Science has proven that sexual abstinence doesn't work

If there's one subject that adults are perennially paranoid about, it's teen pregnancies. When adolescent bodies shoot upwards and hormones begin firing, sexuality is soon to follow. I'm sure everyone who survived high school is well aware of the awkward growing pains that come with a sudden discovery of all things sexual. At that age, it's easy to find yourself taken hostage by adult expectation or peer pressure, and end up doing something you regret; blushing your way through hours of sex ed classes, which examined the minutiae of STDs, pregnancies, genitals and periods, as a succession of biology teachers wagged their fingers at us and extolled the virtues of condoms (a complete waste of time considering my track record in high school).

In certain, more evangelical, regions of the United States, however, contraception is practised in a far simpler fashion. Instead of carrying a box of Magnums or taking the pill, kids are encouraged to forgo sexual intercourse altogether and remain pure until they're happily married. Young couples will often get matching purity rings, to show their mutual devotion to the cause.

A girl wearing a purity ring. Credit: Getty

The feminist activist Margaret Sanger once stated that: "Though sex cells are placed in a part of the anatomy for the essential purpose of easily expelling them into the female for the purpose of reproduction, there are other elements in the sexual fluid which are the essence of blood, nerve, brain, and muscle. When redirected into the building and strengthening of these, we find men or women of the greatest endurance and greatest magnetic power." That's right: according to her, sexual intercourse inevitably leads to debauchery, heartbreak, pestilence and lack of focus. Abstinence is the only sensible option.

The only problem? It doesn't work. In fact, it has now been scientifically proven not to work; a new study has shown that teens who are taught abstinence in sex ed are actually more likely to have unprotected sex. The study, entitled "Comparison of comprehensive and abstinence-only sex education in young African American adolescents", which was published in December in the Journal of Adolescence, discovered that minors whose sex ed programs encouraged abstinence ended up more complacent. In the paper's abstract, the study's author cited evidence that schools with an abstinence-only curriculum had negative attitudes toward condoms, which meant that those same students were less likely to use condoms once they were sexually active.

On the other hand, those students who had a complete sex education, or even no sex ed at all, benefitted from a far more positive attitude towards normal contraceptives. The paper's abstract noted that: "Participants included 450 adolescents aged 12–14 years in the southern United States. Regression analyses showed favourable attitudes toward sexual behaviour and social norms significantly predicted recent sexual behaviour, and favourable attitudes toward condoms significantly predicted condom usage."

A collage stall advocating abstinence. Credit: Getty

This news is somewhat worrying, especially since Tom Price, President Donald Trump's Secretary of Health and Human Services, is a long-standing opponent of federal programs which pay for contraception and Valerie Huber, the Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary of Health, has advocated an abstinence-only sex education program for American schools. Huber has even served as the former President of the National Abstinence Education Association, the ultimate objective of which is to "normalise sexual delay more than we normalise teen sex, even with contraception."

Furthermore, the White House's proposed 2018 budget has already set aside approximately $300 million to be distributed over a decade-long period to abstinence-only sex ed programs. However, this paradigm within American educators has not gone unopposed. Medical groups including the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics have voiced their own strong opposition to abstinence-only plans. Even the United Nations has declared that all youths around the world, regardless of religious belief, should have the right to access a complete education regarding their sexual health.

Dr Leslie Kantor, the author of a 2006 study which also disproved the legitimacy of abstinence-only sex ed programs, has since stated: “Health and medical researchers have shown consistently that high-quality sex education can make a measurable difference in adolescents’ health and well-being, which makes the appointment of abstinence-only-until-marriage education advocates to key positions within the Department of Health and Human Services deeply concerning."

A woman kissing a man's bare chest. Credit: Stocksnap

There's nothing wrong with advocating celibacy: if it's your choice to forgo sex, then go ahead and restrain yourself. But to me, it seems downright irresponsible to give this form of contraception priority over all others, and not give kids the full facts about safe sex, especially when it has been proven not to work. Much like the anti-vaccine movement, this seems to be another case where the first world continues to cling onto archaic values in the name of protecting children's purity, at the expense of their wellbeing. If you feel like you've been missing out on the full facts, then visit sexetc.org for help and further information.