Opinion: A curriculum that focuses on abstinence is sex miseducation

Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a certified coach, a writer and an international parent-educator teaching parents how to use a ‘coach-approach’ to parenting in the 21st century.

In this piece, she addresses Fulton County’s decision to revisit its sex education curriculum.

Now sixth through 12th graders in Fulton learn from a controversial curriculum called “Choosing the Best,” which Fulton officials describe as a “comprehensive, evidence-based, abstinence-centered instructional program” designed to expose students to sex education “through a risk avoidance approach.”

That same program was rejected in DeKalb in 2005 after many parents complained it left children uninformed on how to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease. I attended a packed hearing in DeKalb where about a dozen scientists with kids in DeKalb schools denounced the approach.

After covering public debates on sex ed in three states, I realize many people want a curriculum based on an ideal that teens have never met. One of the most interesting discussions I had with my aunts was not only how many of their friends “had” to get married, but also how many young women in their generation lost their lives or suffered serious injury as a result of botched, back-alley abortions.

I am firmly on the side of giving kids accurate and full information, especially now that they all carry around smartphones that will provide them with all the information — and misinformation — about sex they could ever want.

By Elaine Taylor-Klaus

Last week we learned that the Fulton County schools were “updating” their sex education curriculum, and that parents had until this past Monday to give feedback on the updated plan.

What is the best way to teach sex ed? (AJC File)

What is the best way to teach sex ed? (AJC File)

The existing curriculum, known as “Choosing the Best,” is an abstinence-based program that sticks to very traditional roles and expectations, leaving all but the most conventional students open to scorn and shame. With below average outcomes in teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, it’s past time for Fulton County Schools to join the 21st century, to use this opportunity to truly “update” the curriculum.

It is time to employ a comprehensive curriculum that uses fact-­based materials to equip our teens with the information they need to make healthy and informed decisions. After all, isn’t that one of the primary jobs of parents and schools? Over and above all else, it is our responsibility to teach children responsible decision-­making, age­-appropriately, over time. The more we provide our children with opportunities to think through complex issues, process information and make their own judgments about what is right and wrong for them, the better they’ll be prepared for adulthood.

We’re not raising children to remain children. We are raising them to become adults. We want them to learn to weigh information and feel confident making healthy decisions for themselves. That is the foundation of the future, for our families, our communities and our businesses ­­ children who will grow into adults who can make considered thoughtful, informed choices in all aspects of their lives.

Our kids have so much that they are called upon to navigate at an early age, these days. They are exposed to images of drug use and confusing sexual images in the media at all too early an age. When our schools close them off to accurate information, they have nowhere reliable to turn.

More often than not, they rely on Google and their peers to help them process the complex information to which they are exposed. They may look further on social media, or in the mainstream media, where they can easily witness a constant barrage of violence and sexuality that is generally inappropriate to their age and development.

On the other hand, when we provide children and teens with information about adult life while they are still living in our homes, we have an opportunity to share our values with them, and, ideally, influence their thinking. Like it or not, their actions are still very much in their control. That is a reality of parenting.

But if we can inform their thinking, and instruct them in safe and healthy processes for decision-­making, we can improve the outcomes for a significantly larger population of young people. Reality-­based sexuality education is an ideal way for our schools to combat the incredible mis­information available to our children on the internet.

Conversely, an “abstinence-­based” sexuality education curriculum prevents children from learning about the complexities of adult life under healthy, supportive adult supervision. In this day and age, it is irresponsible to put our heads in the sand and presume that withholding information from our youth is in any way preparing them well for their adult lives.

To think that we can “protect” them from the outside world is naive. But to make every effort to inform their internal world — that is full of potential. At the end of the day, the alternative to safe, comprehensive, reality-­based education invites our children to seek information relevant to their future by random searches on the internet.

Fulton County — does that really make sense to anyone?

