The definition of abstinence only sex education

A big study was just released on the efficacy of abstinence-only sex education. In preparation for all of the ensuing discussion about sex education (which will include a post here tomorrow), I want to be sure everyone really understands what “abstinence only sex education” means. The US government is putting huge amounts of money into this (current funding levels are approximately 137.5 billion dollars every year), and many states, including Texas, require that this be the only form of sex education used in the public schools. So here it is, the federal government’s definition of what a program needs to do in order to qualify as an abstinence only sex education program:

  1. Have as its exclusive purpose teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity.
  2. Teach abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children.
  3. Teach that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems.
  4. Teach that a mutually faithful, monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity.
  5. Teach that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.
  6. Teach that bearing children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society.
  7. Teach young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increases vulnerability to sexual advances.
  8. Teach the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.

I can, and probably will, post my thoughts on this curricular definition, but I’d like to hear from other people first. I know that there are lots of you reading this blog, but not too many posting yet. This is your chance! Please speak up and let us hear what you think!

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Wow – that is an amazing definition for a government that is supposed to demonstrate separation of church and state at all times – those positions may not use the word church or god, but they certainly are toeing the staunch conservative christian line. Here are my thoughts related to each of their points. 1. Teaching and learning is always done best when it is complicated and involved. Requiring an exclusive purpose is hurtful to the process. 2. So, if the school-age children are married then sexual activity becomes okay? This is rediculous. 3. This is true, but not helpful once someone decides to become sexually active in avoiding pregnancy and diseases. 4. This is a major christian thing – by whose expectation is this the standard? Not mine! And not lots of other Americans either. 5. I completely disagree with the word “likely” 6. I completely disagree – bringing children into a family set up that does not want them, welcome them, cherish them appropriately is much more lokely to have all these harmful consequences. 7. Excellent. 8. I think this is a good goal – but the question then is who gets to define self-sufficiency?

    I’d love to hear from other people reading also.

  2. I think a lot of those goals sound good on paper, but there’s a lot they’re not saying. They’re not talking about how EVERYONE NEEDS TO LEARN TO PROPERLY USE CONDOMS even if they’re not planning on having sex for years or decades. They’re not talking about the negative psychological effects of telling people “You’re trash if you have premarital sex” and the fallout when they have premarital sex and then think they’re trash. They’re not talking about the fact that abstinence only education has already been proven not to work (sort of like trickle down economics and other right-wing hypotheses).

  3. I am disgusted by the amount of money being spent on this very limited, narrow agenda. These teachings fly in the face of many adolescents’ own experience and the experience of their friends, so it can only further the distance between them and educators on this topic. This is appalling!

    (Although, as Dorian points out, item #7 is excellent; this subject is not talked about nearly enough. The percentage of sexual assaults where the victim is impaired from drugs and/or alcohol is very high.)

    Karen, I look forward to more from you on this topic.

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