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“Abstinence Only” Sex Education Belongs to a Long Bygone Era*

Generally, if I post on a matter where I indicate that I share even the slightest bit of common ground with social conservatives, critics will come in as if out of the woodwork, making allegations about my views both at odds with my actual opinions and even (on occasion) at odds with things I actually said in the very post to which they attach their comments. And  so it was, when, in the past ninety-six hours, I posted on Adam Lambert and the latest Kevin Jennings “scandal.”

As to the former, first let me say that I’ve never heard him sing or seen him perform (save for a brief clip of his sexual simulation at the American Music Awards); I offer no commentary about his vocal talents.  Simply put, I don’t have a problem with ABC canceling his appearance on their network because they fear a repeat of his performance at those awards nor do I think it appropriate for a gay organization to take ABC to task for its actions.

And while I share the concerns expressed by some conservative bloggers about the content of the books on the list GLSEN, Jennings’ organization, provided for adolescents on its website, don’t let that concern mean I share those bloggers’ views on every issue involving gays (and sex).  I know that some of them, for example, support “abstinence only” sex education, a idea I believe to be counterproductive and outdated, particularly given a culture saturated by sex.

Now, I do have problem with sex education curricula which discourage teen abstinence and encourage them to be sexually active.

That said, whether we like it or not, teens are going to be having sex.  They need to know about contraception and STDs.  They also need to know that sex can be infinitely more rewarding when part of an intimate and loving relationship.   There are benefits to abstinence–and not just form from the point of view of preventing pregnancy and STDs.  Those should also be taught.

If, however, kids are only taught about abstinence, they likely won’t learn about the risks which inhere in sex.  In this culture saturated by sex, with pressure from their peers, with their own human desires, they’re going to act out their urges.  So, let them know the risks, but also let them know that they don’t need to have sex to prove themselves.

Abstinence only education may have been appropriate in a long bygone era*, but it’s certainly not appropriate now.

So, surely you ask, what does all this have to have to do with Kevin Jennings?   And that’s a good question.

I had thought I had already blogged on this topic, but a quick search of our archives indicates that I did not.  Now that I’ve expressed my views on “abstinence only” education, I feel I can better tackle the more complex issues relating to the kind of books Jennings recommended and the ideas he seems to have been promoting.

A topic for a future post.


*And maybe not even then, according to Gordon S. Wood’s recent history of the United States from the inauguration of George Washington until the War of 1812, in that period, premarital pregnancy soared to “rates not reached again until the 1960s.”



  1. Teens aren’t going to be having sex. I didn’t, and I was reading Burroughs and Rechy. At some level, I realized that sex outside of a lifelong, monogamous relationship could only be exploitative, a feeling which was confirmed by the Holy Spirit when I became a Christian. Generations of teens did not have sex prior to marriage. It is only when teens live in a hypersexualized culture where their value is based entirely on their physical attractiveness that this is a problem.

    Comment by Ashpenaz — December 8, 2009 @ 8:16 pm - December 8, 2009

  2. P.S. I fully support abstinence-only sex education for gay teens. Do you think PFLAG will support this?

    Comment by Ashpenaz — December 8, 2009 @ 8:17 pm - December 8, 2009

  3. P. P. S. Would PFLAG even support sex-with-people-your-own-age-only education?

    Comment by Ashpenaz — December 8, 2009 @ 8:20 pm - December 8, 2009

  4. Now for a real tough question. How should sex ed. handle gay & lesbian students?

    Comment by DRH — December 8, 2009 @ 8:45 pm - December 8, 2009

  5. Does any school any where actually teach “Abstinence Only?” I was under the impression that “Abstinence Only” was just another left-wing scare phrase they use to demean any discussion of the Abstinence option at all.

    Comment by V the K — December 8, 2009 @ 9:12 pm - December 8, 2009

  6. Question: are there any data showing that sex-ed actually has any actual effect (more or less sexual activity)?

    Comment by SoCalRobert — December 8, 2009 @ 9:27 pm - December 8, 2009

  7. I’m with V.

    I dont think there’s any such thing as “abstinence only” sex-ed other than in liberals’ delusional minds. In fact, I dont even think there’s any serious push for abstinence ONLY education anywhere.

    I think its a lie liberals tell to oppose education that STRESSES abstinence, which is a whole different kettle of fish.

    Comment by American Elephant — December 8, 2009 @ 9:29 pm - December 8, 2009

  8. How about we de-saturate our culture from all the sex? Perhaps if the kids are bombarded with 10,000 inducements to screw up their lives, they’ll be less likely to do so?

