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Opponents of comprehensive sexuality education frequently mischaracterize the nature of these programs, inaccurately describe research, and prey upon parents’ fears in order to undermine sexuality education efforts. In order to successfully advocate for comprehensive sexuality education, it is important to know those arguments that opponents might use and be prepared to respond.

This fact sheet is designed to make you aware of some of the myths you may hear about sexuality education and help you formulate your responses. The best responses are often in the form of a sound byte—short, catchy phrases that are easy for others to understand and remember. This fact sheet provides you with a number of sound bytes as well as the facts and research you need to debunk the myths and get your message out.

COMPREHENSIVE SEXUALITY EDUCATION: MYTH 1

Unfortunately, comprehensive sexuality education has never been widely implemented in the United States. While some schools provide high quality sexuality education, too many fail to provide students with the information they need about sexuality, contraception, and disease prevention.

Research on some of the better programs has shown, however, that comprehensive education about sexuality is an effective strategy to help teens delay sexual intercourse. Emerging Answers 2007, a report commissioned by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, reviewed research on sexuality education and prevention programs. It found that those programs that, among other things, teach teens about abstinence and contraceptive use, can help teens delay the onset of sexual intercourse, reduce the frequency of sexual intercourse, and reduce the number of sexual partners they have. The study also found that such programs can increase use of condoms and other contraception among those teens who are sexually active.

Source: Doug Kirby, Emerging Answers 2007, (Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2007).

What Opponents May Say: “Comprehensive sexuality education is a complete failure.”

What You Can Say: If given the chance, comprehensive sexuality education can help young people delay intercourse and protect themselves when they do become sexually active.

COMPREHENSIVE SEXUALITY EDUCATION: MYTH 2

Opponents of comprehensive sexuality education often assert that educating teens about sexuality merely peaks their curiosity. This myth has become so pervasive that many parents fear that sexuality education will cause teens to engage in sexual behaviors.

Parents can relax. Sexuality education does not make teens curious, and it does not make them sexually active. Young people are naturally curious about sexuality. And today’s young people are bombarded by sexual images from TV, movies, music, and the Internet. Rather than peaking their curiosity, sexuality education provides young people with the tools to understand and interpret the sexual messages they receive every day.

In fact, research shows us that sexuality education does not lead teens to have intercourse earlier, does not lead teens to have sexual intercourse more frequently, and does not lead teens to have more sexual partners. Just the opposite is true. Education about sexuality can help teens delay intercourse, reduce the frequency of intercourse, and have fewer partners.

Source: Doug Kirby, Emerging Answers 2007, (Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2007).

What Opponents May Say: “Sex education just encourages teens to have more sex.”

What You Can Say: Actually, it is just the opposite. If you educate teens about sexuality, including abstinence and contraception, they are more likely to delay sex.

UNSOUND REASONING: “THE MIXED MESSAGE”

Analogies like this are often used to suggest that comprehensive sexuality education is ineffective because it sends a mixed message. Opponents assert that the underlying message of such a program is “Don’t have sex but if you do, use a condom” and they liken this to teaching teens “Don’t speed, but if you do, wear a seat belt,” or “Don’t inject drugs, but if you do, clean your needles.”

These analogies are misleading for a number of reasons. First, comprehensive sexuality education is about much more than teaching teens to use condoms if they do become sexually active. It is about providing them with the knowledge and skills they need to make responsible decisions throughout their lives.

What Opponents May Say: “Teaching teens about safe sex is like telling them ‘Don’t smoke but if you do, smoke only filtered cigarettes.’ ”

What you can say: This is like saying if we teach teens about fire extinguishers, they’ll be more likely to start a fire. Research shows that education about both abstinence and contraception is not only compatible but preferable.

All students, regardless of whether they choose to engage in sexual activity as teenagers, need information about sexuality so that they can grow to become sexually healthy adults.

Second, while smoking, speeding, and using illegal drugs are behaviors we never want for our young people, sexuality is a natural and healthy part of life and most parents want their children to have a healthy adult sex life.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, research has shown that programs that combine messages about abstinence and contraception are, in fact, effective.

