I will begin by stating that I am a huge advocate for comprehensive sexual education. I think the abstinence-only culture we have is completely wrong and we should not be preaching that to our young people. How many of the people who want abstinence-only education actually remained virgins until marriage? Not as many as they would have you believe. Sex is a natural human function, in my opinion it’s probably the most natural thing a human can do. So why are people so determined to hide the facts about the act of sex from everyone?
So here are some facts: the United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases out of all first-world countries. The highest. This same study notes that the U.S. began to fund abstinence-only education but the researchers found this to be an ineffective way to lower the rates and actually are probably causing the rates of pregnancies and STDs to climb higher. Personally, I have always thought that not teaching about sex leads young people to explore on their own, without the protection education can bring. This study shows that my opinion may actually have some factual footing.
Teaching comprehensive sexual education can help our young people create healthier relationships and be able to spot harmful acts faster.
According to researchers from the Guttmacher Institute (if you don’t know them, look them up), teenagers are receiving less sexual education now than in the past. This research was done in 2016…..It’s concerning to me that teenagers nowadays are receiving less education about how their body functions amidst a time of social media where bodies are flaunted everywhere. Not saying flaunting is bad, but we should know what’s what and why bodies are performing in certain ways. This study from Guttmacher also found discrepancies in the information given to young girls versus young boys.
It’s disheartening to see that young girls receive less information about their bodies, how to say no, and how to protect it with various forms of birth control. This just adds to the toxic nature of male-domination manifesting in ways like sexual assault, domestic violence, and general violence against women. If we do not teach our girls and young women about sex and their bodies, they will not know when things are not right. And if we don’t teach our boys and young men correctly, they will take advantage of their counterparts and perpetuate the cycle of gender violence. Teaching comprehensive sexual education can help our young people create healthier relationships and be able to spot harmful acts faster.
A more recent study from the Guttmacher Institute concludes that abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) sex education is failing our youth. It was found that these programs withhold medically accurate information and sexual health knowledge from teenagers. This impacts their sexual development and the choices that they make concerning sexual acts. Abstinence as a theory is nice but in practice, it is harmful and doesn’t allow young people access to the knowledge of safe sex, contraceptives and condoms, and overall knowledge of sexual activity. Not only this, but AOUMs fail to look beyond heteronormative binaries, promoting stereotypes and stigmatizing those who fall in the category of “other” (including those who are already pregnant or parents, minority youth, and the LGBTQIA+ community).
Imagine youth groups beginning to talk about comprehensive sexual education with their young people. Better information would be given and the youth would not have to go elsewhere.
So why do churches matter here? The idea of remaining pure until marriage is a religious notion. This mainly applied to women, so that they would remain virgins before marriage to ensure the quality of their ability to procreate and also so that their husband could have the ‘victory’ of conquering her. Men were often excluded from this (who’s shocked?). Anyway, we can trace the history of abstinence to the church and therefore, the church should begin undoing this. If you look around the pews, most everyone you are looking at has had sex prior to marrying. And that’s not a shameful fact, it’s just a fact. We are human. So promoting the idea of abstinence didn’t work for the older folks, so why would it work for the younger ones?
Churches often shy away from talking about sex in any capacity, unless the discussion has something to do with regulating sexual acts or thoughts. This too is extremely harmful. But let’s imagine that churches began to speak of sex for educational purposes. Teenage pregnancies would do down. STIs and STDs would decline. Young people would be better equipped to make informed decisions about their bodies and what to do with them. Part of the problem are the policies in the United States that leave sexual education up to each state, many who choose abstinence-only. The idea is that parents will teach their children. However, research has shown that young people are more likely to get knowledge of sex from sources beyond parents (if they have ‘the talk’) and go online.
Imagine youth groups beginning to talk about comprehensive sexual education with their young people. Better information would be given and the youth would not have to go elsewhere. If they do, they can compare information from various sources and get a stronger understanding of what sex is and how to make decisions regarding sex. Comprehensive sexual education involves more than just the physical. It focuses on the emotional, psychosocial and economic impacts of engaging in sex as a young person. The whole person needs to be involved. This to me means including the spiritual as well.
If we can de-stigmatize and de-shame sex in church and begin to talk of sexual education within church walls, our young people will be better for it. They will make better decisions which impact the entire community. So let’s get rid of the weirdness that comes with talking about sex and help each other learn a little bit more about ourselves.