Abstinence-based education

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sexuality: pro-abstinence:
education: sex education:

abstinence-based education


Abstinence-based education is a philosophical and political position with respect to education which states that sexual abstinence should be taught as the only effective method of contraception. Calling it "education" is therefore something of a misnomer, as it is really indoctrination: any information relating to other methods of contraception (such as their effectiveness) is strenuously avoided or suppressed.

This is primarily an issue in the United States, where it is heavily promoted by Christian fundamentalist and evangelical groups, although it seems to be spreading somewhat in England as well.

Arguments for

  • "If we teach kids about sex, they'll want to do it."
    • And if we don't teach them about it, this will magically turn off their hormones? This is like arguing that if we don't teach new drivers about road safety, they won't be tempted to drive dangerously.
  • "If we teach kids about sex, they'll think it's okay."
    • Why isn't sex okay? (To be written: morality of sex)
    • Assuming we believe sex is bad, why would we be unable to teach this? If we are unable to effectively teach morality, which is a higher brain function, how can we possibly teach kids to override their sexual impulses, which come from a much older and more hard-wired part of the brain?
  • "Teaching sexual abstinence as a form of contraception is just good sense – like teaching personal hygiene as a way of not getting sick."
    • Teaching it as the best method arguably makes sense, yes (although this is questionable too -- see planned abstinence). Teaching it as the only method (abstinence-based education) is a different beast altogether. It is important not to confuse these two ideas – (a) the practice or choice of abstinence versus (b) abstinence indoctrination (i.e. suppression of non-abstinence contraceptive information).
    • Personal hygiene is more than just "don't ever touch anything", which would be the metaphorical equivalent of abstinence.


In evaluating the effectiveness of abstinence-based "education" versus other methods (mainly the "inclusive" method, which was the default), the following factors – as measured within populations who have been either indoctrinated under the "abstinence-only" policy or else given a proper inclusive sex education course – are relevant:

  • desirable effects:
    • The number of students who remain abstinent until reproduction is desired
    • Improvement in students' understanding of human sexuality
  • undesirable effects (measured over some number of years after course completion):
    • The number of unwanted pregnancies
    • The number of instances of sexually-transmitted disease

By comparing the numbers for each of these figures between the two student populations (indoctrinated vs. educated), it should be possible to arrive at some objective measure of how well abstinence-based education works to achieve the goals of sex education in general.


Since we haven't yet uncovered any numbers directly correlating ABE with teen/unwanted pregnancy, let me boldly predict that the numbers will show abstinence-based education to be a farce. Simply telling students not to have sex – even if you can get them to agree that this is a good thing, and to promise solemnly that they will stay sex-free until marriage – will probably have a fairly small impact on the number of students who actually have sex without wanting to procreate. More significantly, those who do have sex anyway (this is a basic human instinct we're talking about here, one that is extremely difficult or impossible to suppress without drugs or surgery) will be much less prepared to prevent pregnancy and the spread of disease, leading to an overall increase in unwanted pregnancies and disease-spreading.

This prediction is partly borne out by studies showing that ABE and abstinence pledges have no effect on frequency of sex but do reduce the usage of contraceptives; the end results would seem inevitable.

It's difficult to believe, given how well-understood these things now are, that those favoring abstinence-based education are not well aware that this would be the result. It seems likely that their real agenda, rather than preventing unwanted pregnancies, is:

  • to increase the number of children being indoctrinated by views upon which these groups have undue influence (starting with "abstinence until marriage" and proceeding to additional Christian fundamentalist doctrine such as creationism)
  • to increase the number of poor and destitute, thereby:
    • increasing the number of desperate people likely to "turn to God" for answers
    • increasing the national problems of poverty and homelessness which Christianity-based groups often receive government money to help "solve".

Further Comments

Christian groups in general seem to believe that certain things should be left "up to God" to decide, regardless of the harm which may be done by not intervening. This apparent belief contradicts the official Christian doctrine of human free will, and is probably a cover for the real agenda mentioned in the conclusions above.

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