Abstinence is the choice to not have sex. This method of birth control is the only 100% effective way of preventing pregnancy and infection as long as all sexual contact is avoided, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. For some people, abstinence means refraining from just vaginal intercourse, but not oral. They might still engage in outercourse, which is other sexual activities besides vaginal sex.
Like other birth control methods, abstinence has its advantages and disadvantages. Abstinence is simple, free, and 100% effective. It prevents both pregnancy and STDs and does not have the hormonal or physical side effects that other birth control methods have, such as the pill or the injection. People also choose abstinence to wait until they're ready for a sexual relationship; wait to find the "right" person or until they're married; support personal, moral, or religious beliefs and values; heal from a break up or death of a partner; follow medical advice during an illness or infection; or focus on school or career. Some disadvantages of abstinence include that people may find it very difficult to abstain for a long period and women and men may end their abstinence unprepared to safely practice sexual intercourse.
Abstinence Education Programs
Over the last ten years, teen sexual health outcomes have been mixed. While teen pregnancy and birth rates have reached record lows, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have risen. The two main approaches towards sex education are comprehensive sex education and abstinence. Many schools have adopted health programs that incorporate abstinence from sexual activity as an approach to reduce teen pregnancy and STD rates.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, provided the following facts about sex education: 24 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education for youth; 37 states require that when sex education is taught in schools, abstinence must be included and 26 states require that it be emphasized; 13 states require that the information taught in sex education courses must be medically accurate; and 18 states and the District of Columbia require that when sex education is taught, that information on contraception by provided. Additionally, fewer than half of the nation’s high schools and only a fifth of middle schools are teaching students the sexual health topics considered essential by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Comprehensive sex education is more diversely defined than abstinence. Generally, these programs include more medically accurate, evidence-based information about both contraception and abstinence, as well as the use of condoms to prevent STDs. Comprehensive programs usually also include information about healthy relationships, communication skills, and human development, among other topics. Abstinence-“Plus” Education stresses abstinence but also includes information about contraception and condoms. Abstinence-Only Education, also called “Sexual Risk Avoidance,” teaches abstinence as the expected standard of behavior for teens. This type of education topically excludes any information about the effectiveness or use of contraception or condom to prevent pregnancy and STDs.
Abstinence-Only Education States
What U.S. states teach abstinence-only? When looking at which states have the highest and lowest teen pregnancy and teen birth rates, it prompts the question of if these outcomes were affected by individual states’ requirements for sex education and/or abstinence-only education.
Among the 10 states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy among girls 15-19 years old, five are states without mandated sex education: Arizona, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, and Arkansas. Looking at the ten states with the highest rates of live births among teenage girls 15-19, five are states that do not require sex education and if/when it is taught, the states do not require contraception to be taught and require abstinence to be emphasized. These states are:
The following states stress that only abstinence is taught in school: