Virginia’s ‘abstinence only’ sex education is damaging and unrealistic

Abstinence only should be taught in utopias that flow from the pages of novels, not in classrooms


Sexual education is a very pressing subject for youth of the modern era. With common things becoming more and more sexualized and there being an ever increased availability of information – both good and bad – the need for a comprehensive understanding of the human body is a necessity.

As part of their duty to maintain the health of their population, the United States government has suggested the states provide sexual education to their school age population. While some states have taken not only the government funding for said programs, but also the advice and created comprehensive programs, many states have opted to not take the federal funding and teach their own version of sexual education.

In my home commonwealth of Virginia, like so many other southern states, the government has chosen abstinence only as the main form of sexual education. This is the federally suggested form of sexual education, except many of the states that teach abstinence only don’t adhere to the federal standard and therefore don’t get federal funding. Abstinence only, a product of conservative Christians, is the idea that the healthiest form of sex is sex in a married relationship, and that all sexual relations should be held until marriage.

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Now in theory this is actually a good idea, right? The idea that the spread of STDs and teen pregnancy would drop if everyone waited to have sex until they were in a married relationship with someone they had committed their life to sharing. Except that’s a Christian utopian idea that not only isn’t true in reality, it isn’t even true in the Christian faith.

Abstinence only is a gentle copout for educators who don’t want to teach sexual health and parents who don’t want their children to be taught sexual health. It ignores modern realities and rejects reliable, necessary information in the name of hopeful fidelity.

So let’s go to the practical holes in the system by analyzing the sexual health I received at my public Virginia high school. We received two weeks of mandatory abstinence only education for each year we were in gym, so freshman and sophomore year. For me that would be 2011 & 2012, the reason for the years will become evident soon. We were taken to our school’s lecture hall where we were greeted by the nice old lady from the local church group that helps pregnant women.

She then proceeded to take the next two weeks and teach us three things:

1. Basic sex ed – this is a penis; this is sort of a vagina (it was a poor drawing).

2. Here are the “evil things that happen to sinners” who have sex- many, many pictures of STDs, STIs (no real help on what to do if you got one).

3. This is how dirty and evil you are if you have sex before marriage (cue the weird youth group games and putdowns).

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There was no acknowledgement of safe sex and no acknowledgement of condoms. The idea of consent didn’t even enter the room, as a matter of fact the church lady suggested that women should sexually submit to their husbands. The idea behind the entire class was to emphasis the evil of having sex before marriage.

If the school district I had come from was perfect and all of the parents educated their children to be safe and respectful, if the views of everyone in the community were the same and no one person differed, then I could see abstinence only education working. However, that kind of community is impossible and not the kind I am from. I am from an eclectic southern town with a wide variety of peoples and ideas.

There were girls in my middle school who were pregnant and there were girls in my high school who were pregnant. One of my best friends didn’t understand how a condom worked and had been told by the church lady that they broke 95% of the time. Many of my friends didn’t understand that birth control helps ease PMS symptoms. The years of my education are important because the education I was given couldn’t apply to me at the time due to the fact the gays weren’t allowed to get married.

Virginia has a lot of great aspects and education is one, however this is a short coming that needs to end. Abstinence only should be taught in utopias that flow from the pages of novels, not in classrooms. Sex education should be taught as a practical knowledge that enforces the ideas of consent, safety and understanding.

The south is a very diverse place, it’s time to stop pretending like one group is in charge and cater to the masses.