticism. Sex obsession is the “new mysticism.” That’s deep stuff for school kids, but what isn’t deep is sex education like the Anchoress taught to her kids; the real kind. The problem isn’t the “sex ed”, it’s the lesson plan. And that “lesson plan” can only be corrected when sex is understood as God intended.

    BTW, it isn’t a coincidence that the favorite book of the monastics is the Song of Songs; the “key” to the mysticism this world so lacks.

  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    On a related note, if what is taught in the context of human sexuality is “abstinence” it is likely to not be so successful. What needs to be taught is “chastity.”

    One is more of a secular or even Evangelical approach, while the other is the Catholic approach.

    There is a difference, a big difference.

    These things may or may not alter actual behavior in the short run, sex is an extremely powerful temptation for everyone, but they will alter people’s understanding of human life. It will point the way to the truth.

    And it is only the truth that will set them free and allow them to control their sexuality, rather than having their sexuality control them.

  • Casey14

    Anchoress, this post leaves me conflicted. In many ways, my response is to think that your children are incredibly lucky – a thought I’ve often had while reading your blog, to be honest – but I know that many children, myself included, many of my friends from all around the country included, who weren’t so lucky. There are many parents who don’t teach their children about sex, either practically or philosophically, or what they do teach, isn’t the facts, but rather shame, fear… things that divorce people from their bodies and lead to sex being at best an unpleasant surprise, at worst traumatic. I know of far too many kids, taught solely the religious line on sex (and I’m a Christian myself as I write this), who were taught “abstinence only” because sex was for babies, figured that anything short of intercourse was okay because it “wasn’t sex”… and thus wound up with STDs from experimenting with other forms of sex. I agree with you that much of sex ed in schools is deeply flawed – but it is better than the nothing, or the deadly shame, that many children get at home.

    To be honest, I don’t think your poll is going to get a representative response – nobody here will say that they haven’t taken on this responsibility for their kids… and even if everybody body here does, you’ve got to know that your readers aren’t representative of the nation as a whole. A lot of parents, like mine, just figure that kids pick things up through cultural osmosis… and yes, I did. Sex scenes in novels, to be precise, which trust me, didn’t say much about protection, or birth control – though ironically, some of them did teach me about self-respect, and the spiritual importance of sex. Go figure.

    Finally, while it maybe be awkward for some to think about it, I thank God for that sex ed class for one simple reason – the day the teacher mentioned homosexuality as a naturally occurring sexual orientation, with its own distinct needs for being safe… and resources where I could go to learn that I wasn’t a freak of nature, wasn’t sick… just different – but just as valuable as my heterosexual classmates, and therefore just as responsible for treating myself with respect. I’d never heard the word “gay” before as anything but the lowest of insults… my parents had never HINTED that such a thing was possible. These are important things to know, critically, life-savingly important things to know… and no, Anchoress, parents don’t all teach them. Sex ed is flawed, but important.

    [Casey, Thanks for your comment. I never intended the poll to be in any way scientific or representative. It's just a conversation starter. We NEED to have a conversation in this country, about sex ed, teen pregnancy, all of it. I don't know that sex ed needs to come OUT of the schools - there are too many negligent parents, or parents who are too shy to talk about it. But I really don't think what is being offered in the schools is terribly EFFECTIVE. Not really. - admin]

  • Janet C.

    I find it hard to believe that there are many 17 year olds in our country who don’t know how to prevent pregnancy. They have been inundated with sex education from early childhood, either at school or on TV or from their friends. The fact is, human beings are human beings who tend get carried away, and even if every parent left a bowl of condoms by the door, there would still be teens getting pregnant (not to mention getting STDs). As previous commenters have said much more eloquently than I could, what they aren’t being taught, either directly or through osmosis, is that there are other, loftier reasons to abstain from sexual activity.

    I know of what I speak. I was a very well-educated 28 year old in a shaky relationship who “got herself” pregnant. I certainly knew about all the birth control options available to me and employed their use 90% of the time. What I didn’t have at the time was a faith that helped me believe I was a person of dignity who deserved to be treated as such and therefore stay chaste until married. I was blessed with a beautiful baby girl who is now almost 12, and I have begun stressing that with her. I am just as interested in protecting her precious heart and soul as I am in protecting her body.

  • Casey14

    Anchoress – then we’re agreed. My mistake for thinking you fell into the category of those pushing “abstinence only” in schools, which I think is a very bad idea because it removes the safety net from those kids who aren’t being taught. You’re right, we need to be having this conversation, because too many people have forgotten that school sex ed should be a safety net (or better yet, a way of starting/continuing the conversation at home), and not the entire thing. One thing I did like about your poll was that you included as an option the idea that “schools/church teach about that, and it’s enough.” That’s not true, and I really hope that your philosophy about sex spreads far and wide – there’d be more happy kids in this country if it did. Best.

