Feature Archive

Abstinence vs. Sex Ed.

Which approach is most reasonable for today's kids?

WebMD Feature

Feb. 21, 2000 (San Francisco) -- Assembled in the auditorium of Mackenzie Junior High School in Lubbock, Texas, 15-year-old John Karras -- and the other students who returned a parental permission slip -- sat quietly while a guest speaker discussed S-E-X. "The speaker talked about some things that your parents and teachers wouldn't be comfortable talking about," says Karras. The virtues of abstinence were discussed. Contraception, on the other hand, was not -- except in passing, according to Karras. The group was told: "Condoms can't stop AIDS all the time and won't prevent pregnancy all the time," recalls Karras. The bottom line message: Sex is good, but only if you're married.

"Abstinence Only" Vs. Contraception Information

This take on sex education is known among educators as the "abstinence-only approach," in which totally refraining from sex outside of marriage (including masturbation) is generally the only option presented to students. The "abstinence-only" message, in which contraception information is either prohibited or limited to a mention of its ineffectiveness, is used by 34% of schools that have a district-wide policy to teach sex education, according to a study conducted by The Alan Guttmacher Institute published in the November/December 1999 issue of Family Planning Perspectives. Obviously this message is embraced -- although surely not solely or entirely -- by conservative and religious groups. Critics say that such edited presentations rob teens of critical information and ignore the realities of teen sexual behavior.