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Friday, August 3, 2012

Maybe abstinence sex education is harmful

There has been a movement in the religious right to push teenagers to commit to sexual abstinence. Per se, that does not seem like a negative thing. Trying to ensure that teenagers do not find themselves in unwanted parenthood or having to face decisions about what to do with an unwanted pregnancy seem like worthy goals.

Regrettably, that same movement would have abstinence education replace other forms of sexual education. I got to think about this after two recent experiences. The first was reading the 2005 book by Lisa Aronson Fontes, Child abuse and culture. She made reference to a doctoral dissertation by McDonald in 2004 which noted that most sex education occurs in adolescence which is after most victims of sexual abuse have been victimized. Fontes cogently points out that this further shames the victim who did not engage in sexual behavior by choice – but by coercion and force. What then are they to make of statements that they must save themselves for marriage and commit to abstinence? They are already sexually involved because of the abuse.

The second event was meeting with the Tulir Centre for Prevention and Healing of Sexual Abuse . Located in Chennai, India they talk about how victims are often quite young and clearly before they can receive sex education. Indeed, in many cases, they are not in a position to even understand what consent is about.

Sex education that offers children and teenagers information on choices but also helps victims to separate forced sex from sex by choice can help to prevent the unwanted pregnancies. These in turn can add to the children involved in child protection systems – but so too can rapes and molestation. Sex education should add to the efforts to prevent and heal sexual abuse and trauma. It should not be a way in which victims are then re-victimized. 

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