Abstinence-only sex education

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Abstinence-only sex education is a form of instruction children that the best way to manage sexual relations is total abstinence. Far from being effective, there is significant evidence that it is counter productive, teenage pregnancies more frequent and increases sexually transmitted diseases.[1][2][3]

"In fact what’s getting taught is this: condoms fail constantly, sex is deeply dangerous and shameful, and “the girl you want is the girl who says ‘no’”. [4]"

Many abstinence-only sex education courses are run as faith-based initiatives.


Religious agenda

Main Article: Christian attitudes to sexuality

Some denominations have a very negative view of sexuality. Together with related views on contraception and abortion, much of the teaching of Christianity on sex and reproduction causes significant social problems.

To quote Sam Harris's book A letter to a Christian Nation:

"The problem is that Christians are not principally concerned about teen pregnancy and the spread of disease. That is, they are not worried about the suffering caused by sex; they are worried about sex. As if the fact needed further corroboration, Reginal Finger, an Evangelical member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, recently announced that he would consider opposing an HIV vaccine—thereby condemning millions of men and women to die unnecessarily from AIDS each year—because such a vaccine would encourage premarital sex by making it less risky. This is one of many points on which makes religious beliefs become genuinely lethal."


Most of the arguments are ad hoc wishful thinking justifications of the apologist's religious agenda.

It is effective at reducing teen pregnancy rates

"First of all, abstinence is most effective method for not getting pregnant.[...] Therefore, we would have limited abortion cases.[5]"
"Abstinence is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy."

Some young teenagers are going to have sex and just telling them not to has proven to be ineffective. Many studies by reputable scientists have found that abstinence-only is far inferior to comprehensive sex education. Apologists ignore basic human psychology when they claim abstinence is effective. Claiming 100% effectiveness commits the nirvana fallacy because it focuses on one consideration while ignoring other practical concerns.


"Besides, the government save a lot of money in campaigns and methods for birth control, such as condoms, foam, injections, etc.[5]"

It is much more expensive to sort out the mess caused by abstinence-only education than to properly educate children.

"Since 1997 [to 2009] the federal government has invested more than $1.5 billion dollars in abstinence-only programs – proven ineffective programs which censor or exclude important information that could help young people protect their health.[6]"

Avoid STDs

"Moreover, we would avoid sexual diseases. For example, we would not worry anymore about Gonorrhea or Syphilis for our children at [sic] erly age.[5]"
"Even with consistent and correct use (which is rare), condoms may diminish but do not effectively prevent STDs that are spread through skin-to-skin or skin-to-sore contact. These STDs are on the rise in the adolescent population.[7]"

If valid, this argument also applies to adults, which is absurd.

Contraception is effective

"Pills, condoms, and the like do not work and kids do not use them.[5]"

Contraception is effective when used properly and children seem capable of using them.

Children don't understand

"I believe that the abstinence message is the only appropriate message for underage children [because] they are still children.[8]"

According to this attitude, it is amazing we try to educate children at all! However, comprehensive sex education has shown to be effective.


"There are entirely [sic] to many children having babies in the world today. The only way to fix this is through abstinence.[9]"

Given that abstinence only education results in a higher pregnancy rate, this is a non sequitur.

Counter arguments

Ineffective and counter productive in reducing teen pregnancy

While there is inherently nothing wrong with encouraging teens to abstain from having sex, teaching abstinence alone is not a effective method to prevent or decrease teen pregnancy or the spread of STDs. Rather, the opposite seems to be more accurate. For instance, children who are taught abstinence alone are less likely to use contraceptives when they do have sex, as many of them inevitably will. One study found that teen “virginity pledges” postpone intercourse for eighteen months on average—while, in the meantime, these virgin teens were more likely than their peers to engage in oral and anal sex.

Education and support are more effective at reducing teen pregnancy than stigma and repression. [10]

Despite apologists claiming they want to reduce the number of abortions, they end up increasing them by promoting abstinence-only sex education.

Failure of disease prevention

The most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States is human papillomavirus (HPV), which infects over half the American population and causes nearly five thousand women to die each year from cervical cancer. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that more the two hundred thousand die worldwide. In response, a safe and effective vaccine for HPV has been made. The vaccine produced 100 percent immunity in the six thousand women who received it as part of a clinical trial. And yet, Christian conservatives in our government have resisted a vaccination program on the grounds that HPV is a valuable impediment to premarital sex. These pious men and women want to preserve cervical cancer as an incentive toward abstinence, even if it sacrifices the lives of thousands of women each year.

"Many conservatives worry that giving our daughters the vaccine undermines abstinence teaching. They feel it could encourage promiscuity by disinhibiting them from having sex. Lots of teens aren't having sex, they say, so why indicate we think they will by giving them the vaccine? [11]"

Impossible goal

Sex is a natural part of human life and is unavoidable, if you want your child to grow up shielded from sex then move to another planet. Children will grow up and decide to have sex, but the important thing is that they know the risks and how to prevent them.

Separation of church and state

Many of these programmes are run as faith-based initiatives and often involves the teachers prosthelytizing to the students. Given this occurs in tax funded schools, it is a violation of the separation of church and state.

In the United States

Abstinence-only sex education in the United States has been increasing funds directed towards abstinence education since 1996. To qualify for funding, programs must meet the "A-H" criteria. Much debate has occurred since on the ethics and efficiency of abstinence-only sex education. When abstinence programs failed to reduce the teenage birthrate, the Bush administration instructed the US Centers for Disease Control to stop gathering data, and also forced them to shelve a project identifying those sex education programs which worked, after they found that none of the successful ones were "abstinence-only". A majority of abstinence-only sex education have been discovered to teach serious inaccurate information.

Statistics show that American teenagers have as much sex as teenagers in the rest of the developed world, but American girls are four to five times more likely to become pregnant, to have a baby, or to get an abortion. The rate of HIV and other STD's are much more higher among young Americans. The rate of gonorrhea among American teens is seventy times higher than it is among teens in France and in the Netherlands. 30 percent of our sex-education programs teach abstinence only (at a cost of more than $200 million a year) surely has something to do with this.


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. [4]
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 [5]
  6. [6]
  7. [7]
  8. [8]
  9. [9]
  10. [10]
  11. [11]

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