Abigail Jones and Marissa Miley: abstinence approach not the only sex-ed option

We’ve spent over two years immersed in high school life, interviewing teens about their sexual experiences. Our research reveals that many teens engage in casual and extreme sexual behavior.

The students told us that many girls and boys raced to have sex before graduation. One girl accepted a ring with the Silver Ring Thing, a youth abstinence program ”” and lost her virginity two weeks later. Many boys believed that stories about sex made “the man.” And a handful of students engaged in sex acts with multiple partners.

Parents might not want to hear these anecdotes, but the motivations behind them need to be addressed on a national and state level, in sex-ed classes and at family dinner tables. Today, teens are bombarded by sex on TV and the Internet, in music and film. In our culture, sex is often depicted as devoid of intimacy, commitment and emotion. But it’s more than popular culture, too. As Perrotta noted in The New York Times: “Speaking as a former teenage guy, the fact that you might someday get lucky was like the only thing getting you through those years. ”¦ It was the basic narrative of male adolescence.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Education, Sexuality, Teens / Youth

40 comments on “Abigail Jones and Marissa Miley: abstinence approach not the only sex-ed option

  1. John B. Chilton says:

    Pell heck he eadline.

  2. Jim the Puritan says:


  3. Scott K says:

    Excuse me while I lock my baby daughter in her room for the next 17 years.

  4. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) says:

    Defining abstinence as “I’m going to stay a virgin until marriage” — and leaving it at that — is entirely the wrong approach because it is not a functionally useful place to draw a line. We need to establish limits at defensible and important boundaries: for example, I will never be alone with someone of the opposite sex, or ‘four feet on the floor at all times,’ or whatever. Abstinence education needs to focus on asking and answering the important questions rather than the “big” question alone.

    That said, there’s one more important dynamic, especially in the under-25 set. Girls tend to play at sex (for which they’re not ready) in order to get what they really want, which is love.

    Guys, on the other hand, play at love (for which they’re usually not ready) in order to get what they really want …

    That’s why it’s almost always the girl who gets burned. It’s why God tells us “Do not arouse or awaken love before it is ready.” Song 2:8

  5. Jeremy Bonner says:

    It’s interesting that, although the authors still conclude that abstinence-based education is a bad idea, they concede the following:

    [i] (1) We need to help teens with the enormous social and sexual pressures they face. How can we expect teens to create strong adult relationships if we don’t help them build strong relationships today? [/i]

    [i] (2) The teens we interviewed were eager to talk candidly about their sexual experiences, but they had had few honest conversations with their parents or other adults. And they often didn’t fully understand the emotional repercussions of their decisions. Many who had sexual experiences realized later that they regretted their decisions and hoped for something more meaningful: a loving relationship. [/i]

  6. Kate Stirk says:

    Chaperones would be a start. We could bring back the old Spanish Duena (sp?) who accompanied a single female everywhere. Young women were never left alone- and most assuredly never alone with a male of any age. I’m old enough to remember chaperones but duenas are something I’ve seen in old movies.

  7. Anglicanum says:

    Men, I’d like to suggest the old threaten-the-boy-who-wants-to-take-out-my-daugher routine. It certainly worked on me … I’m still afraid to touch my wife.

  8. DJH says:

    I agree that just teaching abstinence is not enough. However, I do not agree that schools need to be teaching about contraception, STD’s, and safe sex. Rather than abstinence education, we need to be teaching the virtue of chastity. Unfortunately, since this virtue has moral connotations and school programs have to be “morally neutral”, you don’t hear chastity being promoted in school sex ed programs. My solution is to get sex ed out of the schools and back in the families where it belongs. That is why I opt my children out of the school programs. Parents need to quit abdicating their role as parents and step up to the plate and teach their children values.

  9. Bill Matz says:

    To me the campaigns always seem to be backwards, focusing on the negative. As a church, we (well, obviously, not TEC) should be teaching a positive, Christian view of sexuality, that it is a blessing in its intended setting of marriage. We could note that it is only in that supportive setting that the full richness of the gift of sexuality can develop. Any other use “misses the mark”, i.e. it is sin.

