Abstinence-only education has been under fire frequently of late – in Toronto at the IAC, in Africa because of PEPFAR, and recently in Canton, Ohio. After learning last fall that one in seven girls attending Timkin High School were pregnant, the school board decided that maybe abstinence-only education wasn't working after all. Surprise! You can tell a teenager "NO", but do you really think that's going to work? Well, gee – when I was a young adult, being told not to do something just increased my desire to do it. Maybe adolescent attitudes have changed… but from the look of things… maybe not.
The Canton, OH school board finally dropped the denial and decided last week to change the way they teach sex education in their district. It's unfortunate that it took such a high rate of teenage pregnancy to make the board realize that they needed to adjust the curriculum (and get rid of textbooks from the 80s – fashion may be taking a retro leap, but education shouldn't have to). I guess they have learned that if you don't teach teenagers how to protect themselves, they don't. It's quite simple. Just because they aren't educated about sex, doesn't mean young people are not going to have sex. And conversely, educating them to be responsible for their health does not cause irresponsible behavior.
The new comprehensive sex ed curriculum still promotes abstinence, but will now also include information on contraceptives and move beyond a "Just say no" approach (also leftover from the 80s). Did they think that sex was like drugs? Apparently so – education on sexually transmitted infections have been taught together with drug, alcohol, and tobacco lessons.
Let's congratulate the Canton, OH school board for catching up to the 21st century. It's a good first step to encourage young people to delay sexual activity, but it's even more important to educate them about healthy decisions for when (not if) they do have sex.