Source: Doug Kirby, Emerging Answers 2007, (Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2007).

COMPREHENSIVE SEXUALITY EDUCATION: MYTH 3

One of the most popular myths about sexuality education asserts that courses literally teach teens how to have sex.

Comprehensive sexuality education gives information about a broad variety of topics including human development, relationships, sexual health, and decision-making. Such education focuses on giving young people the skills they need to make responsible decisions. Classes do not teach sexual techniques.

What Opponents May Say: “Sexuality education teaches teens how to do it.”

What you can say: Comprehensive sexuality education does not teach sexual techniques.

COMPREHENSIVE SEXUALITY EDUCATION: MYTH 4

Unfortunately, after years of debating the type of sexuality education young people should receive, many people have been left with an “either/or” mentality. Either you want to teach young people about abstinence or you want to teach them about condoms. This does not accurately represent comprehensive sexuality education.

According to the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, K-12, which were developed by a task force of professionals from the fields of education, medicine, youth services, and sexuality education, abstinence is one of 39 topics that should be included in a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum. The Guidelines suggest that students be told that abstinence from sexual intercourse is the most effective method of preventing pregnancy and STDs, including HIV. The Guidelines include a number of age-appropriate messages about abstinence for students such as: "Young teenagers are not mature enough for a sexual relationship that includes intercourse”; “Abstinence from intercourse has benefits for teenagers”; and “Teenagers in romantic relationships can express their feelings without engaging in sexual intercourse.”

What Opponents May Say: “Supporters of comprehensive sexuality education don’t think abstinence is important for teens.”

What You Can Say: Abstinence is one of many important topics but teaching teens only about abstinence is irresponsible.

 

Sexuality education, however, can not teach young people only about abstinence primarily because there is no evidence that such programs are effective. In addition, we have to remember that 48% of all high school students (and 65% of high school seniors) have had sexual intercourse. Whether adults agree with their decisions or not, it is important to provide these young people with the information and skills they need to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and STDs, including HIV.

Source: Danice K. Eaton, et al., "Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance- United States 2007," Surveillance Summaries, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 57.SS-4 (6 June 2008), accessed 8 June 2008, <http://cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm>.

UNSOUND REASONING: SUPPORTERS DON’T CARE

As ridiculous as this may sound, opponents of comprehensive sexuality education often argue that supporters don’t care about young people and want all young people to have sex.

Obviously, this is not true. Supporters of comprehensive sexuality education want to help young people avoid negative consequences of sexual activity, such as sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy, while at the same time helping them grow up to be sexually healthy adults.

What Opponents May Say: "Supporters of comprehensive sexuality education just want all teens to have sex.”

What You Can Say: That is clearly a ridiculous charge. We all want what is best for our young people, we are simply disagreeing on how we can best secure their health and future.

COMPREHENSIVE SEXUALITY EDUCATION: MYTH 5

Proponents of abstinence-only- until-marriage programs often argue that the federal government spends millions of dollars on comprehensive sexuality education. To support this claim they point to Title X of the Public Health Service Act.

Title X allocates funds to organizations and agencies that provide family planning information and services such as Pap smears, breast exams, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, contraceptive services, and screening for such common ailments as high blood pressure, diabetes, and anemia.

Title X does not provide funding for comprehensive sexuality education. Some Title X recipients, such as local public health clinics, may provide both medical services and education in their community. They are prohibited, however, from using Title X funds for education. The fact is, that there are NO federal funding streams earmarked for comprehensive sexuality education.

Nonetheless many opponents of comprehensive sexuality education take this argument one step further and suggest that in order to be “fair” the federal government must give abstinence-only-until-marriage programs as much money as it gives to Title X. This comparison is dangerously misleading. Title X funds critical medical services for low income women at a cost that is by nature much greater than providing in-school or after school education programs.

What Opponents May Say: “The federal government spends much more money on comprehensive sexuality education than it does on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.”

What You Can Say: Comparing abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and Title X funding is like comparing apples and oranges. The truth is that there is NO federal money for comprehensive sexuality education.