Addressing the controversy surrounding Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) offensive comments that “legitimate rape” doesn’t lead to pregnancy, President Obama joked last night at a fundraiser that the Missouri Senate candidate must have “somehow missed science class.” Obama’s point that Akin must not be aware of the actual science behind female sexuality, conception, and sexual assault is well-taken. However, the uncomfortable reality is that an entire generation of current Missouri students are likely to be just as uninformed about the same subjects.
Missouri is one of the 29 states across the country that do not mandate comprehensive sex education to inform public school students about the very issues that Akin needs to brush up on. In fact, Missouri goes a step further than merely failing to require sex education instruction in every school — if a school district does voluntarily choose to include some sort of sexual education curriculum, the course is required to use an abstinence-only program to instruct students.
Abstinence-only programs don’t work. They fail to give students the full range of information about sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy, and they don’t discuss accurate information about preventative measures like condoms or birth control. One abstinence education program in California teaches students to prevent STDs by “getting plenty of rest,” even after the state’s recent jump in STD rates suggests that information about condoms is more important than ever. On a national level, studies report that abstinence education has contributed to the fact that 60 percent of young adults are misinformed about birth control’s effectiveness, believing they don’t need to use it because it won’t make much of a difference in preventing pregnancy. Unsurprisingly, states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy are the same states that push abstinence policies.
Missouri itself has a higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases — 119.6 cases of STD infections per 1,000 young women between the ages of 15 to 19 — than the national average of 100.8 among the same demographic. And Akin, himself a product of Missouri-area schools (although he attended private institutions), may actually represent the standard lack of knowledge among the state’s current students, who continue to be denied the comprehensive sexual education information that could help them distinguish Akin’s junk science from real facts.
If President Obama and other elected officials are serious about their desire to fully educate Americans about the facts on human sexuality in their high school classes, they have to stop supporting abstinence misinformation campaigns. Until schools in states like Missouri are required to teach students the reality about human physiology and sexuality, they may continue to inspire future generations of Akins.