Abstinence-Only Education: The Creationism of Sex

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I’ve long said that proponents of abstinence-only education are the creationists of sex – they’re fueled by religious fervor that distracts them from the fact that they have no scientific facts on their side, they’re not content to just ruin their own kids’ minds, they try to insert their ridiculous beliefs into politics, and they make the world a dumber place.

Well now we can add another similarity: as three activists point out in a commentary for RH Reality Check, abstinence-only education proponents – okay, we seriously need a shorter term for them akin to creationists. Like “anti-sexualists”. Anyway, the anti-sex brigade are starting to co-opt scientific language, exactly how creationists did when they tried to warp the word “theory” and pretend “intelligent design” had anything to do with science.

All the scientific data we have shows that abstinence-only education does not work: kids who get it have higher rates of STDs and teen pregnancies, which of course leads to more abortions. Plus, even if kids do remain abstinent until marriage, there’s the sticky question of what happens after marriage: young people rush into marriage to have sex, and then immediately get saddled with a pregnancy they may not want or be able to afford. It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.

But despite their lack of scientific evidence, they realize that science can help them sell their ideology. So, they’ve taken old bills that were proposed using language akin to “because sex is gross, ew” and have rewritten them to include phrases like “medically accurate,” “age-appropriate,” and “evidence-based.”

And it’s working! Congress just quietly passed the first increase of the 18-year old Title Five program, which funds abstinence-only education. The increase is $25 million a year, and additionally any leftover funds, which previously would go back to the treasury, now go to states that implement abstinence-only education.

The last 30 years have seen nearly $2 billion of tax dollars wasted on a program that is scientifically proven to make the US a worse place to live. We could have taken all that money, saved it, and then this year we could have bought every single person in the United States a Happy Drinking Bird, which is not only pleasant to watch but also provides a fun lesson on the laws of thermodynamics. Most importantly, the happy drinking bird does not teach teenagers pseudoscience that encourages them to think of their own natural sexual desires as disgusting and immoral, leading to both psychological pain as well as physical pain in the form of sexually transmitted diseases like HPV, HIV, and babies.

In conclusion, abstinence-only education: no. Happy drinking birds: yes.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. I’ve had this feeling that racism, and in particular the kind of racism known as “demographic threat” is secretly what drives abstinence only education.

    That these people want teen pregnancies as a way of boosting the birth rate to outbreed “those people”.

  2. Rebecca Watson

    Abstinence-Only is also the homeopathy of sex.

    I think we could also argue that homeopathy and germ theory denialism are like the creationism of medicine.

      1. Jon Brewer,

        That is a better analogy. Like a perpetual motion machine, proponents of homeopathy promise it will do wonderful things, but when put to the test it always failed, and if it actually worked the way they claimed it would, it would violate natural law.

        1. I was specifically speaking of the ‘something for nothing’ aspect.

          It’s actually funny because it began with a dude misunderstanding how quinine works. And that makes me feel…smug. Yeah, smug is what I’m looking for.

  3. I’ve never thought about babies as sexually-transmitted diseases before–funny! When you look at the Western canon of fiction, it’s rife with adultery and out of wedlock births. They didn’t have access to reliable birth control, yet for some reason, they kept fucking anyway. They didn’t even have sex ed classes back then, so how did they get the idea to do it?

    I always find the idea of teaching abstinence versus sex ed amusing. If we educate them about sex, suddenly they’ll get the idea to do it? Teenagers weren’t having sex before the advent of sexual education?

    If you look at popular culture before the sexual revolution, it’s again rife with veiled referenced to getting knocked up. Again, where did they get the idea from?

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