    Non-marital sex is like just eating dessert, instead of letting dessert be the the fitting complement to a wonderful, balanced meal. The great irony here, of course, is that pursuing fulfillment through casual sex is like chasing mercury (i.e. futile) because it is the permanence and commitment of marriage that is necessary for true sexual fulfillment.

    By stressing the positive, I believe we can make a much more persuasive case for adhering to Biblical morality. If we could just hav listened to our parents…

  10. Br. Michael says:

    8, of course the fallacy is that no school program is “morally neutral”. It just can’t be done.

  11. justinmartyr says:

    Chaperones would be a start. We could bring back the old Spanish Duena (sp?) who accompanied a single female everywhere. >/i>

    Or perhaps we could just have a Duena follow the priest around?

  12. justinmartyr says:

    “Men, I’d like to suggest the old threaten-the-boy-who-wants-to-take-out-my-daugher routine. It certainly worked on me … I’m still afraid to touch my wife.”

    The father of a girl I dated was so hostile in his attempt at ensuring holiness that it was one of the reasons I broke up with her. This approach sounds funny, but it is abusive and damaging. A good Christian boy, after that mess I was happier going out with non-xian girls. Not a good situation.

  13. Kate Stirk says:

    There’s a country song out that talks about the best talk the singer heard as a youing man was from a father before he took out the girl. The grown man is now getting ready to give that same talk to the boy at the door. It’s funny and touching.

  14. Anglicanum says:

    You know, I don’t mean to be rude, but what is it with this blog that any attempt to introduce a little levity into the conversation is immediately met with a comment like, “This approach sounds funny, but it is abusive and damaging”? Can *nothing* but the strictest seriousness pass muster around here? Seriously, I’m sorry if some wacked out father gave you the creeps, justinmartyr, but my comment was meant in fun.

    God save us from mirthless Christians.

  15. Christopher Hathaway says:

    Justinmartyr, no offense, but if you were “happier going out with non-xian girls” then I wouldn’t want you coming near any daughter of mine.

    It sounds like the approach worked just fine

  16. Larry Morse says:

    It makes no difference what the public school teaches, if the goal is to encourage girls to keep their pants on. The school fools itself if it thinks it can encourage such a condition. If the school sets out to teach “objectively” about sex and its consequences, it will in fact take a moral position, namely, that early and frequent sex is inevitable so that right behavior consists of being safe rather than sorry. In short, it teaches expediency – the position of the middle school here in Maine.

    The upshot is that a public school can teach about the biology of sex and can discuss the sociology and psychology of sexual behavior, but it cannot be an active agent in adolescent sexual behavior, either pro-abstinence or “non-judgmental” promiscuity. Somehow, this must be made to sink in to the public school system, that a public school is not a wrap-around social service provider. This notion (that it is) got abroad forty years ago and continues to influence public school programs. It is a genuine curse for adolescents, for it tells them that a school stands in loco parentis, and it does not and can not. When it tries to do so, we have the Maine middle school debacle, which is simply the visible tip of the iceberg, for many schools, here in Maine at least, have “medical centers,” as they like to call them. But then some also have banks, and now, they have police as part of the school.

    This is, of course, the parents’ fault and no one elses’. The Baby Boomers wanted to rid themselves of the responsibility of raising their own children, so they voted to let the schools do it for them. And here’s the result. LM

  17. Capn Jack Sparrow says:

    I thought it was interesting that the writers seemed to think a temporary sexual relationship could actually be “healthy”. Look at the last line. All broken sexual relationships are a tragedy and a heartbreak for both parties. Just because American teens (and their parents) practice “serial monogamy” does not change the situation from an emotional or disease perspective.

    There is NO SUCH THING AS SAFE SEX! The real life failure rate of condoms is 50%. Would you bet your life on 1 out of 2 odds? When you consider the fact that 1-2/5 people have herpes, about 40% have papiloma virus and that condoms have never been shown to protect against these STD’s, it illustrates what a fraud the “safe sex” ads are. Of course, these diseases are almost just nuscence bugs at this point. HIV is still fairly rare, but obviously is a disaster when you get it.

    The folks at CDC don’t want kids to know the true failure rates of condoms, because they fear that if they can’t get kids to “buy into” the idea of safe sex, then they won’t ever use a condom. That’s actually in their own literature, BTW.

