Sexuality education began in U.S. public schools in the 1960s. It was promoted primarily by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), an organization founded in 1964 as the sex education arm of Planned Parenthood. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy:
"From 1940 to 1957, the teen birth rate increased 78 percent to a record high. The birth rate dropped fairly steadily from the end of the 1950s through the mid-1980s, but then increased 24 percent between 1986 and 1991. Between 1991 and 2005, the teen birth rate decreased 35 percent to a record low of 40.5 in 2005. However, the teen birth rate between 2005 and 2006 increased 3 percent."
Looking at the history of teen birth rates, it can appear that rates have lowered significantly and that there's less reason to educate our youth about sexuality. The rates have in fact decreased, but the higher historical numbers represent married teens. And, married teens tend to face less life-long negative consequences of teenage births than unmarried teens.
Today, a majority of pregnant teens are unmarried, and near-epidemic proportions of sexually transmitted infections occur among teen and young adult populations. With research discovering that the emotional effects of pre-marital sex can cause long-term consequences – one of these effects being the difficulty of emotionally bonding with one person in marriage after having had multiple sexual partners – there is considerable need for sexuality education. But, the debate continues over the focus of sexuality education in schools and over the age at which it should begin. Including parents within the public school sex education process also remains controversial.
There are two differing foundational beliefs on which sexual education systems are built. One is the belief that every individual, regardless of age or marital status, should choose for themselves when they become sexually active. The opposing belief is that all school-age children should remain sexually inactive until they are in a marital relationship.
Certain basic concepts are fundamental to these two types of sexuality education commonly called comprehensive sex education and abstinence-until-marriage education, respectively:
Comprehensive Sex Education
The U.S. policy debate concerning the most appropriate and effective type of sex education for school-age youth has raged for the past fifteen years. Parents are very concerned about how sexuality, the most intimate of human subjects, is taught to their children. Yet, schools are clearly making an exception to the normal health education standards in the way they teach sex education, which tells us there is an ideology or cultural shift influencing the teaching of sexuality education.
The standard for health education in public schools is risk-avoidance. Whether the topic is illegal drug use, alcohol use, weapons, bullying or nutrition, the expected standard is abstinence from unhealthy behaviors. For instance, it is not acceptable to teach students what specific type of alcohol to drink to become less intoxicated. Nor is it acceptable for students to be taught about community drug dealers who may have safer drugs for them to buy. Risk-reduction is simply not acceptable teaching in health education. Students are taught to avoid the activity all together so they can avoid the risks associated with the behavior.
But, when the teaching of sexuality is concerned, exceptions are frequently made. Teaching risk-reduction in sexual behaviors is acceptable and often promoted in public school systems where students are taught how to use condoms and contraceptives to decrease the risks associated with being sexually active.
One of the key reasons for this deviation may be that a person's understanding of sexuality is often interwoven with their religious beliefs. And in the western world today, there is, at best, a dislike for Christianity and a general rejection of Christian religious heritage and beliefs. All beliefs and religious practices are easily discussed and accepted within the public square today except Christianity. And, since orthodox Christianity includes the concept of abstinence-outside-of-marriage, the two are often equated and rejected as one and the same.
It does follow that the foundational academic institutions, which for the most part are liberal, would ban any hint of Christian morals. But, this argument is a good disguise and excuse to allow one school subject to be taught at a lower standard than all other health topics.
Abstinence education is not exclusively a Christian standard; it is primarily public health prevention, which requires risk-avoidance. With all of the physical, mental, emotional and social risks associated with early sexual debut and multiple sexual partners, there should be no deviation from teaching risk-avoidance.
When we remain sexually abstinent outside of marriage, we are not risking life-long consequences. The ability to delay gratification is difficult, but we will not suffer disease or death by taking this step. Youth will be able to reach goals and dreams without physical infections, diseases or pregnancies clouding the possibilities of success and prosperity. It's vitally important to teach children and young adults about healthy sexuality; one of the most rewarding aspects of the process is being able to watch one's children face the future with hope and promise.
Focus on the Family supports abstinence-until-marriage education in the public schools because it is God's expected standard as communicated in Scripture. God's perfect plan for sexuality unfolds as an exclusive blessing for husband and wife in marriage and also ensures protection for the unmarried. Sexuality is a glorious gift from God meant to honor Him either in marriage or in celibacy.
It is the hope of this ministry to support children and families to live as fully as God intended for His purposes and His glory. Supporting behaviors that may result in threatening life-long consequences contradicts God's plan for life, marriage and family.
Because we support God's perfect plan, Focus on the Family does not support the teaching of risk-reduction (contraceptives) of sexual behaviors in schools. Rather, we recognize youth must understand that contraceptive devices and drugs provide very limited protection; therefore, abstinence programs must teach medically and factually accurate information about what contraceptives can and can not do.
Abstinence education provides one tool to defend God's design for marriage and sexual intimacy in the face of teenage sexual activity. As previously stated, abstinence-until-marriage education supports Christian orthodoxy but is not taught in a Christian context in the public school system.
We recognize that parents are the primary sex educators of their children. Topics that parents teach in their home are their personal prerogative. They may choose to add or clarify information taught to their children in school programs. Parents have the privilege and responsibility of being life-long sexuality educators to their children, a task that begins as soon as they hold their child for the first time and continues until the time of their natural death.