    Just a thought…

    Comment by Mark Noonan — December 8, 2009 @ 9:58 pm - December 8, 2009

  9. ….err….that should read “if the kids aren’t bombarded”…

    Comment by Mark Noonan — December 8, 2009 @ 9:59 pm - December 8, 2009

  10. Off topic a bit, but only a bit, and I apologize in advance for that – so I wil keep it brief.

    Wouldn’t it be appropriate for a self-identified-as-gay site to at least notice, if not headline, the news that is coming out of Uganda? That y’all are conservative republican gays might make the issue a bit dicey, given some of the influences that have been at play there, but then again, this is a golden moment for you to address and take a powerful stand on an issue that might help to clarify in a lot of people’s minds just where it is y’all come down – when push comes to shove.
    Sister Souljah anyone?

    And maybe you can do some real good in the world. We might well be looking at a genocide against gays, and the roots of the inspiration just might be (I am not asserting here, just not really sure) coming from your political allies. So I do think that people are going to looking to y’all for what your thoughts are.

    Comment by Tano — December 8, 2009 @ 10:20 pm - December 8, 2009

  11. IF you don’t know much about what is going on in Uganda, here is one story…

    Comment by Tano — December 8, 2009 @ 10:23 pm - December 8, 2009

  12. When we had “sex education” in the early 1970’s the concentration was on the consequences of sex and the mechanics of the plumbing…not one who inserted what in which orifice…..yet we didn’t have the rampant teen-pregnancy problems or swelling bellies at HS Graduation either. the reason…public shame. It just wasn’t a socially-tolerable circumstance to knock-up a girl…or get knocked-up.

    And we knew what STDs were without the giggling or the hover-parents.

    As with responsible drinking while growing-up…versus abstinence and the following teenage and college binge-drinking. My college had lots of heavy drinking…openly. But we didn’t have the binge-drinking since alcohol was out in the open as a beverage…not some dirty secret and act-of-rebellion. And socially the pressure was against hangover and binges through peer-expectations and social policing. Beer was a beverage for moderation…not a secret vice or drug.

    Comment by Ted B. (Charging Rhino) — December 8, 2009 @ 10:46 pm - December 8, 2009

  13. I’m still trying to figure out why we need sex-ed in school. Oh sure, I’ve heard from enough liberals who don’t trust parents to do their job and feel that the state via the schools will do a much better job.

    How about teaching about sex in biology class, that is where it belongs. And it is perfectly alright to include the fact that sex is much more powerful than simply a way to procreate.

    Comment by Leah — December 8, 2009 @ 10:52 pm - December 8, 2009

  14. In the age of the Internet, sex education of any kind belongs to a long bygone era.

    Comment by AFFA — December 8, 2009 @ 11:36 pm - December 8, 2009

  15. Well, I went to parochial school. So the only sex ed I had was a few pages from a book we got in the 6th grade. The rest I read books on my own. During the mid-70s, libraries were just starting to classify gay books under “homosexuality” and not “sexual deviance” (well, at least in Lewiston, Maine).

    Comment by Jim Michaud — December 9, 2009 @ 12:43 am - December 9, 2009

  16. DRH, that is a great question. And I can’t offer a complete answer, but the gist of whatever response I would come up with would be to teach them to see sexuality as more than the mere grinding of loins (to borrow a phrase from a Roman poet). To remind them of its potential to bring individuals closer in an intimate bond. And to discourage people from seeing it only as a means of pleasure (but recognizing that it is). And to teach the fundamentals of STD prevention.

    Thanks for asking a great question in the spirit I wrote this post.

    Mark Noonan in #8 and #9, a nobel notion, but is it possible?

    Tano, grow up. OK? I write a serious post in which I put a lot of thought. I do wish I could post on Uganda–and on many, many other things, but I just don’t have the time. I craft a serious post on which we might have some common ground and all you can do is criticize. Sad, really, you avoid the opportunity for a serious conversation about an important non-political issue in order to fault me for something unrelated to what I’ve said above.

    Why must you always be so critical?

    Ted B., good points.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — December 9, 2009 @ 1:33 am - December 9, 2009

  17. I didn’t have sex until I was about 23. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, I just had the self control that God gives all of us. We didn’t have sex-ed in school (80s)either. The public shame aspect Ted mentioned played a roll too.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — December 9, 2009 @ 4:00 am - December 9, 2009

  18. We might well be looking at a genocide against gays,

    So why is it that gay liberals don’t give a rotten rat’s ass about gays hung in the public square in Iran, but you piss yourself about Uganda?

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — December 9, 2009 @ 4:02 am - December 9, 2009

  19. Because the president hasn’t spoken out in support of the killers in Uganda (yet).

    Comment by The_Livewire — December 9, 2009 @ 6:38 am - December 9, 2009

  20. See, there’s a reason that Tano relies on the right to talk about Uganda.

    He understands (but doesn’t want to admit) that he’s on the side of those who oppress freedom.

