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The Answer Blog

Abstinence Only Until Marriage? Basta Cosi…

Back in 2008 when Bristol Palin “lost her abstinence,” her mom Sarah was a staunch supporter of abstinence-only-until-marriage “education.” So when unmarried Bristol turned up pregnant, her mother did a very effective job of denying the reality that not only do abstinence-only-until-marriage programs not work, but they also are, as Bristol herself said, “unrealistic.” Now, Palin’s son Track has a wife of two months, who is visibly pregnant, which means that she became pregnant before the wedding. (Clutch the pearls!) Yet Grandma Palin remains strongly opposed to comprehensive sexuality education. And she is not alone in her denial, her resistance or her hypocrisy.

Palin's views on sexuality education

I don’t know what is more troublesome: the idea that social conservatives continue to push for the propagation and funding of these programs that have absolutely no research demonstrating any long-term effectiveness; the fact that the federal government continues to squander hundreds of millions of dollars on these programs (over $1 billion to date); or the “holier-than-thou” attitude that empowers conservative politicians to publicly and unapologetically tell the country how we should live our lives (until they or a member of their family contradict the party line and suddenly, conveniently, the entire issue becomes “a matter of privacy”). It makes me think of a young child being told by her parent, “Do as I say, not as I do.” That doesn’t fly with young people about anything, especially something as significant to them as sex and sexuality. And by withholding life-enhancing, sometimes lifesaving, information from young people, we are setting them up for unhealthy interactions with unpredictable outcomes.

What if we were to acknowledge the reality that some people choose to wait to have sex until they are married, and some do not? Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? But it isn’t, because in acknowledging that, we would need to acknowledge some concepts that alternately terrify or are irrelevant to social conservatives. For example, we’d need to acknowledge that not everyone who is in a sexual relationship is heterosexual and therefore “until marriage” is an exclusionary time frame. We would need to acknowledge that young people can and do make decisions for themselves, including decisions about sexuality. We would need to acknowledge that, as parents, one of our most important jobs is to talk with our children about sexuality from the very youngest ages and keep talking about it with them through their lives—and that means talking about much more than telling our kids to “just say no.” And we would need to acknowledge that, since far too many parents feel uncomfortable with or unprepared to discuss sexuality, they need the support of educational professionals to teach comprehensive sexuality education at school. That means teaching not only about abstinence, but also about contraception, safer sex and much more.

Enough excuses. Enough faux moralism. As my late grandmother would say, “Basta cosi.” Enough is enough.

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  • Well said! Thanks for writing this.

  • Bravo, great post and I will share with the parents at A good companion read to your post is the recent NYT opinion piece “The Sleepover Question” by Amy Schalet, comparing Dutch and American attitudes about teens having sex at home (yeah, clutch those pearls again!). It gently illuminates the lingering Puritanical attitudes that feed into a kind of willful or fuzzy denial many of us share about teens and sex. (As if teens won’t find a way to have sex if we don’t allow them to have it in their bedrooms). I find the Dutch way of handling teen love and sex very sweet and hope to have the courage to try this at home when the time is right with my own kids.

  • while i myself support abstinence, i would only recommend teaching STDs and “other stuffs” rather than getting deep into all the mystery of pleasure and foreplay. It can get the students try physical contacts at early age.

    P.S. Private matters are what they are - private. No mom would want her daughter to get lucky before marriage.

  • nice article….

  • People will always want to marry it is natural. And people will always divorce. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Culture changes, I think it’s just another step of our social evolution. Throughout human history institution of marriage has been changing. Age gap, sex before marriage, and arranged marriages were among the topics. Today it is abstinence, divorces and gay marriage. It will be something else 100 from now. Who knows maybe we will design DNA of our children and so on. Older generation will always think they right, and younger will do just the same.

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