    Of course, the big issue, the grief that must not be grieved, for American teens is the string of broken and hardened hearts that teens experience. Adults think it’s normal, and don’t want to acknowledge their own hurts by showing empathy to kids. After all, it’s “normal” to change partners every 2 years, isn’t it? It seems there’s is no condom for your heart.

    For a women in her early 20’s, the average number of sexual partners now is 5. The earlier she starts, the more she will have. The more she has, the more likely she is to get a disease, get pregnant, beaten up, live a life of poverty, etc.

    While statistics show that marriage, even in it’s current pitiful state, is protective for women in terms of domestic abuse, etc, I try to tell my teenage patients that their best option is abstinance until monogamy is practicle. And at 16, monogamy ain’t gonna happen. That guy she is in love with, is going to leave her.

    The problem for the teenage girls, though, is that she only feels loved when she is having sex. After all, she won’t get dates if she doesn’t have sex, because most guys will just move on to the plenty of girls in town who will give sex.

    For boys, the problem is that their ongoing fantasy tends to be multiple partners. It’s just the way we are wired.

  18. Larry Morse says:

    I must remember well the phase that “there is no condom for the heart.” The above is an excellent essay, clear and correct in judgment.

    This is the real punishment arising from early sex and great frequency, that it hardens the heart, and we recall again Yeats’ line about “the ceremony of innocence” being lost. The Baby Boomers placed a premium on becoming streetwise because this was the measure of one’s sophistication, one’s union card into belonging, and being streetwise means, at last, being callous and awake only to the present and its expediencies. But the heart remembers its original dreams.

    Yet All its callouses are external and its original tenderness remains inside, however deeply buried. When a real man and woman make love, they exchange hearts yet again, for the heart only goes where it is sent, but when the pleasure of sex becomes a mere habit, it becomes a vice,and the heart, so caught, can never free itself from the jaws. Indeed, the longer the vice persists, the tighter the jaws bind.

    And this is why, when a public school studies sexuality, it should read, not the psychologists, but the poets, again and again, for they are the ones who truly understand. When we talk about the obsession with sex, with money, with insatiable consumption, we are talking about the failure of the humanities in all American culture, and we shall learn nothing until, somehow, the humanities are resurrected and live again. Larry

  19. justinmartyr says:

    Sorry for my lack of mirth, Anglicanum. You’re right. I guess dating a nut’s daughter left me with a sense of humor deficit. Peace.

  20. justinmartyr says:

    Justinmartyr, no offense, but if you were “happier going out with non-xian girls” then I wouldn’t want you coming near any daughter of mine.

    God bless you and your daughter.

  21. Capn Jack Sparrow says:

    Mr. Morse,
    In fairness, I think I heard the “no condom for the heart” quote somewhere else. I find it compelling as well.

    Your words about the lost humanities are wonderful. “Science” will never meet our human needs, neither will “knowledge” apart from God’s wisdom. That being said, it’s amazing to me how quickly people loose even human wisdom when they reject God’s ways.

    [i]”Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…”[/i]

  22. chips says:

    I still believe that a school could create a class focused on 1) the importance of abstinence; 2) health issues resulting from sex 3) financial woes from unplanned pregnancy 4) sex/reproduction in a biological context ;5) family planning/birth control and 6) emotional fallout and impact from failed intimate relationships.
    If I had a daughter I would want to tell her how to protect her body and her heart (as in be careful at a fraternity party you are a target – get to know the guy before you go our with him) – adolescence and young adulthood are minefields – for a parent to only take the position that their child must accept their view “chastity until marriage” and not discuss the 2nd and 3rd best options- means that 90%+ of upper middle class christian parents are not part of the discussion/equation within two years of high school graduation (and at least 50% prior to high school graduation). If I were a parent and I am not yet – I would be more frightened of getting the mushroom treatment/status – and would want to remain engaged in my child’s life.

  23. Anglicanum says:

    Give me a break.