Reader Comments 0

38 comments
Point
Point

The CDC states Atlanta has one of  the most intense epidemics of HIV in the country. We need a Scared Straight-Sex ed program.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Point 

Thanks for your support below regarding my thoughts on connecting love with intimacy.  However, I have to post to this reading audience that I do not believe in winning any "battle" through scare tactics.  Furthermore, I believe homosexuality is as normal as heterosexuality and that both are based upon genetics for the most part.  Time for citizens to grow up  about sexuality in America.  If this link to my blog helps anyone understand mature sexuality better, please read it.


https://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/puritanism-sexuality-and-the-work-ethic/

Point
Point

@MaryElizabethSings @Point  My scared straight comment was based on the scared straight program when they took high school students to meet prisoners, not a sexual preference.  HIV infections occur in all demographics.  It seems we have an epidemic in our state but no one is talking about it.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Point 

I realized that your statement was somewhat ambiguous when I posted my response, but for the benefit of the young adults and teenagers who are still conflicted about their sexual identity, I wished to be a positive influence in their lives.  Thus, my post of affirmation for them.


Thank you for clarifying the specifics of what you had intended to communicate.  I must say again, however, that I do not support scare tactics of any nature (the terminology chosen was unfortunate, imo)  in educating the public, but I do agree with you that educating the public about HIV infections is important and must not be shuffled under the rug of knowledge.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

It seems an incongruity that we preach abstinence to our kids but all around them (and I don't mean TV and movies) they see the adults in their lives (close by or not so much) not practicing abstinence outside of marriage.  What proportion of our kids go home to a daddy of the week, or to a step-parent?


What I would prefer is young people waiting till they are completely ready to deal with all of what sex means;  however, what I see is very few doing so.  And it isn't because they don't know abstinence is an option!

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Wascatlady 

To me, what you describe is true, and it is particularly sad because the adults "around them" are often not "completely ready to deal with all of what sex means," themselves.

The concept of "intimacy" should be a part of a discussion of sex, regarding what intimacy means, in all of its dimensions.  It seems that many problems in our society, sexual and otherwise, are coming from a lack of maturity in adults, which filters down to the young.   

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

Most of the abstinence only crowd happen to be bible thumpers.  The irony is that they missed the entire point of the Garden of Eden story.

coj
coj

Teaching about abstinence is as effective as posting the speed limit.

Astropig
Astropig

@coj 

I would be really concerned if the teen pregnancy rate was skyrocketing,but it's actually going down-

 http://www.gcapp.org/fast-facts


How can we know that the fact that there are fewer births to unwed mothers is not because of abstinence education?

class80olddog
class80olddog

Everyone drives 55 inside the perimeter didn't you know?

class80olddog
class80olddog

Astro - because the average age of first sec is going down and the percentage of kids who are not virgins at eighteen is going up

straker
straker

How about leaving sex education to parents in the home, where it belongs.

Belinda51
Belinda51

That's hilarious! Sounds like something my dad would have said.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I learned about sex the way you are supposed to - on the street.

The only thing either parent said to me was when I was a small child and I asked my dad what those things were in the vending machine in a public restroom. His answer: "Those are for men and women - BAD men and women"

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

@OriginalProf @straker Or the students whose parents don't know WTH they're talking about.  I had a classmate in HS that got pregnant b/c her mother told her that pregnancy only happens if you have sex before the period.  She took that to mean that sex after her period was safe.  Guess the mother didn't explain that cycles are not all consistent in duration and that sperm has a shelf life.  End result, the girl dropped out of school.  Very sad.

And yes, our school system only taught abstinence.  Luckily, my parents handled sex ed, although they had to scrounge around for reference materials to make us read.  I agree with Wascatlady; sex ed needs to be taught in school in a comprehensive, matter-of-fact approach.  Instead, our county leans back toward abstinence only and my kids picked up info from classmates and fellow bus riders.  Some info is fairly accurate, but some comments have required an immediate correction from hubby and I.

Watsuie007
Watsuie007

@straker  Sex is a big part of life and drives a good bit of the human experience (good or bad).  When taught in the schools by a 3rd party (the teacher or a nurse), the subject takes on a more clinical, matter-of-fact approach that is not too embarrassing for the kids.  Good sex education teaches the kids about their bodies, how they function and misfunction and what can happen with unprotected sex.  Sex education teaches about diseases and their treatment and how to avoid disease and pregnancy.  Sure it would be great, if parents actually discussed sex education in the home, the sad reality, is that they don't or do so ineffectively.  If we are to ever get unintended pregnancies and STD under control and/or eliminated, a more aggressive, in-your-face approach is needed.