    The current Adminsitration, which Tano supports, has supported the terrorists over the freedom loving people in the middle east, embraces dictators in central America, and wouldn’t get involved in Uganda anyway, since “No nation can dominate another” and human rights don’t matter.

    Like I said here, the President promotes peace. “The peace of the opressor over the oppressed, the peace that comes from the death of liberty, the peace of the grave.”

    Comment by The_Livewire — December 9, 2009 @ 7:36 am - December 9, 2009

  21. Liberals only cared about the Rwandan genocide as an excuse to surrender in Iraq. Why would they care about Uganda?

    So what’s the deal, Tardo? Fishing for the gay Ugandan-American vote to help fill in for the folks preferring the Republican party?

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — December 9, 2009 @ 9:53 am - December 9, 2009

  22. Wow Tano, you mean Uganda is going to pass a law making them the same as the rest of Africa. I am shocked. Really I mean serisouly you think unless someone makes a special post against something then they are deliberatley ignoring or supportive?

    Yes, we need to fight against all this going on almost all over Africa and the MidEast. But does anyone think our current President will?

    This is the President who betrayed Poland to Russia. The President who refused to meet with the Dali Lama. Sure Bush was against gay marriage, but on the issues of human rights to life and liberty, he is far ahead of Obama. At least Bush didn’t make it a regular practice to screw over friends and allies and people in need in order to “reach out” to tyrants.

    Comment by plutosdad — December 9, 2009 @ 10:33 am - December 9, 2009

  23. Some teens will not have sex, but some will. you cannot say it is false that “teens will have sex”. Maybe you’re interpreting him wrong, think of it this way: “there is 100% certainty that there are teens who will have sex”

    the past 2 centuries of prohibition should have proven to everyone that hiding facts, banning behavior, and similar tactics, does not work at keeping people from participating in that behavior. And in fact makes life more dangerous and worse for those that do than it would have been otherwise.

    Mark Noonan points out teens are saturated with advice to engage in risky behavior, but that’s already the problem. Sex education won’t increase that problem, but rather decrease it.

    When I was in school in the late 80s, it was not abstinence oriented, but we spent lots of time on STDs, on pregnancy, etc. Plenty of information to scare kids into being careful. While at the same time giving kids who will engage in sex information they need to increase their safety.

    I thought there was not an actual thing as “abstinence only” also, until I met people who think it’s a good idea to not teach kids about sex at all, so I can imagine there are parents and teachers who do, in fact, teach just that.

    It is sad that the average animal is better prepared for the risk of sex than our teenage kids. Female animals know what can happen and will resist sex and be extremely picky. Teenagers who are taught abstinence only do not get the same education and don’t know the risks.

    Comment by plutosdad — December 9, 2009 @ 10:47 am - December 9, 2009

  24. “Sex education won’t increase that problem, but rather decrease it.”

    I fundamentally disagree with that. Sex education will increase awareness that safe sex is possible, then inevitably in real life, sex is not conducted safetly. The only way to be safe is not to have sex.

    Also, sex education in a liberal educational environment will not decrease bad behavior. Only with like-minded parents and peers will result in moral behavior.

    Comment by anon2273892 — December 9, 2009 @ 11:02 am - December 9, 2009

  25. I largely agree with you here Dan, although I still think if schools had to OK to teach “morality”, you’d see just as much outcry. One problem of the right is it’s inability to reconcile religious convictions with reality, in this case the sexual education needs of young adults.

    Out of curiosity, why would you even comment on Adam Lambert? I kind of get sick of the media and people commenting on things they aren’t at all involved in. I don’t give a shit who Tiger Woods is fucking and the only people who Adam Lambert’s performance really affects are his fans. Maybe my Grandpa was right, opinions really are like assholes…

    Comment by Tim — December 9, 2009 @ 12:03 pm - December 9, 2009

  26. Tim, I wouldn’t have commented on Adam Lambert had GLAAD not weighed in on the case. As per the title of the post linked above, “Why is GLAAD taking up Adam Lambert’s caee?”

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — December 9, 2009 @ 1:18 pm - December 9, 2009

  27. Honestly, what is the point of any kind of sex-ed?

    I agree that the abstinence only approach is foolish, but the fact that teens are having sex, still getting pregnant and getting STDs at higher rates than ever just proves that these classes are a waste of time. And in the meantime, they can’t read, and are lagging behind other countries in test scores.

    How ’bout we forgetthe sex-ed and give ’em an extra hour of real education?

    Comment by tammy — December 9, 2009 @ 1:22 pm - December 9, 2009

  28. I still would like the evidence for real life “abstinence only” education. I dont see it. I recognize that its a pervasive liberal talking point — for example Wiki has an article on “abstinence only” education that features a photograph of Laura Bush in Africa at a clinic that *Gasp* teaches abstinence and faith, trying to insinuate that Laura Bush supports abstinence only education…

    But the problem is she doesn’t. Her husband doesn’t. Republicans don’t. She supported her husband’s “ABC” policy, where A is, yes, for “abstinence” and B is for “be faithful” (in your marriage), but where C is for *gasp* condoms which are for use when one is, *gasp*, not abstaining.

