Sex education in schools most effective when students have right to choose options

Awkward times ensue in middle school when one first learns about sex. Many schools choose to go about it differently than others. While most secular schools tend to teach safe sex, some private or conservative schools prefer to preach abstinence. Both efforts keep in mind the safety of the youth, but they do not educate people fully. A more comprehensive sex-education program should be made in order to make sure students learn about all the options whether they decide to become sexually active.

The numbers on the effectiveness of abstinence education versus safe sex education are pretty shaky. President Bush is a strong proponent for abstinence education. Congress had Mathematica Policy Research Inc. do a study on the sexuality of youth who were in abstinence-only programs. The original study showed that students who participated in abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex and have the same amount of sexual partners as those who went to safe-sex-education programs. It also showed that they started having sex at the same average age as students who were taught about safe sex – about 14.9 years old. Mathematica did a later study in 2005, and the results showed that the average age jumped a bit to about 16.5 years and about half of the students from both abstinence programs and safe sex programs reported staying abstinent. It makes one wonder, what is the point of abstinence education?

However, in a study done by the Institute for Youth Development, an abstinence program called Best Friends yielded great results. The girls who participated, called the Diamond Girls, a high school abstinence program, are less likely to use drugs and engage in premarital sex, the study shows. These girls were also twice as likely not to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. It seems that abstinence programs preach not only against premarital sex, but also against risky behaviors that can lead to it. Planned Parenthood speaks about continuous abstinence as a birth control method, which is 100 percent effective against pregnancy and has no hormonal side effects.

Comprehensive sex education would allow for students to not only learn about safety in sexual encounters, but also about the benefits of abstinence. The Mathematica study showed that no matter what program is taught, the same number of youth from both programs choose to have sex or choose to remain abstinent. An issue as controversial as sex education should provide as much information as possible as to not cause confusion.

Planned Parenthood says, “Practicing abstinence does not mean that a person is sexless. Almost all women and men are abstinent at some time in their lives. It can be a positive way of dealing with sexuality as a well thought out choice regarding one’s body, mind, spirit and sexual health.”

Students should know about their right to choose and what options they have to stay safe. Whether students intend on engaging in premarital sex, they should be provided with information that will allow them to have a healthy attitude about sex even if they do wait until their wedding night.

Hayley Freeman is a freshman English major from Fort Worth. Her column appears Wednesdays.