A Dangerous Shroud of Ignorance – Abstinence-only Sex Education


A few months ago I walked into my high school’s nurse’s office, trying to get permission to leave school due to being sick. While I was in there, I noticed a poster with the title “If You Decide To Have Sex You May Experience Things That Are Wild And Unnatural.” The poster proceeded to list, in a particularly fear-mongering manner, symptoms of common STDs and STIs. “Alright” I thought, “This is a little weird, but I guess it’s somewhat informative.” What set me off though was what was at the bottom of the poster: “ABSTINENCE” printed in the largest font of the entire poster. Obviously, due to how many students at my school who have dealt with STDs and pregnancy, just telling people not to have sex is not very effective. Abstinence vs education is the issue here. Why only advertise one side of the story?

A few weeks later, the high school hosted a guest speaker, Barb Wise, to give a presentation about “wise choices.” The presentation started out narrating the different types of love we experience through different stages of life (infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood). She went on to emphasize how romantic relationships shouldn’t be where you get your self-value, and that unconditional love was the final stage that everyone strives for.

The story quickly took a sharp turn when she began telling her life story; starting with her being a victim of sexual abuse as a child and living in a household where her father cheater on her mother multiple times. The situation turned around and Wise left the home with her mother, and once she turned eighteen she earned a scholarship to The University of Denver, where she dated multiple guys and, in her own words “didn’t have high self value and never talked with her partners about their sexual history.” She ended up losing her virginity to the first guy she dated, and after intercourse she requested to be taken home afterward and cried throughout the evening. After adding sex as part of their relationship, she said, their relationship fell apart; this cycle happened six times in total throughout her college career.

Later, when she “learned the error of her ways”, she started interviewing happily married couples, trying to find out what made their relationships work. From her studies, she decided to pledge to herself not to have sex until she was married. She later found a man who had been through his own personal struggles (alcohol, pornography, and more). After escaping that situation and turning his life around, he also made a pledge to himself to save sex until marriage and to set healthy boundaries in his future relationships. She eventually told her boyfriend about her sexual past and the two decided it would be a good idea for her to get tested for any STDs.

Two weeks later, in 1993, Barb Wise found she was (and still is) HIV positive.

In an attempt to contain the virus by the health department, she had to give the names of her past sexual partners. She also had to tell the man she was dating at the time.

He responded by proposing to her.

She then transitioned her presentation to a slide show explaining what HIV/AIDS is and how the diseases work. Wise was at the AIDS stage when she received her diagnosis, and her doctor said that the next big infection she got would most likely kill her. Wise and her fiancé then started going to marriage counseling, where their counselor recommended that the pair tell their families. Her whole family was devastated. Some of the guys she dated in college began contacting her, due to the clinic calling them, and she discovered that she contracted the virus from her first partner; at nineteen years old. Fortunately, none of the other men she slept with tested HIV positive. She later went on to marry said boyfriend, and were approached to travel around the world to share their story at high schools (she has currently visited over 2000).

The pair (her husband came out on stage midway through the story) went on to explain how HIV can be transmitted, how it cannot be transmitted, and some of the drugs used to treat it (which she took in order to both combat the virus and to ensure that her future children would not receive it in the womb). Barb also informed the audience that her and her husband have spent over 180,000 dollars on AIDS medication. The presentation ended encouraging us to write down out goals in life, to write a plan to be abstinent until marriage, and to take the proper steps to obtain unconditional love in a relationship.

Walking out of the assembly, I was extremely frustrated. Why would someone with such a powerful story and such a large platform not give ANY information about ways to prevent STDs, other than just not having sex? Granted, abstinence is the only way to be 100% safe, but that’s not helpful for the students who are actively choosing to have sex. Statistically, about 41% of adolescents will have intercourse at least once during high school, and 15% will have been with four or more sexual partners. So, telling teens to just not have sex clearly isn’t working. I believe that the lack of preventative information also sends a dangerous -and untrue message; having premarital sex results in getting STDs or getting pregnant, no matter what. That may not be the speakers intention exactly, but that’s the message that a good portion of my peers got out of it.

This realization brought about an interesting thought; could abstinence-only education be correlated with an incline of STDs and pregnancy in high schools? According to my research, the correlation is surprisingly (or in my case, not at all surprising) prominent.

teen-pregnancy-infographic (1)

As you can see through the different maps in my info graphic, the states that stress abstinence (which predominately lie in the southern U.S) have the highest rates of teen pregnancy, chlamydia, and gonorrhea infections in the United States, which unfortunately isn’t all that hard to believe. If states are going to place a higher value on not having sex than what to do during sex to protect yourself, it’s not surprising that things like STDs and pregnancy occur more often; mistakes happen when you’re not prepared. If lawmakers and legislators really cared about the future of youth in their states, they wouldn’t sacrifice important information such as contraceptive use, healthy sex practices, and how to deal with unexpected STDS/pregnancies, in order to maintain a false shroud of innocence.