We’ve known for years now that abstinence-only sex education has been ineffective, doing little to convince teens to wait longer to engage in sexual intercourse and virtually guaranteeing that when they do have sex, they don’t do it in safe ways that prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. In fact, the biggest success in many of these programs lately is to make teens feel ashamed of themselves.
One young woman in Canada, however, has decided she had enough. Faced with a mandatory class she had to take in order to graduate high school (one that allegedly told her that “most boys have HPV under their fingernails, gonorrhea can kill you in just three days, and girls need to dress modestly to avoid tempting boys,” according to Think Progress), Emily Dawson and her mother filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
Abstinence only sex ed classes and programs often use fear and shame, coupled with a hefty dose of sexism and girl-blaming to push its message for no sex ever outside of marriage. From telling students premarital sex will kill them to telling girls that if they aren’t virgins they are like used chewing gum. But the tactics have little positive effect on the teen sex rate, other than to leave an enormous number of teen girls so confused about their own bodies that many are claiming they are pregnant without ever even having sexual intercourse. When it fails, as it often does, the schools do all they can to close their eyes and pretend it didn’t happen.
Sometimes, however, you can’t simply hide the failures. Louisiana Rep. Bill Cassidy, who is running for the Senate seat against Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu., is a sponsor of the Abstinence Education Reallocation Act of 2013. He’s also nearly a grandfather, as his own 17-year-old daughter is due by the end of the summer. While Cassidy advocates mandating schools withhold sex ed until students are at least 12, and then only teach “the skills and benefits of sexual abstinence as the optimal sexual health behavior for youth; and.. the benefits of refraining from nonmarital sexual activity, the advantage of reserving sexual activity for marriage, and the foundational components of a healthy relationship,” comprehensive sex education could have potentially changed the life of his daughter, assuming that the pregnancy was unintended.
That’s the message from Lucy Flores, Nevada representative, who is currently running for lieutenant governor, shared when she told her own story of being pregnant at age 16. Flores obtained an abortion, something she feels no regrets over, and used that experience to advocate for comprehensive sex ed in schools during a contentious spring legislative session in 2013.
“I shared that story because I felt it was relevant to the importance of sex education in Nevada schools, and my belief that our children need to be armed with good information in order to make good choices,” Flores said in April of 2013, after emotional testimony at the capitol in Reno.
“I learned from the very little education that I received in school and again, through relationships that I had growing up,” testified Flores in support of comprehensive sex ed.”I had six other sisters, all of them became pregnant in their teens – all of them,” Flores said. “One was 14 years old when she got pregnant with twins. That is what I had to learn from…Now in retrospect, if I could go back and be on birth control – or better yet – learn to fill my life with something else, other than having the attention of a man in the non-healthy relationship, I would have preferred to do that, if someone would have talked to me about it.”
We already know that denying teens and pre-teens accurate and age appropriate information regarding sex can lead to unwanted pregnancy and preventable sexual health issues. Now, thanks to one teen in Canada, inaccurate, sexist and medically and emotionally harmful abstinence only education is actually being called out for what it is — a potential human rights violation. Perhaps we can do the same here as well.
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