January 6, 2012
Abstinence-only education creates a petri dish for bullying in schools. There is always a lot of back and forth about the efficacy of these programs, and I fall on the side that they demonstrably fail to reduce teen pregnancy, the rate of incidence of teen sex, or the transmission of sexutally transmitted infections (STIs) (all you have to do is look at Texas). In addition, however, I believe that the heyday of our federal investment in abstinence-only programs had a terrible collateral effect -- namely, kids who were "educated" in this way were more likely to bully and harass because they learned, in ways integral to abstinence provisions, outdated "traditional" ideas about gender and sexuality. Even kids whose parents talked to them at home, about contraception or healthy sex, were taught gendered rules and more and more of them appear to have enforced those rules to great harm.
To be clear, I am not saying teaching abstinence is the problem. But, teaching abstinence in the context of fully comprehensive, age-appropriate sex ed is qualitatively different from teaching abstinence-only. This is the problem. I am saying that there is something inherently harmful about cultures that insist on abstinence-only teaching.
From 1982 until 2010 funding for abstinence-only programs grew exponentially, from $4 million dollars in 1982 to $176 million in 2007. According to The Department of Health and Human Services, during almost the exact same period, 2001-2008, there was a steady rise of bullying at schools. Fourteen percent of students, ages 12 through 18 reported being bullied during school in 2001, a proportion thatmore than doubled, to 32 percent, in 2007. Some of the bullying increase might be attributable to better recognition and reporting, but I think that the almost straight line correlation in growth trends during that same period is interesting. A correlation is not necessarily a causation, but here is why I think that there is an intimate dynamic between the two trends: READ MORE