Why Christians Should Give Up Abstinence-Only Sex Education

As a Feminist Christian, sex and sexuality tend to be fun areas for me to discuss because those are the areas where Christians and Feminists have the most contention. This issue can get so heated and passionate, that sometimes I’m afraid to give my opinions on these issues out of fear for what my friends on both sides think. What I hope to do however, is show that Christians and Feminists don’t need to have the same beliefs when it comes to sex, but that also doesn’t mean that these groups have to be adamantly opposed to one another.I think there is potential for a third space here; a blending of beliefs that that can account for the faith a person has while simultaneously being socially responsible when it comes to sexual heath. With that thought I mind, I think it’s high time for Christians who believe sex is for marriage to give up abstinence-only sex education.

First of all, abstinence-only education is harmful (abstinence-only education meaning programs required to teach that sex is for marriage only, and withholds information on contraception and condom use). The curriculum usually contains scientifically inaccurate information, distortions to data on topics such as condom efficacy, and promotes harmful gender stereotypes.  Giving teens medically inaccurate information regarding condoms and contraception is a huge deal as it violates young adults’ rights to medically sound information that could save their lives when it comes to HIV and STI prevention. On top of it being harmful to adolescents, abstinence-only education doesn’t work! Study after study after study shows that students who receive abstinence-only education display the same attitudes and behaviors as those who did not. In fact, comprehensive sexuality education programs that discuss condoms and contraceptives have been found to help teens delay initiation of sexual intercourse and reduce risky sexual behaviors.

Second, comprehensive sex education doesn’t mean it is anti-abstinence; in fact, it teaches that the most effective way to prevent pregnancy is to choose abstinence. Comprehensive sex education doesn’t take a pro- or con- political stance when it comes to sex, it just teaches the facts. In addition to abstinence, they teach adolescents about condoms and birth control in case they change their mind and want to be safe and protected. Teaching about condoms and birth control does not mean they are encouraging teens to have sex, they are encouraging them to be safe if they themselves decide to have sex. Many couples who commit to abstinence only become pregnant because they have sex anyway but don't use protection.

Last, abstinence-only education furthers the cultural notion that if you have sex outside of marriage, you are worthless. By telling adolescents that the only reason they should wait for sex is because they owe it to themself and their future spouse, you are creating a link between sex and personal value which perpetuates a culture that shames young people (especially women) for not dressing modestly, being out at night, and being a victim in a rape.  That idea is so strong and so prevalent, it is one of the reasons Elizabeth Smart, the 14 year old girl who was abducted in 2002 and repeatedly raped for 9 months, didn’t attempt to escape from her captor. After being raped and thinking back on a horrific analogy promoting abstinence she thought, “‘I’m that chewed-up piece of gum.’ Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.”

The fact is, believing something about sex doesn’t give you the right to refrain from giving someone accurate health information about it. That is irresponsible and in no way represents Christ. In John 14:15, Jesus says, ““If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” First comes a love for Jesus, and then comes following his commandments, not the other way around. Jesus does not want us to follow him out of fear or ignorance; he wants us to joyously follow him and his commandments because He has changed our hearts!   Teens should be able to make well informed decisions about sex based on their own spiritual convictions and accurate sex health information, not out of ignorance and peer pressure. Christians can teach their kids their faith and teach that God created sex for marriage; but they can do that in addition to giving them the facts about pregnancy, STIs, and contraceptives. Adolescents need to understand that their worth as a Christian or a person doesn't plummet if they have sex and it doesn't skyrocket if they wait. The fact is God cares a lot more about what’s going on in our hearts than what’s going on in our pants.

For more information, check out:

Indepedent Study Regarding Sex Education
Information Regarding Comprehensive Sex Education for Teens

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    Abigail Muldoon

    Abigail is a women's and gender studies graduate student at DePaul University and an HIV prevention researcher focusing in trans youth. She strives to build coalition between feminists, LGBT members, and Christians and show that these identities are not mutually exclusive. When she is not busy with school, work,and church, she enjoys watching Buffy and playing video games with her husband.

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