New momentum is growing for abstinence-only education with bills advancing in Utah and Tennessee, in addition to Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) federal Abstinence Education Reallocation Act. The guise for such bills has always been a reduction in teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, even though studies show that teens who take virginity pledges have just as much sex as those who don’t, but are actually less likely to use protection. Instead, the true motive seems to be a “see no sex, hear no sex, do no sex” approach designed to somehow erase the existence of contraception, homosexuality, and sex in general from the world in which hormone-flodded teenagers exist.
This is most evident from the American Family Association’s latest attempt to justify abstinence-only education. A study in the American Journal of Health Studies found that students who took a particular abstinence-only class were apparently more likely to perform well standardized math exams. AFA’s go-to abstinence expert, Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association, explains the significance of these findings:
HUBER: The researchers were suggesting that it was probably because there are a number of character qualities that are necessary to remain abstinent that also have … usefulness in other areas of their lives. We’ve been seeing for a long time that abstinence education isn’t just about saying ‘no’ to sex; it’s saying ‘yes’ to a lot of things in the future, and it positively impacts a person’s life — not just in that very singular area of sexual activity.
There are numerous flaws with Huber’s conclusions:
First, the study did not actually evaluate the actual effectiveness of the abstinence-only class, so any assumed benefit from the class (such as lower teen pregnancy rates, etc.) remains undocumented.
Second, the study focused only on one specific type of peer-educator based abstinence-only education, which means the results cannot be generalized to other curricula, which are usually taught by adults.
Further, the only conclusion the researchers drew from the study was that students may have benefited from having peer educators. There is nothing to indicate that students developed “character qualities” from the teaching of the class. If anything, the research suggests it was the mentorship students received from their peer educators that made a difference, not the lessons learned.
Finally, the study only compared students who took this one particular abstinence-only class with students who had no sex education class of any kind. None of the results offer insight into what impact comprehensive sex ed or sexual literacy approaches might have. In fact, the researchers conclude the article by admitting that “studies that compare the influence of abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education programs on academic performance would be very informative for interpreting the findings presented herein.”
Of course, the most compelling point surely remains that sex ed courses should be evaluated for the impact they have on students’ understanding of sexual health, not for how they impact math and English test scores.