Discussion of sexuality is fraught with tension largely because human will and desire meet moral and ethical boundaries. When such discussions become public, they often end up in contentious debate. So when a Kentucky senator proposed a bill mandating abstinence until marriage as the ideal for human sexuality in public school sex-ed classes, critics came out of the woodwork.
It’s not realistic. It’s puritanical. It’s imposing morality on the rest of society.
Louisville Sex Ed Now (LSEN), a coalition of the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood,and the Fairness Campaign, had several members testify against the bill.
Lauren Jones Mayfield, a pastor at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, said that the bill isn’t in line with societal reality. Sara Choate, a Louisville sex educator opposed the abstinence message because it’s “just not an effective message,” and that it could shame sexually active girls “into silence.”
Senate Bill 71 simply requires public schools with human sexuality or sexually transmitted disease curricula to teach “Abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children and the best way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and other associated health problems is to establish a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage.”
I know; it’s so 1950s.
But in light of how we’ve fared since moral and ethical boundaries regarding human sexuality were jettisoned by the 1960s sexual revolution we should ask how this new standard, or lack thereof, is working for us.
Kentucky ranked 45th in teen pregnancy in 2017. One in four women will have had an abortion by age 45. And sexually transmitted disease is at record highs nationally. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control reported a record of more than 2 million new cases of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia.
The CDC estimates an additional 20 million cases of STDs like herpes which aren’t required to be reported by law and at least half of STD cases occur in young people ages 15 to 24.
Yet, some insist that kids just need more education, access to better birth control, and to be taught how to use it. A 2016 Health and Human Services report says this type of education isn’t working.
HHS researchers found that the Obama administration’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program “had small or insignificant impacts on adolescent behavior.” HHS found that teens in some TPP-funded projects between 2010-14 were more likely to initiate sex before graduation and more likely to get pregnant.
That was the case of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest’s “Teen Outreach Program” where girls became pregnant at higher rates than girls participating in an alternative program. In South Carolina’s “It’s Your Game” teen pregnancy prevention program, sexual activity actually increased between the eighth and ninth grades.
“Safe-sex” and similar “reducing the risk” initiatives have been the dominant message in many of our public schools for decades. In another time, abstinence until marriage was assumed. Obviously, that age has passed.
The surefire way of preventing STDs or getting pregnant is to avoid the risk, which is not the same as simply reducing the risk. In other words, if you don’t want to fall off a cliff, don’t see how close you can get to the edge.
This doesn’t mean that sex is bad or should be avoided. Sex is a good gift from our creator. But healthy societies respect that it should be enjoyed within marriage. Human dignity requires that the most intimate aspect of ourselves not be given away as a meaningless transaction by children who neither understand the implications nor are capable of bearing the responsibility.
Our children need to hear that there are biological, sociological, emotional and moral implications to sexual activity. That’s the purpose of SB 71, which passed the Senate and is now in the House.
It’s a novel ideal today to teach our children that sex is meant to take place within marriage. We may not live up to that ideal, but to shoot it down simply because it isn’t followed doesn’t say as much about the ideal as it says about us.
Richard Nelson of Cadiz is executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a nonpartisan, public-policy organization.