I Had Abstinence-Only Education
My parents are religious, and sent me to schools with a religion-based curriculum. I didn’t have sex ed. I had “abstinence-only” ed.
I was told it was a sin to have sex outside of marriage, and that marriage could only be between a man and a woman. It was also a sin to use condoms or birth control, because the purpose of sex was only to have children.
At a young age, I supported gay marriage. I also couldn’t understand why people couldn’t use condoms or birth control. Pregnancy and having a child are a big deal. What if a woman wanted to have a career?
There is an inherent hypocrisy in this “education.” Growing up, I only knew one couple with 12+ children. Everyone else with only 2 or 3 had to be using some sort of family planning method.
By one measure, 68 percent of Catholic women have used family planning measures, including birth control and sterilization. The implication: a lot of people do it, but no one is allowed to talk about it. Rather than acknowledging that sex is natural and explaining how to do it safely, some schools are leaving teens in the dark.
Abstinence-only education also doesn’t decrease pregnancy rates. That makes sense. If people think birth control and condoms don’t work, they won’t use them when they have sex.
This sort of thinking has lifelong consequences. When someone in my family was eighteen, he got his girlfriend pregnant. The result? They both had to drop out of college, and quickly broke up and fought over custody and child support.
It made me wary of having a kid so young. Some people can have a baby as a teenager and land on their feet. But not everyone.
In high school, I found a biology textbook in a library. It explained various birth control methods. Unlike what I’d been told, they were common and actually pretty effective.
I didn’t end up using them until late in college. I was starting to date a guy, and the topic of sex was coming up. At my annual physical, I asked my doctor to prescribe the birth control patch, which I knew a friend of a friend was using.
When I got to the pharmacy, the tech refused to ring up the purchase. This was before the Affordable Care Act passed, and my parents’ insurance wouldn’t cover it. The cost was $400, for one month’s supply. “Call your doctor,” said the tech, who moved on to the next person in line.
I did, and left a message for my doctor. But even if I started birth control, it would take 7 days to take effect. The guy I was dating wanted to have sex right away. I explained how I had trouble getting birth control, and asked him to use a condom.
He refused. I held my ground and said I didn’t want to have unprotected sex. I wasn’t even worried about STDs, just pregnancy. I left, and the next time we went out, he broke up with me. It didn’t seem that way at the time, but I dodged a bullet.
When I met my next boyfriend, I filled my prescription for cheap birth control pills. Although I updated my current information to include my cell phone number, the pharmacy auto-called my parents’ home phone number, saying my prescription was ready. My parents knew I had a boyfriend and put two and two together.
I was surprised that they actually confronted me about it. They disagreed with my decision to take contraception, but said that I was an adult, so I could do what I want. I moved out shortly thereafter.
I learned nothing valuable from abstinence-only education. I also received no guidance about abusive relationships. I learned how to deal with those by word of mouth from other women, and from reading about them online or in college classes.
In high school, I was only told to quickly marry the first person I liked, and stay married, no matter what. This is really harmful advice if someone’s partner turns out to be abusive.
Yes, parents should give their kids information about safe sex, and not rely on schools to do it. But some parents won’t. Teens should have access to factual, unbiased information for their safety. And abstinence education isn’t it.