Abstinence is the only 100% effective method of preventing pregnancy and STDs, assuming it is faithfully practiced. It also comes free of the emotional and moral consequences of teenage premarital sex. Because of this, cultural conservatives often argue that abstinence should be taught to students in the classroom.
Others claim that hormonal urges dictate that teenagers will have sex anyway, and that promoting abstinence merely delays the inevitable and needlessly fills teenagers with guilt. Besides, since the magic pill known as hormonal contraception infallibly protects against pregnancy, and since sex is merely a pleasurable biological spasm, abstinence deprives teenagers of free fun.
The opponents of teenage abstinence cite a host of “scientific studies” to claim that abstinence-only education doesn’t work. And a dutiful media touts these studies as proof that abstinence-only education is a bad idea.
Strange as it may seem, the results of these studies are fairly obvious to any impartial observer. Abstinence-only classroom education – at least as it is currently understood and practiced – is at best a valiant but doomed attempt to combat a very real problem.
“Abstinence-only” education doesn’t work because it is countermanded at every turn by a culture which celebrates permissiveness. For the classroom is not the only or even the most important place where children learn about relationships. There are four major sources of this education: upbringing, peers, education, and culture.
Since the natural impulse of fallen humanity is to engage in promiscuity, all of these elements must support morality for “abstinence-only education” to “work” effectively. If children receive no education from their parents about relationships or choose friends who encourage casual relationships, abstinence-only education will do little except temporarily scare and annoy students. If education encourages students to engage in “safe sex,” then students will act accordingly. And considering the prevalence of broken families and latchkey children in American society, such education is often difficult to come by.
But even if teenagers are raised with a good moral code, choose good friends, and receive “abstinence-only education,” there is a fourth element present in modern society that militates against the other three. This element is culture, which is ever-present. Those who shun popular culture find themselves unable to communicate with their peers (which is part of the reason I spend so much time mocking modern excuses for Christian art).
American culture is adamantly opposed to abstinence. Movies, music, television, even advertisements – all of these use copious amounts of sex (and violence) to get their message across. Those who embrace chastity are mocked as either strange or unable to get dates.
A culture which celebrates promiscuity stands in direct opposition to abstinence education. In a culture where movies, TV, music, and magazines constantly inundate teenagers with the notion that extramarital sex is consequence-free and fun, of course abstinence-only education doesn’t work! It is the equivalent of setting up anti-drug programs next to posters advertising the location of drug dealers.
Society (thankfully) can do little to change two sources of relationship education. Parents can’t be changed, except in the rare, unfortunate, and highly undesirable instances of death or extreme abuse. Teenagers freely choose which friends they associate with. However, society can choose how it chooses to educate its children, and can choose what forms of culture it embraces.
Schools which promote “abstinence-only education” (and I shudder to think of what that actually entails in our silly modern age) fight tooth and nail against a culture which mocks and militates against abstinence. Even scientific studies criticizing abstinence-only education reference this fact. One report says: “Like it or not, sexual activity is a reality for teens in America, and it is hard to imagine a schoolbased intervention which will magically undo the media pressures (emphasis mine) and natural hormonal urges that young people experience.”
The problem with abstinence-only education isn’t that it “doesn’t work,” per se. The problem is that in today’s society, such an education doesn’t exist, except among those few who shun modern culture. Children are reared in a culture which says that abstinence is impossible and undesirable and mocks those who value purity. A quote from Chesterton comes to mind: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
So is this true with Christian morality – and its societal applications. Abstinence-only education is not lacking (at least not from a logical standpoint); but it requires the inculcation of the virtue of self-control which modernity utterly rejects. It has been found difficult and left untried.