Column: Abstinence-only sex ed is failing Missouri

Missouri’s abstinence-only sexual education is ineffective and puts teens at a higher risk for STIs and unwanted pregnancy.

Maddie Niblett is a freshman journalism major at MU. She is an opinions columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

“Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die.” That iconic Mean Girls quote, exaggerated as it may be, is the reality of sex education for many children and teens in Missouri. According to state law, schools are not required to teach about sexual health, and when they do, they must stress that abstinence until marriage is the one and only way to avoid becoming riddled with STIs and unwanted pregnancies. Of course, there are many risks associated with becoming sexally active, but this method of fearmongering to young people without providing them with holistic information creates a culture of under-informed, sexually active teens.

You might be led to believe that this kind of scared-straight education would drive teenagers to not have sex under fear of horrible and absolutely unavoidable consequences, but in reality the opposite is true. That’s right: Abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work. Instead of being scared sexless, teens are having the same amount of sex as they would be without being denied vital information about protection. Since Missouri schools are not required to teach sex ed, when they do, they are not required to mention contraceptives, including condoms. Discussions about contraceptives are often used as scare tactics by focusing on their failure rates instead of on their benefits.

Not providing teenagers with accurate information about how to avoid undesirable consequences from sex leads to clueless kids engaging in unsafe sexual activity. A study from ThinkProgress.org found that states with abstinence-only education requirements similar to Missouri’s laws had significantly higher rates of teen pregnancy compared to states that teach comprehensive sexual education. Missouri has the 20th-highest teen birth rate in the U.S. This is due to kids not being given vital information about the importance of contraceptives because the focus of their sexual education is on preventing sexual activity, so they just have sex without protection.

Teenage pregnancy is not the only risk associated with unprotected sex. In 2015, the Crane Independent School District in Crane, Texas, experienced a chlamydia outbreak. Because of the abstinence-based sex-ed program that the school offered, the students at the school were woefully uninformed about the steps they could take to avoid getting an STI; a lack of information plus teenage hormones equals an outbreak of the most commonly reported STI in America. If these high school students had sexual education that stressed the importance of safety instead of penalizing sexual activity, they may not have engaged in such reckless sexual behavior.

Abstinence is not a form of sex; it’s a personal choice that someone can make if they decide that sexual activity is too risky to engage in after being given all of the information about sex, including information about how to go about having sex as safely as possible. It’s been proven time and again that teenagers have the same amount of sex regardless of whether their teacher told them how useful condoms are or not. It’s time for Missouri to step up and educate its kids on sex instead of endangering them by keeping them in the dark under the guise of morality.

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