What is So Wrong with Abstinence Education?

By Guest Blogger

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Cross-posted from the Bitch in the house.

Over the last few years, my policy of truth in sexuality with my kids has received a lot of criticism from just about every corner. Most surprisingly is the negativity from sex education activists who purport to support medically-accurate sex education. We are in agreement that avoiding the conversation about sex with our youth puts our society at risk for a whole host of misunderstandings, mistaken ideas, wrong choices, and risky behavior. This part of the conversation is not new. The turn is when I volley a question about specific topics wanting to know how these educators, activists, local politicians that I know, mommies, and other like-minded people feel about speaking of sex with their kids.


Not the “medically accurate,” sterile form of discussion about sex, but rather the direct and realistic, “are you encouraging children to use condoms?” or, “will you get your son the HPV shots?” kind of questions; or, how would answer, “mommy, what does ‘abortion stops a beating heart mean?’ or even, “is sex fun?” inquiries children and teens might ask. And I ask these kinds of questions to all kinds of people because I want to know what other, seemingly normal people are saying to kids about this most important and intimate topic. I live in a state that has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country and that also legislates abstinence-based sex education and has limited access to birth control and safe-legal abortion services.

Because of my locale and the low education prominent in my community, it seems to me that the stakes are really high for the outcome of such conversations. I feel like people sometimes act on their principles and that those principles are being outlined in conversations like these. Essentially I feel like people act on their own morality or principles and often vote accordingly as well. The voting aspect of this situation is really intriguing because why else on earth would we ever ask politicians from school board candidates to presidential hopefuls about their opinions on abortion and access to birth control (like that’s all there is to sexuality).

So it is often alarming to me that the folks I know are so damn squeamish about talking about the real-life complexities of sex, sexuality and the consequences of the decisions we make. From the radical activists I know to the outspoken parents in my community all get sputtering and uncomfortable when the subject comes up. It’s like these people believe that having honest conversations with open dialogue will somehow reveal their own sex and perversions to their children.

My kids started out reading “Mommy Laid an Egg” and “Where Did I Come From” as regular picture books pulled from their libraries. These were not special books that we only brought out in order to have especially timed talks about sex. These books were available just like the dinosaur books and the Legos books and all the other kids books we have available. As my kids have grown older and the picture books fell by the wayside to be donated or given to friends, we’ve kept these particular books available and added new additions to a shelf in the bathroom. When the boys are excremeditating™, they can read all about their bodies and such.

I’ve taken this tactic so that when the boys have questions about their bodies or sex, and feel like talking, then neither one of us will feel uncomfortable about raising the topic. There are enough weird social etiquette and strange moralities about sex out in the big bad world so I try to be the one place where they can ask a question and get an honest answer. I try to be trustworthy on this and every topic so that they feel safe to get information from me rather than ask the other kids on the playground; or worse, rely on each other in a moment of teenaged impetuousness.

So it chaps my hide to no end that recent legislation in my state and proposed national regulations should limit the access to birth control options. It is a damn shameful and frightening experience to face an unwanted pregnancy at any age. And yet at a time when economics are frighteningly abysmal and families are already pressed to the max of the capabilities, that the current administration should be contemplating even further limitations on healthcare choices is beyond ridiculous!

No matter your beliefs about chatting up sex education with you kids, I think we can all agree that limiting access to important, intimate information and medical care does not serve the interests of our society. I think that the Friend’s Meeting School in Philadelphia gets the idea of sex education in a school environment right on and that maybe, the current administration might sit up and take notice of the important conversations we all should be having about how sex is a life affirming and life changing experience that should not be regulated or codified. The topic of sex should be a forthright and honest part of our personal lives and not fodder for public jockeying and simpleton political debate.

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