Sexual Health

Abstinence – not a form of birth control

Upon reading this I scoffed out loud, it just seemed so ridiculous! How often would you click into an article on avoiding sports-related injuries only to have the first point be ‘always remember, the most effective way of staying safe and healthy is to simply not participate in sport.’

Reading the birth control piece gave me serious flashbacks to secondary school sex education. Year after year we did that ‘special’ module for SPHE or religion that required a signed permission slip from our parents.

The module had the same underlining rhetoric every single year: ‘Don’t have sex, but if you are going to have sex, you should probably use a condom.’

This attitude has been satirised in various different ways, we all remember the ‘don’t have sex because you will get pregnant… and die.’ line from Mean Girls.  Sure, it’s funny but unfortunately abstinence is still a key part of sex education curriculums and it makes no sense.

Sex is a natural part of the human experience.

Most people will have sex in their lives. Whether it’s at fourteen or forty, it is necessary to know the ins and outs of what you’re doing.

We need accurate information presented in a non-judgmental manner. The sad fact of the matter is that sex education material does not give comprehensive coverage of matters such as STD’s and various forms of birth control.

We cannot waste time by including abstinence as part of sex education.  It’s futile. If a person wants to have a sexual relationship, it is ultimately their decision and is unlikely to be deterred by abstinence based education.

Studies on abstinence-only education have reflected its shortcomings. The US based organisation Advocates for Youth showed young people who were offered abstinence-only education had a negative attitude towards contraception, including condoms.

A report carried out by the State of Pennsylvania in 2003 found that abstinence-only education was largely ineffective in delaying sexual behaviour and failed in encouraging attitudes and skills associated with sexual abstinence.

Although, Irish sex education is not entirely based on abstinence, there is strong elements of the matter in the SPHE curriculum.

A study carried out by the department of Education & Skill on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in the context of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) stated that sex education in Ireland can be divided into two broad columns: abstinence and comprehensive or abstinence plus.

The study stated that these programmes communicate that intimacy outside of marriage can create social, emotional and physical consequences.

This type of education only serves to instil a sense of shame in students. It is quaint and naïve to assume that modern secondary school students will abstain until marriage.

As well as this, students who may decide to abstain until marriage are not equipped with adequate information for when they do eventually decide to have sex.

In order to protect ourselves on the road, we are told to drive safely and wear seatbelts, not to avoid cars altogether.

Similarly, the most effective way of preventing STD’s and crisis pregnancies is with comprehensive non-judgmental sex education not by attempting to abstain from sex eternally.