    Its just more liberal lies and demagoguery.

    Comment by American Elephant — December 9, 2009 @ 3:06 pm - December 9, 2009

  29. By the way, Id like to know what place does “fisting” have in sex ed? I was horrified to learn that not only is this act being taught to 14 year old kids, but that its being taught that it is a regular element of gay sex? Excuse me???!?

    Comment by American Elephant — December 9, 2009 @ 3:10 pm - December 9, 2009

  30. I am still waiting for someone to identify any school system where “Abstinence Only” is the sex education curriculum. I still think it’s a left-wing myth.

    Comment by V the K — December 9, 2009 @ 3:28 pm - December 9, 2009

  31. Just because people still get STDs and do stupid things, doesn’t mean the classes are “not working”, again you’d have to find studies that compare groups of people who have and have not had such classes. I know my sex ed at a public school certainly taught it could only be “safer” sex not “safe” sex.

    Parents can teach morality and responsibility. But as someone said sex ed is really part of biology. There are plenty of issues related to sex my parents would simply not be qualified to teach. I can imagine 20 years ago the average parent telling his kid only gay people or drug addicts get AIDS, and the kid would have thought “I don’t need to worry.” Kids are certainly no more guaranteed to get good advice from their parents as they are from a teacher.

    People may worry about what a school will teach, but the parent who worries about that certainly should be engaged enough to discuss these things with their kids. So i don’t see what’s wrong with arming kids with information to benefit those whose parents aren’t as involved or caring.

    Comment by plutosdad — December 9, 2009 @ 11:45 pm - December 9, 2009

  32. How about because our schools cant even teach kids English, history, math, science, civics and the rest of the subjects schools are actually supposed to be teaching? Here’s an idea…why dont we stop listening to the people who have been destroying education for the last 40 years? I think they have pretty well proven they are the last people we should be listening to.

    Comment by American Elephant — December 10, 2009 @ 2:03 am - December 10, 2009

  33. plutosdad, kids come out of school not being able to write a coherent sentence, ignorant of even recent history, not understanding basic economics, and unable to figure out how much that MP3 player costs if it’s 30% off.

    What in the world makes you think their grasp of sex education is any better?

    Comment by Amy K. — December 10, 2009 @ 4:31 am - December 10, 2009

  34. I’ll tell you what exactly they grasp: Adults are telling me how to have sex. I can have sex.

    Any point finer than that is lost in translation.

    Comment by Amy K. — December 10, 2009 @ 4:35 am - December 10, 2009

  35. I’ll tell you what exactly they grasp: Adults are telling me how to have sex. I can have sex.

    Any point finer than that is lost in translation.

    Thread winner.

    Comment by V the K — December 10, 2009 @ 8:14 am - December 10, 2009

  36. So your answer is teach them nothing at all?
    The parents probably won’t, don’t let the schools either.

    That is not exactly the best plan.

    Comment by plutosdad — December 10, 2009 @ 11:46 am - December 10, 2009

  37. Instead of arguing past each other why not actually provide some studies rather than opinions?

    here is one supporting the AE crowd: (doing your work for you)

    I never learned fisting or “how to have sex” in my sex ed class. Just as V the K believes “absitenence only” is a myth, why do you believe these other ideas are not also myths, except for a few extreme examples such as Jennings (there are extremes of abstinence “only” I’m sure, since I’ve met plenty of people that believe in it).

    Comment by plutosdad — December 10, 2009 @ 11:58 am - December 10, 2009

  38. Pluto’s rationalization is exactly that used by gay activists to justify teaching fisting to middle schoolers.

    Margot Abels led the workshop, “What They Didn’t Tell You About Queer Sex and Sexuality in Health Class: Workshop for Youth Only, Ages 14-21. “During the session she praised the homosexual practice of ‘fisting’”–widely condemned by medical authorities as dangerous–saying that, “It often gets a bad rap.”

    “[W]e flew sort of below the radar screen for a long time,” Margot Abels told Boston’s homosexual newspaper, Bay Windows. She taught them sex because she thought she knew better than the parents what should be taught to the children.

    Comment by V the K — December 10, 2009 @ 12:58 pm - December 10, 2009

  39. […] Sometimes the best questions our readers ask are the most basic ones. In response to my post calling “abstinence only” sex education anachronistic, DRH asked, “Now for a real tough question. How should sex ed. handle gay & lesbian students?“ […]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » How Should Public School Teachers Handle Gay Kids? — December 17, 2009 @ 7:08 pm - December 17, 2009

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