Where Do Kids Learn About Sex?
Birds, Bees, and Teens
Abstinence vs. Contraception
As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush repeatedly
expressed his support for abstinence-only school-based programs, saying a top
administration priority would be to "elevate abstinence education from an
afterthought to an urgent goal." In a speech delivered in July 1999,
candidate Bush said, "It seems like to me the contraceptive message sends a
contradictory message. It tends to undermine the message of
The comments appear to contradict the findings of the nation's
top public and private health organizations. A National Institutes of Health
report, published in 1997, called sexual abstinence a desirable objective, but
added that, "programs must include instruction in safer sex behavior,
including condom use." The American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in on the
issue in a report published early in 2001, noting that "all adolescents
should be counseled about the correct and consistent use of latex condoms to
reduce the risk of infection."
And a newly released NCPTP study evaluating sex education
programs found that education efforts that discuss contraception use do not
hasten the onset of sex, increase the frequency of sex, nor increase the number
of sexual partners among teens. Likewise, making condoms and other
contraceptives available in schools does not hasten or increase sexual
activity, the report concluded.
A survey of parents, conducted last year by the Henry J. Kaiser
Family Foundation, found that four out of five agreed that information about
contraceptives should be included in school-based sex education programs. The
National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy survey found that more than 90% of
adults and teens said a strong abstinence message is important, but 69% of
adults and 67% of teens said it was also important to teach contraception.
"Only a handful of conservative politicians are pushing the
more stringent abstinence education, but they are very powerful," Dailard
says. "And parents and teachers aren't willing to be real vocal about this
Sanden calls the debate over abstinence vs. contraceptive use
counterproductive and irrelevant, and high school junior Reid agrees.
"The fact is, teens need to choose either abstinence or
contraception, and many aren't motivated to make that choice." Sanden says.
"Kids who don't think about this ahead of time are the ones who have a huge
risk of getting pregnant."
"I think you can get into a war of words with the
abstinence vs. contraception debate, and you probably won't go anywhere with
that," Reid adds. "Abstinence is the best and most desired method of
preventing pregnancy, but it is also not very realistic for many