Abstinence vs. Sex Ed: Where Should the Focus Be in High School Health Classes?

Health classes are mandatory for most high school students. One of the major components of these classes is sexual health. It’s become increasingly difficult to find a curriculum that everyone can agree with, though, because there’s a political divide about what should be taught.


On one side of the issue, parents and educators believe that sex ed should include only abstinence education. The other side says that students should learn about contraceptives and safe sex practices. Both stances have pros (and cons), but there’s very little common ground, since they’re fundamentally different. Here’s a breakdown of both positions.


The Argument for Abstinence

The argument of abstinence education stems from a few different backgrounds. In the United States, it’s based predominantly on a religious background. Most religions have doctrine about premarital sex and their adherents maintain a strong belief about waiting until marriage to consummate a relationship. Because of this, many believe that the subject should be avoided until that point.


Other advocates of abstinence simply believe that by talking about safe sex and contraceptives, it makes them okay and teens will be more likely to indulge rather than abstain. These advocates worry that teens will feel like there’s no risk inherent in engaging in sexual activity.


The Argument for Sex Ed

The argument for sex ed is less about morality and more about reality, or so its advocates would say. The fact is that 40% of teens have had sex. While that’s still less than half, the number is high enough that many teens should be aware of issues like unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, because these are very real to them. If they don’t have the education necessary to make the right choices, they could end up affected negatively by them. Teens who are taught an abstinence-centered curriculum are unlikely to not engage in sexual behaviors; they just will do so without the proper information. Proponents of teaching sex ed believe that by providing this information, they can mitigate the risks inherent in sexual behavior among teenagers.

From a purely realistic standpoint, it seems likely that sex ed is a more useful method for teaching a high school health class. It's not necessarily that abstinence has no place for teenagers, but rather that teaching prevention will help more teens in the long run than telling teens “don’t do it.” It’s more in line with how teens actually act. The divide between the two sides is moral, political, and ideological; while there are arguments to be made on either side, it's important to remember that the goal should be to help keep teens safe. By helping to prevent unwanted pregnancy and disease, teens will have a hope for a better future.

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