  24. D. C. Toedt says:

    My wife and I have two teenagers, one each M/F. Inasmuch as we’re not willing to lock them in the house with one of us here all the time, we can’t control what they do 24/7. We’ve told them we would strongly prefer that they remain abstinent, but also that if they’re going to have sex despite our counsel, they need to use protection. It’s the worst kind of abdication of responsibility for parents to refuse to discuss condoms with teens, on grounds that it might be seen as giving the kids ideas (for most teens, that ship has long since sailed). Telling teens, “We’re OK having you risk AIDS and/or pregnancy if you don’t obey our wishes” is something a sadistic prison warden would say, not a loving parent.

  25. Anglicanum says:

    We wouldn’t say, “Sweetheart, I would strongly prefer you not go over Niagra Falls in a barrel … but if you’re going to do that despite my counsel, here’s how to do it right.” And yet we take that line with premarital sex, and then slap our palms to our cheeks when the health service informs us that six out of ten high schoolers are having sex.

    There is nothing–absolutely nothing–wrong with making one’s expectations known to one’s children and *not* providing them a way out of it. If they want to have sex, then yes: they’ll have sex. But there are plenty of other people out there preaching the “virtues” of so-called safe sex to my children … what they need to hear from me is something different. The argument that not telling children about condoms is somehow consigning them to death is simply absurd.

  26. Ross says:

    I think it may be worth reiterating a comment I made here on another thread:

    I think that a lot of the vitriol between the “abstinence only” and the “comprehensive sex ed” camps comes from the following.

    Both sides would, I think, rate the possible scenarios of “What teens should do” in this order of desirability:

    1) Not have sex
    2) Have protected sex
    3) Have unprotected sex

    The problem is that the “abstinence only” camp believes that by teaching comprehensive sex ed, including contraception, you give up any hope of (1) and send everyone straight to (2). While the “comprehensive sex ed” camp believes that by teaching abstinence-only, you rule out the possibility of (2) meaning that people who fail (1) go directly to (3).

    Unfortunately not many people seem to believe that you can construct a program that makes a serious case for (1) but also provides enough information to make (2) the fallback position.

  27. D. C. Toedt says:

    Anglicanum [#25], Niagara Falls is actually not a a bad analogy, but in a slightly different way. Think of adolescent sexual behavior as the Niagara River, and of going over the Falls as getting AIDS and/or getting pregnant. Certainly the most reliable way to avoid going over the Falls is not to swim in the river at all. But nearly all of ‘modern’ society looks benignly on teens who swim a ‘safe’ distance upstream from the Falls, whether you define that as handholding, a goodnight kiss, or whatever. It’s a normal part of growing up. Few if any Western adults disapprove of it. (Most of us have fond memories of it.)

    When you’re swimming in the river, at times you might not pay attention to what you’re doing. Or you might be paying attention but deliberately try to push the limits. (If we face the facts, we have to admit that kids do this, and for us to get angry about it is like getting angry about the weather.) Either way, you might end up dangerously close to the Falls.

    OK, we don’t want our kids to go over the Falls (that is, to get AIDS, or pregnant). But I’m not about to tell my kids they can’t swim in the river at all. But if they do swim in the river, I can never be sure they won’t end up dangerously close to the Falls.

    So what to do? The only solution I can think of is to tell the kids not to swim beyond a certain ‘safe’ area — but if they find themselves getting into dangerous waters, they must tie a rope to the bank and around their waist (that is, use a condom).

    It’s not a perfect solution by any means. But the odds of an unacceptably worse outcome are higher than I’m willing to gamble my kids’ futures on.

  28. Christopher Hathaway says:

    Telling someone that a dangerous activity can be made safer only increases the chance of that activity being taken. This is basic psychology and basic logic. But appparently soem here think that teenage sex is inevitable, so they don’t pay any attention to how it might be being encouraged by the very practices they support to make it “safer”.

    Stupid and irresponsible….and stupid and immoral…and stupid.

    Hey, why don’t we teach kids how to knife fight so that if they join a gang they’ll be prepared?

  29. D. C. Toedt says:

    Christopher Hathaway [#28], my teens know I don’t want them driving unsafely; I still taught them how to steer out of a skid, just in case. They know I want them to stay away from dangerous waters; I still taught them how to swim out of a rip tide, just in case. If we had to live in an environment where getting into gang fights was an ongoing risk, of course I’d teach them the basics of defensive knife fighting, just in case.

    (Out of curiosity, have you ever you had teenagers? One might argue that no one who hasn’t raised teenagers should presume to tell the rest of us how we must do so.)

