The abstinence movement is growing within many communities as the answer to everything from abortion to rape. I would not mind it if abstinence education was proven to avoid both. It doesn’t.
Abstinence-only sex education has been found to be ineffective in decreasing HIV risk in the United States. It also does not decrease rates of unplanned pregnancy when compared to comprehensive sex education. So far there has been no evidence that abstinence-only sex education is effective for much of anything but making girls feel badly about themselves.
I have no quarrel with the idea we should encourage our children to abstain from sexual activity until they reach a certain age or marriage; that is how I raised my two daughters. They also received good sex education in their public school. But, I did not teach them that their remaining virgins would define their worth as a young woman. I did not teach them that keeping their virginity was more important than using their heads as well as their hearts.
What brought this blog forward was my reading Elizabeth Smart’s words at a recent forum on child sex-trafficking. Ms. Smart shared how pro-abstinence sex education harms girls.
As you may recall, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped at knife point from her bedroom when she was 14 years old. She shared that while being held captive she doubted that escaping her captor would bring her any relief. Elizabeth had learned that a woman who lost her virginity before marriage was like a chewed up piece of gum, and who would want a used piece of gum?! “I felt like my soul had been crushed. I felt like I wasn’t even human anymore. How could anybody want me or love me or care about me? I felt like life had no more meaning to it.”
Being taught that you (as a girl) are no longer worthy once you have lost your virginity is not kind nor is it true. I refute the notion that a woman’s value only lies beneath her belly-button. I believe we should all just say no! We should all just say no to abstinence-only sex education as it does nothing to protect the health of youth. On the contrary, it attacks the mental health of our youth and sends an oppressive message to both young women and men. Just say no!
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice.