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How Abstinence Education Leaves Out Gay Teens


abstinence sign

Protesting Abstinence-Only Education

Image (c) Steve Rhodes

What is Abstinence-Only Education

Abstinence education is a program that replaces sex education in many American schools. In addition to ignoring information about condoms, birth control and sexual expression, it excludes gay teens and teaches that the only place to have sex is in a heterosexual marriage.

The History of Abstinence Education

Sometimes called abstinence-only education, abstinence education was introduced in 1996, under the Clinton administration.

When George Bush came into office a few years later, he dramatically increased the funding for the program.

In the first few years of the program, only California rejected the funding. However, by 2005 two other states had also decided to turn it down. By 2008 fewer than half the states were still accepting it. Partly this was because of countless studies showing the failures of abstinence-only education.

The Obama administration took note and also cut off federal funding for these programs, which contributed significantly to their decline. However, many schools still run abstinence-only programs them with different funding streams, which means that plenty of teens are getting some pretty skewed information.

What Does Abstinence Education Teach?

Federally funded abstinence programs require schools to follow a very rigid curriculum which:

  • has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;
  • teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children;
  • teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other associated health problems;
  • teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity
  • teaches that sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects; teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents and society.

How Abstinence Education Excludes Gay Teens

The last time I checked, same sex marriage was only legal in Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut. So teaching that sex outside of marriage is unacceptable is basically telling gay teens that unless they happen to live in those five states, they should never, in their lives, have sex!

Additionally, any of the programs have been found to perpetuate negative stereotypes about the GLBT community.For example, in 2004, California senator, Henry Waxman found abstinence education programs were teaching that half of all gay teens in America had AIDS!

In many programs, teachers are not allowed to discuss GLBT issues or sexual orientation at all.

What Gay Teens Can Do in an Abstinence Education Class

If you find yourself stuck in an abstinence education class you have a few options. You can educate yourself using reliable sources. If you are feeling brave, you can challenge some of what you are learning. But you can also think about taking action towards getting comprehensive sex education implemented in your school. This is a style of sex education which teaches about everything from sexual orientation, to condoms, sexual expression and the decision not to have sex.

Here are three resources that can help you do that:

Being a GLBT teen can be hard enough. The last thing you need is a sex ed class that not only deprives you of life saving information, but which also ignores your existence or acts as if there is something wrong with you!

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