We all remember our sex ed classes in school: the birth videos, the condom balloons, socks and gloves, the incessant giggling, all good times. The problem is though, most Australian youths are still woefully unprepared for the journey of sexual awakening they're about to undertake. This situation that is worsened when the already limited conversation about the pleasurable, terrifying reality of being a sexually active person is further reduced to a few poorly chosen, and blatantly sexist, metaphors and similes loaded with gender roles and rape culture perpetuations. Otherwise known to the majority of the population as abstinence-only sexual education programs.
Now, abstinence isn't necessarily a bad tactic to teach when talking about sexual activity in young people. It makes sense to mention it in the list of options for young people, particularly when they're below the age of consent. It is a bad tactic however, when placed on a shining pedestal as the only sure-fire way to remain safe. It’s been proven that abstinence-only curriculums provide materials containing false and misleading information on the dangers of contraceptives, abortions, 'risky sexual behaviour' and immodest lifestyles.
We all remember Coach Carr:
There’s also the well documented direct links to issues like teen pregnancies and STD rates throughout the world. The main issue with abstinence-only teaching however, is its delivery. It often alienates LBGTQIA youths, objectifies young girls and absolves young men of any responsibilities concerning their own sexual desires and impulses.
In a society where both girls and boys are bombarded with sexualised images and culture, it doesn't make sense to tell them that if they engage with this culture they're comparable to overused sticky-tape and pieces of fruit with bites taken out of them. Warn them to be aware of it and guard against negative impacts it can have, sure, but maybe lay off the emotional whipping yeah?
Abstinence-only sexual education shames and devalues young people who engage in natural sexual activity, or who are victims of abuse, to the point where they feel disgusting, dirty and worthless. Focusing on a girl's loss of a "gift" that she and only she possesses teaches young women that their virginity is the only thing that gives them value in the eyes of their male counterparts. The act of stomping on a wrapped "gift", as reported in one case out of the US, teaches young boys that they have the power to turn a girl into a worthless, dirty, broken thing. Very healthy building blocks for future relationships for sure.
Through the abstinence-only programs, boys are taught they must try their hardest to supress their uncontrollable desires, and girls are taught to behave and dress modestly to protect themselves from the boys. The teaching of what most programs call "refusal or denial skills" teaches various ways for girls and boys to say no to sexual intercourse. A good skill for sure. However it is repeatedly delivered in a way that emphasises the belief that girls hold all the responsibility.
That's right ladies! As females it is our responsibility to ensure that we do not tempt our poor simple minded men with unintended seduction and must always remain vigilant! If you don't dress too provocatively or get yourself into 'risky situations' and only behave in modest and demure manners, the only attention you'll receive is from pure, respectable boys who will never do such awful things as abuse you!
The fact is, the way abstinence is used by religious and conservative programs to scare and deter youths from engaging in sexual activity does nothing but teach victim blaming, inequality and unhealthy views of relationships. After a session you're left with the messages of "only cheap, immoral girls allow themselves to be in a situation where she would give up her gift of virginity to someone other than her husband", and "boys, try your hardest to control yourselves but if a girl leads you on or dresses proactively, your impulses can't be helped. She's probably already all used up anyway”.
Abstinence-only education destroys young people’s self-worth and encourages attitudes that have resulted in more girls being raped and murdered by their partners and loved ones than attacked by strangers. If you ask me, it’s not worth the risk on the off chance they might hold off on giving each other wristies a couple months longer.