Of the near infinite number of things we learn over our lifetimes, we learn all of these things by using only three methods.
We learn by:
THINKING, using our own logic, intuition, or gut.
AUTHORITY, through listening-to or following some expert.
EMPIRICAL means, through making our own observations and collecting data.
Using any of these methods allows learning to occur. However, learning the truth about something can only occur by using all these methods because each method of learning may result in a different answer.
Formal education uses all three methods of learning.
Students can learn by THINKING, through writing, introspecting, and teaching. They can learn by AUTHORITY, through reading, viewing, and listening. And they can learn by EMPIRICAL means, through questioning, predicting, and researching.
Formal sex education, like formal education in-general, uses all three methods of learning. However, formal sex education, unlike formal education in-general, is tainted by moralistic ideology. This tainting has resulted in two types of formal sex education:
Abstinence-based sex education and comprehensive-based sex education.
These two types of sex education differ on how they “use” the three methods of learning:
For THINKING, abstinence-based sex education suppresses students’ thinking about sex, whereas comprehensive-based sex education facilitates students’ introspecting about sex.
For AUTHORITY, abstinence-based sex education presents students with ideologues and conjecture, whereas comprehensive-based sex education presents students with scientists and data.
For EMPIRICAL means, abstinence-based sex education stifles students’ questions, whereas comprehensive-based sex education encourages students to study.
Abstinence-based sex education “gets away” with misusing the three methods of learning by propagating the myth of sexual knowledge being associated with sexual promiscuity. The opposite is true: Studies have consistently found, the more educated a person is about sex, the less sexually promiscuous they will be.
For example, when Laura Lindberg and Isaac Maddow-Zimet, from the Guttmacher Institute, examined the effect sex education has on 4,691 15- to 24-year-olds’ sexual behaviors, they found sex education in-general, when compared to no sex education at all, significantly delays the onset of first sexual experience by almost two years, and it decreases the chances of a person having six or more partners by 59%.
Further, and maybe most importantly, Drs. Lindberg and Maddow-Zimet found comprehensive-based sex education, decreases the chances of a person having unwanted sex by one-third, when compared to abstinence-based sex education, and by three-times, when compared to having no sex education at-all.
The largest review of the research literature comparing comprehensive- and abstinence-based sex education, was conducted by Dr. Helen Chin and her colleagues at the Community Preventive Services Task force. Dr. Chin examined 6,579 research articles that reported the effects of comprehensive- and abstinence-based sex-education programs, and found adolescents who completed comprehensive-based sex-education programs, had less-frequent sexual activity; a smaller number of sex partners; less unprotected sex; a higher probability of using condoms and hormonal contraception; and were less likely of being pregnant or having a sexually transmitted infection.
Dr. Chin found these positive changes in sexual attitudes, knowledge, behaviors, and health for only comprehensive-based sex-education programs and not for abstinence-based sex-education programs.
Dr. Chin’s findings may be explained by psychological reactance. Psychological reactance occurs when we are ordered without proper explanation not to do something. And because of the lack of explanation, we go do that something.
Abstinence-based sex education orders students not to have sex — and not to think about or question these orders.
It is no wonder abstinence-based sex education is often associated with sexually promiscuous behavior, whereas comprehensive-based sex education, which discusses with its students, healthy sexual behaviors, and reinforces thinking and questioning, is often associated with sexually discerning behavior.
In a sentence: Sexual knowledge empowers sexual discernment, whereas sexual ignorance reinforces indiscriminate sexual behaviors.
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Grunseit, A., Kippax, S., Aggleton, P., Baldo, M., & Slutkin, G. (1997). Sexuality education and young people’s sexual behavior: A review of studies. Journal of Adolescent Research, 12, 421–453.
Jaramillo, N., Buhi, E. R., Elder, J. P., & Corliss, H. L. (2017). Associations between sex education and contraceptive use among heterosexually active, adolescent males in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health, 60, 534–540.
Kirby, D. (2007). Emerging answers: Research findings on programs to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Lindberg, L. D., & Maddow-Zimet, I. (2012). Consequences of sex education on teen and young adult sexual behaviors and outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51, 332–338.
Paik, A., Sanchagrin, K. J., & Heimer, K. (2016). Broken promises: Abstinence pledging and sexual and reproductive health. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78, 546–561.
Santelli, J. S., Kantor, L. M., Grilo, S. A., et al. (2017). Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage: An Updated Review of U.S. Policies and Programs and Their Impact. Journal of Adolescent Health, 61, 273–280.
Wellings, K., Wadsworth, J., Johnson, A. M., Field, J., Whitaker, L., & Field, B. (1995). Provision of sex-education and early sexual experience — The relations examined. British Medical Journal, 311, 417–420.
Dr. Don Lucas, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology and head of the Psychology Department at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio Texas. He loves psychology, teaching, and research.
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