Who’s kidding whom? Abstinence-only does not work

All over the world, adults are rediscovering what it is like to be a kid as they dive into the final Harry Potter book. It seems however, that it is easier to revert to believing in magic than it is to remember what it’s like to be a horny teenager.

Last week a new study revealed that US teenagers are waiting longer to have sex and more of those who are having sex are using condoms. The study also noted a decline in teen pregnancies.

Abstinence-only advocates claimed that the results are evidence that their brand of sex education actually works. They will have to shout to be heard over the abstinence-only death knell. It began its toll a few months ago when the most comprehensive study of abstinence education to date found no evidence that it delays the onset of sexual activity in teens. This year 11 state health departments rejected abstinence-only education.

In fact, the latest study does not prove that abstinence education works. Sexual activity rates began to drop in the early 1990s, before abstinence education became the multimillion dollar industry it is today. In fact, the number of teens having sex has not changed much since 2001, when Bush began pouring money into programs such as “Virginity Rules.”

The results also do not say anything about other forms of sexual activity. Judging from the number of “sex on the school bus” stories I have heard in recent years, those rates aren’t declining.

What should be a personal question has become a political, partisan one. What should you tell your teen about sex? As someone who is closer to being a teen than having one, I do think that teenagers should be encouraged to wait before they engage in sexual activity. At the same time, sending teenagers out into a world where sex is used to sell everything without correct information about sex is just irresponsible. If teenagers don’t get accurate information about sex from their parents and school, then they will get flawed information from their peers and from the porn they watch on the Internet. If we don’t give teenagers reliable information about sex, then they will trust their hormones.

A popular abstinence-only teaching tool goes something like this: Teacher repeatedly sticks a piece of tape against volunteers’ arms, the floor, wherever. After several uses the tape is dirty and cannot stick properly to anything. The tape is supposed to symbolize a sexually active teen, losing their “stickiness” through repeated sexual activity or partners.

Teaching kids to be ashamed of sex through demeaning analogies is not an antidote to our sex-saturated media either. Comparing teenagers who have sex to dirty pieces of tape is not a good illustration of sexual worth, especially when 46 percent of the class being taught is already sexually active. Remember what it was like to be a teenager? You were probably the kid in the back of the class rolling their eyes.