What’s wrong with abstinence?

Nothing!  Abstinence is great.  In fact, we talk rather extensively about abstinence in all of my middle and high school sex ed classes.  It’s abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education that is the problem.  But while I can tell you this – and in fact, you may believe me – I think you’ll have more fun learning about the issues with abstinence-only-until-marriage sex ed through this fabulous video series from Advocates for Youth.  What they teach in these classes is really horrible.  These are not a few, isolated classes, but this is standard fare for abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula.

Be radical.  Teach your kids the truth about sex and openness and respect for themselves and others.  The world, and your kids, will be better off.

I have a comprehensive middle school sexuality education class starting at the end of January that will do all this, plus much, much more.  Particularly here in Texas, where we have abstinence-only-until-marriage sex ed required, there are few things that are more important than bringing your youth a healthy, lifelong approach to sexuality.

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. Rainbow bear breaks my heart 🙁 We have a whole generation now without decent sex ed…

  2. As someone who has been voluntarily celibate for years, I guess I would be a hypocrite if I did not support abstinence. And, indeed, I wish for a world in which no one — especially young people — is pressured into having sex when they don’t feel or intuit it’s right for them.

    At the same time, though, I have increasingly come to the belief we should raise kids to anticipate that they will become sexually active at sometime in their late teens or early twenties, and, of course, to be prepared for it if and when it happens. In other words, I’m no longer of the opinion, if I ever really was, that we should tell kids their first choice should be abstinence and that having sex is only plan B.

    For one thing, it’s my understanding that the average age of first sex in the US is currently somewhere around 17 or 18. For another thing, I recall that only one in ten people wait for marriage to have first sex. And, if those and other things are the real facts of the matter, then I find it a bit off to pretend — as so many of our leaders do — that most kids can benefit from being taught that abstinence ought to be Plan A.

    I would turn it around. Responsible sex is Plan A, abstinence is Plan B, and Plan C is to take responsibility for neither and become a fool.

    Of course, given the current politics of sex, I believe there is no way any public school system instructor in the US could get away with telling kids, “You should pretty much expect to have sex by your late teens or early twenties, and if you don’t, then that’s alright too.”

    So, Karen, am I a nutcase for thinking the primary emphasis should be on preparing for sex, rather than on preparing for abstinence?

  3. […] visit), and because I wish to prompt you to share your own views on the matter, I will quote the  comment I made there: As someone who has been voluntarily celibate for years, I guess I would be a hypocrite if I did […]

  4. Paul, I think that sex education should absolutely be about preparing students for making thoughtful, safe sexual decisions. 97% of Americans have sex. Something like 80% of Americans have extra-marital sex at some point in their lives, and the average to start having sexual intercourse is between 16 and 17 years old. (Remember what average means – about half start before then about half start after then.) Sex ed isn’t about preparing young people to begin having sex immediately – but it is about starting a lifelong conversation of the issues that are involved when engaging with someone else sexually. And abstinence is part of that, but it’s just one part.

    As for what’s Plan A and what’s Plan B – well, I’d say that’s up to the individual teenager. As long as safety is paramount (as it is with both responsible sex and with abstinence), why should adults have the right to prioritize for young people? Some really don’t feel ready yet. Others really do. Helping them process their emotions and feelings about these difficult choices, rather than telling or suggesting what they should be based on either our belief structure or national averages is pretty presumptuous.

    Teaching them to think deeply about themselves, their wants and desires, their partners, and their partner’s wants and desires, and then how to follow through with and live those to the best of their ability, that’s what we need! And I don’t just mean their passing physical desires here – but rather a deeper sense of connection to themselves, other people, and their spiritual path.

    Abstinence-until-marriage is a totally bogus approach to sexuality education. But abstinence is a critical part of it.

  5. […] Karen Raynehttp://karenrayne.com/2011/01/12/whats-wrong-with-abstinence/ – this blog focuses on the sexuality of adolescents and this particular post talks about the […]

  6. […] examples of the horrific curricula that have actually been taught in Texas schools, take a look at an old blogpost of mine from 2011. It’s really horrifying, so proceed with caution So in honor of my roots, deep in this Lone […]

  7. […] disappoint me so much. Seeing this job, this work that I love so much forced into a mold that is so distorting of what is good and meaningful about sexuality makes me […]

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