abstinence-only update: the good and the bad news

When it comes to the current state of abstinence-only education, there’s good news and bad.

The good news is that as of September, only 28 states will still be taking the government’s abstinence-only money. By October, that number will drop even further to 26, when Iowa and Arizona opt out of the program.

This means that in the past two years, 40% fewer states have been pushing the "no sex outside of marriage" party line. This drop is really significant when we consider that in 1998, when the program began, California was the only state that rejected the Title V funding that pays for such programs.

The bad news is that because the majority of states still get Title V funding, plenty of you will be hearing some pretty crazy stuff come September when school starts. 

Take the situation in Kentucky. A recent report published by the Sex Information and Education Council of the US revealed some serious flaws in this state’s approach to "sex education."

Despite enormous amounts of research showing the failures of abstinence education, Kentucky, a state with a very high teen pregnancy rate, still accepts money for such programs. These programs, like many of their kind, not only pass on incorrect information, but many are also driven by old fashioned conservative values. 

For example, one Kentucky organization that receives abstinence funding suggests that girls can avoid sex by telling guys: "You see these dotted lines? If you touch anything between them, you do so at your own risk. My dad has a very large gun." 

Kentucky guys, on the other hand, hear from another agency, "Let’s face it. Waiting for sex is a real physical struggle for a guy…Pick your girlfriend wisely. She might have a pretty face and a nice body but those things don’t last. Find out beforehand if she has the same values as you. Why waste your time on someone who puts no value in her future and protecting it?"

The messages are that girls are still the property of their (gun wielding!) fathers, and that even though guys can’t control themselves, they still shouldn’t get tangled up with slutty girls.

So while it is great that fewer states than ever are running flawed abstinence-only programs, we shouldn’t forget that when school starts up again, plenty of American kids are still going to be getting more of the same.

Of course, with over half the states still taking abstinence money, Kentucky is far from alone. If you live somewhere that still teaches abstinence ed, I’d love to hear about the craziest things you were told.

Posted in: Health, Sex & Relationships, The State of Sex Ed, Virginity
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  • cherylb

    you wanna know crazy? i've only had one week of anything that could resemble sex ed. that consisted of a video about a women who whole heartedly supported abstince only education, she was talking to a group of students and they shared their thoughts and feelings at the end, and a breif talk about waiting til married. the next year it was a just a class period were we sat down heard so women talk to us about waiting annoyed the guys down the hall and then went back to class. so turthfully i don't think i've EVER had a sex ed class. thats sad. btw i live in NC.

  • Ellen Friedrichs

    Hi Everyone,
    Here's where I write about the Silent Scream: http://gurl.typepad.com/sex_ed_blog/2008/06/the-e

  • ArielMeog

    I live in North Carolina… I can tell you loads of bull crap I got from the abstinence-only ed.
    In middle school we were taught nothing of the clitoris or labia… NOT EVEN THE HYMEN. Pretty bad. Someone's going to be in for a painful surprise…
    Then it's the whole "girls give sex to get love, boys give love to get sex"… they basically promoted the stereotypes that girls were weak and gullible while boys were unable to control their urges. Dubya tee eff, mate!
    In eighth grade, my friends (middle school boys)were told that middle school boys pressured girls into having sex. My friends assured me that this was false.
    In my ninth grade health textbook there was a load of information on drugs such as marijuana, crack cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, meth… very comprehensive information. But when it came to sex it was "SEX IS BAD, YOU ARE GUARANTEED AN STD AND PREGNANCY, PLUS IT GOES AGAINST YOUR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS!" And I go to a public school.

  • Amber S.

    I think the dotted lines are probably imaginary, maybe somewhere around the neck and the knees.
    And a side note: EFF YOU, SILENT SCREAM MOVIE! My cousin saw that movie after she had an abortion and had to go to a mental hospital for a few months, she was so traumatized by the pain she thought she'd caused to what she thought was a concious, pain-feeling thing.

  • Marie-Hél&egr

    Is it just me or the thing about the dotted line does not make any sense (I can't figure out which dotted line it is supposed to be…)
    I waited a long time to have sex, but it was an informed choice. It was never because it was the only option I had been given or because I didn't know what sex was. Informed is the best way my sexuality can be.

  • Chris

    I live in Connecticut, and I went to a Catholic grammar school where sex ed was rarely correct, let alone comprehensive. One of the health teachers said that she showed the movie "The Silent Scream" to her eighth graders (she left before I got to the eighth grade). She told us that the movie was about abortion, and how the fetus could feel the needle coming toward it and it screamed in pain (or anticipation of pain). She told us one of her students came back to see her as a teen mom in her junior year of high school, and credited her decision not to have an abortion to the movie. Thank you, Ellen, for exposing the false message of that movie, as it makes the story all the more disturbing to me.

