A Huge Downside to Abstinence-Only Sex Education



At the Christian Science Monitor, Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and held captive for nine months when she was a teenager and who now works to help other sex-trafficking victims, explains a negative consequence to the sex education she'd received at school:

Rescued kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart said Wednesday she understands why some human trafficking victims don't run.

Smart said she "felt so dirty and so filthy" after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn't run "because of that alone."

Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

"I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm that chewed-up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.' And that's how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value," Smart said. "Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value."

As they point out over at Think Progress, not only is this "you are a chewed-up piece of gum" message really prevalent from abstinence-only educators, their anti-sex message can be even stranger:

Nonethless, abstinence-only education programs have a long history of imparting harmful messages that shame youth about their sexuality instead of teaching them the facts they need to safeguard their health. A high school in West Virginia recently made national headlines after hosting a conservative religious speaker who allegedly told students “if you take birth control, your mother probably hates you” and “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.”

Smart's plight underlines a fundamental problem with abstinence-only sex education — a lot of teens have been forced into sexual activities against their will. As bad as it is to tell people that natural desires and consensual sex can "ruin" you, it's terrible to tell people to who are being sexually abused that the people who did those terrible things to them have "ruined" them forever.

People like to point out that abstinence-only sex education isn't realistic and doesn't keep teens from having sex, both of which are true. But the real insidious damage it does is to make someone's suffering at the hands of some evil-doer a cause for shame to the victim, making the victim believe that they've been devalued.

As Smart says, kids deserve to know, "you will always have value and nothing can change that."

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