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  • Jean

    I don’t know. It seems to me that more children are having sex now than in the ’80s (pre-AIDS). Girls still get pregnant, but they know “what to do about it”. In the high school where I teach, I’ve met several girls who had abortions in middle school.

    I think what sex education has done, as Casey14 mentioned, is to take the shame out of having sex. Unfortunately. One of my former students, now married and expecting, told me today that she is horrified about how open the incoming freshman girls are about what they’re doing and how many partners they’ve had.

    A quote heard in the hall: “Maybe I’m a slut, but at least I’m getting laid.”

    Actually, maybe I should say that the shame has SHIFTED. Now there’s a shame to being a virgin and to not “having the guts” to give to a blowjob to your crush (because it’s not real sex, you know). There’s also this pathetic comment I keep hearing from boys whose girlfriends have gotten pregnant: “She can’t make me pay for the baby. It’s her CHOICE to have it!”

  • niceguyeddy

    I saw the accusation that since funds were cut for sex education and money spent on abstinency programs ala bush, teen pregnancy has gone up since 2006, after a 14 year decline……is there truth to this?

    [Good question, I don't know. I do know that abortions are down - that could be a correlating factor; if teens are aborting less, then yeah, they're having more babies - will look after the convention viewing - admin]

  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    if teens are aborting less, then yeah, they’re having more babies

    One thing that I have noticed, and I think that it is a positive thing, a very positive thing, regardless of what one might say about the good or bad of teens having sex — in our culture, society-wide, there does appear to be less of an anti-child mentality.

    Unlike the 70s and 80s, when we reaped what was sown in the sexual revolution, and when both babies and motherhood were seen as great evils, today there seems to be a greater recognition of the great goods that are babies and motherhood. Certainly we see more and more celebrities celebrating and showing off their pregnancies and newborn babies.

  • Chad G.

    The Anchoress: Masturbation is natural, but don’t let it take over your life, don’t let it draw you into a mindset of instant gratification, and don’t make a habit of it. As you grow up and mature, it will seem less engaging and less necessary.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”

    The Anchoress: Try to wait for marriage. If that doesn’t happen, be responsible; acknowledge the fact that you’re engaging in behavior that can end up creating a new life; be ready to take care of that new life. Be READY for sex, because it is not simply good. It is sacred and holy.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2352 “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.”

    Thanks, but no thanks, Anchoress. I think I’ll stick to the Church on this one. Lets give our young men and women more credit. They don’t need the JUST TRY,if not be responsible talk !! Lets aim high and help them achieve greatness !!

    [Chad: If you're going to make your arguments, do use the ENTIRE statement in the Catechism, which goes on to say: To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.

    There is certainly a PASTORAL element to parenting. As to the other, you do just as you like, of course. I urged my kids to wait until marriage. I discussed the spiritual benefits of chastity. Being pressed for time, space and energy, I did not go into VAST DETAIL of all of my discussion with them, and I can't say I much like your presuming to judge my parenting on a few hundred words. Also, I am not much of a scold, but how dare you assume that I did not aim high and urge them to do the same?

    I also recognized that not everyone manages the ideals set forth in the Catechism, but the point is TO TRY. I think God likes "trying" a whole lot. I am not holding my children to "greatness" because they cannot achieve greatness without God's help and they have to WANT that. As a parent, all I could do was try to instill a desire for union with God that was greater than a desire for sex, but how well I succeeded or failed is anyone's guess, isn't it? It is certainly not for YOU to judge but for God. I'll take fair criticism of my parenting (and admit to many failures), but only to a point. And I think you have reached it. Thanks for writing - admin]

  • a. depaul

    That is interesting you asked this question the same day Megan McCardle corralled the statistics showing that sex education does NOT reduce teen pregnancy!

    See here.

    [edited to admit link - admin]

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  • Tota Tua

    It is amazing to me that the media ASS U MEs that abstinence sex-ed is the ONLY education that our children get. Abstinence education in no way means that other information is not given to our children. actually feeling kinda insulted (only kinda – ‘cuz I consider the source).

    Parents for centuries have talked to their children – like stay with us as we walk home – and what does that 12 year old boy in 12 AD do? He stays at temple to talk to the rabbis. So in the same vein as the Palin discussion, Joseph and Mary must have been failure at educating their Son??? Does seem beyond ridiculous when taken to this level doesn’t it.

    It isn’t just education – it is building an understanding of sexuality, chastity, abstinence and the full repercussions of each choice. Altho smart kids always say what they are expected to answer, there is hope that somewhere, somehow it will click at the proper time and they understand the sanctity of their bodies. Heck why do I even say kids – there are obviously adults who don’t get it either.

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