  30. chips says:

    I continue to agree with Ross. I think that there is a huge disconnect here – I do not think that many of you all (boomers or prior) have accepted that the 1950’s virginity until married standard/morality has been comprehensively rejected by 90% or more of Generation X and to a larger degree by Gen Y. The only commited virgins are the extremely religious ones (and some of them are not being truthful about their experiences) and the socially inept. Niagra falls is a bad example because only a few nut jobs do it – your odds that your daughter wil be a virgin at marriage (average age 25) is far worse than at Vegas. There is a huge difference between Teenage sex and young adult sex – an intact family with strong morals has a slightly better than 50% chance of putting off the first sexual encounter until college. A dad is at a huge disadvantage vis a vis the first serious college boyfriend – he is there you are not.
    The problem with abstinence only sex ed is that at some point either prior to marriage or even in marriage a young adult will have sex – they need to know the biology – and college courses are not designed for remedial sex ed (and the kids that need sex ed the most do not go to college or have intact families). By creating a knowledge vacumm other information will fill it – hope is not a plan.

  31. Anglicanum says:

    Okay, let’s set aside the Niagra Falls argument, which I really only used as an obvious example of something dangerous that you don’t want your children to do. Let’s instead substitute something specifically moral into the argument. I’m going to take your post, #30, and rewrite it in the way I hear it.

    “I think that there is a huge disconnect here – I do not think that many of you all (boomers or prior) have accepted that the 1950’s standard/morality of honesty has been comprehensively rejected by 90% or more of Generation X and to a larger degree by Gen Y. The only people who don’t cheat and steal are the extremely religious ones (and some of them are not being truthful about their experiences) and the socially inept.”

    This is a perfectly legitimate replacement, I think, because recent studies also show that the younger generations believe that honesty is relative. Put in this way, of what possible import would it be to me that 90% of teenagers believe stealing is okay? By any rational standard, religious or not, the fact that 90% of the people have “comprehensively rejected” something does not make it right. It’s still wrong because ethics is not done by majority vote. I am not somehow failing in my duty as a father if I create a ‘knowledge vacuum’ by not explaining to them how they could rationalize stealing and cheating.

    I will also come clean here and say that I am both a Generation Xer. I reject my generation’s sexual ethic because I have seen nothing but harm come from it.

  32. Anglicanum says:

    Sorry, that should read, “I am also a Generation Xer.”

  33. Christopher Hathaway says:

    Out of curiosity, have you ever you had teenagers? One might argue that no one who hasn’t raised teenagers should presume to tell the rest of us how we must do so

    That would hardly be a logical argument as simple observation shows that people with the same experience come to different conclusions, so experience alone does not determine true knowledge. For that you need Reason.

    Here is what reason says about the getting out of a skid or rip tide analogies: these are ACCIDENTS, with no moral decisions involved. One can accidentally find oneself in a rip tide or in a bad skid. One does not accidentally find oneself in a sexual encouter. Definite moral actions have to be taken to get there. Telling them what to do in case they take themselves there tells them that you have little faith they will resist what you are, supposedly, teaching them not to do. It implies bad behavior is a moral option.

    In true moral teaching, as opposed to the faux morality you espouse, rejecting good behavior entails negative consequences, sometimes as punishment, for pedagogical purposes, and otherwise as the natural fruit of disobedience. You are not teaching your children to beware bad behavior exactly because you are teaching them how to avoid SOME of the potential problems, which are obviously the most important dangers to you so you are also teaching them not to worry so much about the other dangers of extramarital sex.

    I wonder what you think might would be the dangers of killing a man. Might it be getting caught and going to jail and maybe being executed? Would you then council your child not to kill anyone, but if he did DON’T GET CAUGHT?

  34. chips says:

    In my posts above I have never argued that a parent (or the state) should not stand for abstinence. Stealing is a criminal offense so it is not applicable. Birth control is relavent even within most marital contexts. Reading the majority’s viewpoint – it almost seems as if ya’ll are ok with bad things happening if one strays from the party line (even to your own children). In a Jesuit classroom 20 years ago the Priest told us that the church is against pre marital sex and birth control and that both were sins – but if you were to violate rule #1 please violate rule #2 in conjunction therewith. That does not seem immoral advice.