  • Marie

    I live in Canada but I go to a religious school so the focus has always been on abstinence. Our sex-ed program doesn't sound like either the comprehensive programs or the abstinence-only programs. Ours told us about STDs and how anyone could get them (as well as the risks and treatments associated with them), about the success rates of different birth control methods (they'd say stuff like "Condoms are your safest bet for preventing STDs and pregnancy but they aren't 100%. Some STDs such as genital warts can still be transmitted just by skin contact and occasional condoms will break"), and then they'd tell us "THE SAFEST SEX IS NO SEX UNTIL YOU'RE A RESPONSIBLE ADULT!!!". I guess in some ways they'd use scare tactics (showing us pictures of different STDs in their most extreme forms, making us watch videos where teen mothers talk about their awful lives, etc) but most of that was in junior high. By the time I got to high school, it was mostly just the facts with only the occasional "but remember kiddies, our FAITH SAYS…." from the teacher. I suppose I might have also turned out fine partially because my parents are rather open minded though. I know that some of my friends from more conservative backgrounds are still pretty confused.

  • i totally agree with mandi.
    a schools job is to tell you the facts not decide what is right for you.
    i live in NY and im not sure if we are all for the abstinence thing but at my specific school we are,
    if you ask anything about a condom in "sex ed" class they say "well it is a form of birth control but you will only be safe if you dont have sex" and they go on and on about how you WILL get STDs and get pregnant if you have sex before marriage.
    and i personally think our teacher is a giant hipocrate.
    they should really make sure the teacher was all "pure untill marriage" before they assign them.

  • dOmOniique<3

    well when they teach the abstiinance thiinq iit Onlii make sOme teenaqers wanna dO iit mOre ; yOuh qOtt tO be ratiiOnal ; iif a qiirl deciides tO have sex wiith sOmeOne ; iits her deciisiiOn ; nOt aniiOne else ; sO the teachiinq Of abstiinance iisnt chanqiinq aniithiinq ;peOple qOnna dO what they wanna dO requardless

  • dOmOniique<3

    well when they teach the abstiinance thiinq iit Onlii make sOme teenaqers wanna dO iit mOre ; yOuh qOtt tO be ratiiOnal ; iif a qiirl deciides tO have sex wiith sOmeOne ; iits her deciisiiOn ; nOt aniiOne else ; sO the teachiinq Of abstiinance iisnt chanqiinq aniithiinq ;peOple qOnna dO what they wanna dO requardless

  • Mandi

    The only problem I have with abstinence-only education is that it is not the school's job to make my moral decisions for me. The job of a school is to educate. I want my school to give me all of the scientific and medical facts and statistics and let me decide for myself what is right for ME. I don't think that's too much to ask, and comprehensive sex education doesn't promote teen sex as a good idea. It gives straight facts that are unbiased by moral codes.

  • Julie

    While there is much controversy about how much money is given to abstinence-until-marriage education, you fail to mention that the money going to comprehensive sex ed is $12 to $1 for abstinence. The rates of STDs among teens and young adults is at epidemic levels, yet condom use is higher than ever as well. Don't you think if 'safe sex' were the way to go, that more condom use would equal lower disease rates?
    What I cannot figure out is why the ONLY 100% effective way to prevent the consequences of sex is cast in such a negative light. Abstinence is about saving and protecting sex, it is about protecting your future, and young people building healthy relationships without physical intimacy. Why is that such a bad thing?
    Tell me why teenagers having sex is a GOOD idea? The message to have sex with whomever, whenever and with no restrictions otehr than using a condom only teaches lack of respect for your body, zero self-control and a large range of emotional and mental turmoil.
    Get the bigger picture! People, especially teens and young adults need boundaries and it is ok to hold people to a higher standard. Abstinence is the safest and healthiest lifestyle… period.

    • Amy

      my thoughts exactly!

  • leah

    at my school in Michigan, we get the whole abstinence-only education crap.
    even our std unit sucks.
    basically, they tell us "if you have sex, you will get chlamydia and die, even if the person does not have chlamydia. if you wait until you get married you will never ever get an std… even if your husband has one."
    the entire program, (std and standard sex ed) i never heard the words "condom" or "birth control"- except the first day, when we were told that we weren't allowed to say them.
    the sex ed unit was just about a bunch of pregnant girls talking about how much their life sucks.

  • Mandi

    Well, just last week in Child Development, the class was informed that we would soon start our "Brief, informative" sex ed unit. This will entail "the idea that abstinence is the only safe sex for teens."
    I live in Missouri >>