Watsuie007
Watsuie007

@class80olddog  My mother gave me a little book to read;  she didn't entertain any questions.  It was only when I was in health class in the 9th grade in public school, did quite a lot of the things I read in that little book became clear.  I was born and reared in a Catholic family and that tells you all you need to know.  My brothers got most of their "learning" on sex from the streets.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Tricky subject - and of course what is taught in the sixth grade is not the same as the 12th.

Abstinence only is a failure, in my opinion - you are just encouraging more unwanted pregnancies.

However, the decision to have sex can have very serious repercussions and these should be discussed in sex ed class.  Things such as STDs and pregnancy.  The chance of getting an STD from sex is fairly low, but the chance of getting pregnant from unprotected sex is dang near 100%.  After all, that is what is designed for.

Girls should understand all that comes with having a baby, but most especially the problems associated with having a baby while still in school, and having a baby out of wedlock.  Boys should understand the significance of having to pay child support for 18 years ( I wish this was the norm, unfortunately, it is not).

I don't think that abortion should be a subject in sex ed - too controversial.  The teacher should just answer facts about legality and such - without any controversial opinions.

I conducted the sex ed classes in my home - from demonstrations of proper condom use (yes for the girls too) to the admonition that "two forms of birth control should always be used - and one should be a condom", and the "candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker" admonition to the girls, and the "you can be paying for that one night of sex for 18 years" to the boys.

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog 

" the decision to have sex can have very serious repercussions and these should be discussed in sex ed class.  Things such as STDs and pregnancy.  The chance of getting an STD from sex is fairly low, but the chance of getting pregnant from unprotected sex is dang near 100%.  After all, that is what is designed for."

Please don't forget or ignore the deep psychological impact that precocious sexuality can have on young adults. I've spoken to many young people that really regretted their empty,loveless sexual activity that became a hang up after they met and married the right person.I believe that the effect on women is more profound and leaves deeper scars than on men,but I have known men that felt guilty about their cavalier liaisons that had to be addressed before they could feel "honest" with their wives. 

Hoops40
Hoops40

I taught out of that book and it has some of the worst "facts".  "Condoms are only 75% effective." was a fact with an * next to it.  Then when you look it up the * represents some study done over a year when accounting for a couple not using condoms some of the times.  Seatbelts don't work 100% of the time they are not buckled also!

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

This topic certainly combines with the previous one about unreported sexual assaults on campus in interesting ways.

monty1
monty1

No teenager has to lose their life today because they got pregnant. What does one have to do with the other?  Abstinence is the only true way to prevent unwanted pregnancy or STD's. If a mistake is made, there is a pill they can take. Stop all the abortion scare talk. Evidently all the condom teaching hasn't solved the problem.

redweather
redweather

@monty1 Didn't Congress just defund Planned Parenthood?  Everything is not so easy-peasy when it comes to terminating an unwanted pregnancy.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@redweather @monty1 

No, defunding Planned Parenthood hasn't yet passed Congress.  In fact, it's the big issue which may cause a government shutdown by the House Republicans, if they insist on attaching an amendment denying such funding to the general budget.


Abortion is legal, btw.  And monty 1, the "morning-after pill" is a form of abortion.

redweather
redweather

@OriginalProf @redweather @monty1 I stand corrected. Thought they'd already accomplished that bit of idiocy. And I know abortion is legal; however, based on what I hear from Republicans, I'm wondering just how much longer that will be true.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Originalprof - your answer is why abortion should not be taught. Dictionary. Com says abortion is "the removal of a fetus from the uterus". How can we teach it if no one even agrees on the definition. The morning after pill is by no means abortion

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

I stand corrected too. Google is your friend! The morning-after pill does not terminate a pregnancy, but prevents pregnancy by preventing or delaying the release of the egg from the ovary. Thanks.

popcornular
popcornular

The 3 best ways to pump up those readership numbers?

1 Sex

2 Sex

3 Sex

Astropig
Astropig

@popcornular 

Agree. This is just designed to get a rise out of the readers that live to fight the culture wars. (from both sides of the political spectrum) This is another one of those arguments that is used to divide and set one group of people against one another.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@popcornular Wrong. 

If you want to pump up readership numbers.


1. Videos of cute animals. Even better if there are also cute babies in the video.

2. Anything about the Braves

3. Anything about guns

popcornular
popcornular

@MaureenDowney @popcornular Makes sense. You can't squeeze the Braves or cute animals into an education blog, but we see lots of guns and sex topics here. Nice work. Whatever it takes!