  35. chips says:

    Obviously – if ya’ll equate pre marital sex with murder and stealing – then you are likely in the first group that I discribed above. You may be successful in instilling the same value system in your children – but the odds do not favor you. As a society however – we do need to try to solve for social harm – cause we end up footing the bill. Premarital or extramarital sex is not a new problem.

  36. Anglicanum says:

    First, unless you are a positivist and equate morality with legality, stealing is completely applicable to the matter at hand. And if stealing is what’s getting you off track, then go back to my original word which was ‘dishonesty.’ Would you in fact argue that if 90% of Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers are dishonest, that that somehow makes dishonesty okay? Or that if 90% of Americans are gluttons, that makes gluttony okay? Or if 90% of Kansans are envious, that makes envy okay?

    Second, no one on this board has said that they’re okay with “bad things happening if one strays from the party line.” I’m not sure where you’re getting that. I certainly don’t want bad things to happen to my children: that’s why I teach them to abstain from sex until they’re married.

    Third, to use murder or stealing as an example is not to equate sex with murder and stealing. Obviously, different sins have different weight and we’re speaking metaphorically here. The issue is whether you (by which I mean ‘you’ collectively, not ‘you’ personally) would make the same morally relativistic argument for more obviously grievous sins.

  37. D. C. Toedt says:

    Christopher Hathaway [#33], please reread my skid- and rip-tide analogies. In each, by hypothesis my kid is in trouble not by accident, but because s/he disobeyed my instructions not to drive recklessly or not to swim in dangerous waters. To me that doesn’t seem like there’s “no moral decisions involved,” as you put it.

    And I see you didn’t answer my question about whether you’ve raised teenagers.

  38. D. C. Toedt says:

    Anglicanum [#36], the problem with your (abstinence-only) approach to your kids is that there’s no Plan B. Operating without a Plan B is not usually a recipe for success in life (or as chips [#30] accurately put it, “hope is not a plan”).

    Recall that in May 1940, Churchill was flabbergasted to learn that the French Army had bet all their chips on the Maginot Line, and had not held back a ‘Plan B’ strategic reserve for maneuver warfare. When the Wehrmacht inconveniently flooded around the Maginot Line, the French were pretty much left standing there with their … in their hands, and the rest is history.

    I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to operate without a Plan B for me and mine.

  39. Anglicanum says:

    No, you’re correct: I don’t have a Plan B. As I said above, the entire world is presenting my children with Plan B. They get to hear about how great sex is in every song, every movie, every TV show. When I was an Episcopalian, they got to hear about sex every time we went to church too. There are billboards, public service announcements, and now school nurses who tell my children at every turn that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, with whomever they want, and here’s how to do it properly. If my children haven’t figured out by this point that there’s an alternative to waiting until marriage, they must be blockheads. And if they don’t know what “safe” sex is, then I despair for their powers of observation, since that information is literally *everywhere.*

    But my children are going to hear something different from me. Do I plan to throw my daughters out of the house if they have sex? Of course not. I realize that my children’s choices are *their* choices, especially the older they get. But I will not change what I teach or give them a loophole to exploit. I don’t do that with any other moral area in their young lives: cheating, lying, vengenace, ridicule. I am prepared for them to fail, because we all do. It’s a distinct possibility that they will hear me out and do whatever they want anyway. But *presenting* them with Plan B–EVEN when you couch in it language like, “I’d prefer you not do this, but if you do, here’s how”–is to say, essentially, that Plan B is a legitimate option. And I don’t want to say that because I do not believe that.

  40. Christopher Hathaway says:

    Operating without a Plan B is not usually a recipe for success in life

    Over heard the phrase “failure is not an option”? In our fight against Nazism did we have a “plan B” in case we failed? Nope. We made no contingencies for defeat. Minor strategic defeats in battle do require plan Bs, but the struggle to stay morally pure is not a minor battle, unless you’re a godless pagan who thinks life and safety are the most important things.

    As for the “odds” not being on our side, well, it is thinking like that that make the odds as bad as they are. But I would also say that the odds are actually the worst for those who do think like that. It is confidence in the possibility of virtue that makes it pssible, not human nature.