In Sex Ed, Telling Kids to “Wait Until Marriage” Doesn’t Work. But What About “Wait a Few Years”?
It’s well documented that abstinence-only programs, which merely preach to kids about waiting to have sex until marriage, aren’t effective. The programs don’t actually reduce teen sexual activity, and because they don’t discuss proper use of contraception, they likely increase the risk of teen pregnancy and STDs. Despite this evidence, many states’ education policies still emphasize abstinence programs, and 46% of boys and 33% of girls report not receiving formal instruction on contraception before first having sex.
However, a new sex ed program that emphasizes both delaying sex as well as using contraception has been shown effective for middle schoolers. Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of reproductive health services in the country, developed the program, called Get Real.
Get Real has a curriculum for middle school and one for high school. The middle school curriculum emphasizes abstaining from sex “for now,” presumably until high school, since the high school curriculum does not emphasize abstinence. Because, let’s get real, high schoolers are gonna have sex, unless you keep them in solitary confinement.
Funded in part through the Affordable Care Act’s spending on teen pregnancy prevention, the program seems to have used the money effectively. A three-year study on Get Real found that of middle-schoolers who participated in the program, 15% fewer girls and 16% fewer boys became sexually active by 8th grade compared to those who did not participate.
Slate’s Amanda Marcotte thinks the program’s success is partly due to the idea that asking kids to delay sex for a few years until they are in a better position to make rational decisions is much easier than asking that they wait until marriage, which may be “10 to 15 years away.” That’s probably true, although I would add that for those who choose not to ever marry, or aren’t legally allowed to marry the partner of their choice, saying “wait until marriage” is the same as saying “never have sex.” So not only do these kids likely ignore the abstinence-until-marriage message, it’s also offensive. Get Real addresses both of these issues.
As for LGBT kids, the curriculum does have a lesson on “discuss[ing] LGBTQ identities in a respectful manner.” Unfortunately, it’s only optional.
Overall it seems like a program that most people could get behind. But it may actually be unnecessary in California, since state law already requires schools to provide students information to prevent “unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases” and “to encourage all students to develop healthy attitudes about adolescent growth and development, body image, gender roles, sexual orientation, dating, marriage, and family.”1Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Act That sounds pretty good, right?
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