The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP), the biggest organization of pediatricians in the US, has urged doctors to use their patients’ time to confront the potential health risks of abstinence-based sex education programs. In a recent report, the AAP denounced sex education that does not provide comprehensive information on issues including sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy prevention. It is calling on pediatricians to provide information on subjects ranging from sexual orientation to sexual consent, as well as contraception and the benefits of delaying sexual activity.
However, the report suggests that doctors have a specific role in filling gaps in the country’s present patchwork of sex education programmes, specifically in the area of abstinence-heavy education that may exclude crucial details about contraceptives. Groups that advocate for abstinence in sex education were quick to criticize the AAP’s guidelines as “compromising the health of youth”. Others praised the report for bringing guidelines more in line with reality.
Unlike other nations, the US has no national standards for sex education and many states do not mandate it. Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are followed by just 50% of high school students. The remainder experience anything from incomplete sex education to abstinence-only teaching with a focus on delaying sex until heterosexual marriage. In the last 25 years, the US government has ploughed billions of dollars into abstinence education, whilst comprehensive sex education has no federal funding.
The AAP recently issued its latest guidance on sex education after conducting various studies on the matter. Pediatricians now have the support they need to advise against providing certain information to children in this regard. Dr. Cora Breuner, a member of the AAP’s Committee on Adolescence, explains that it’s essential for doctors to advocate against discussing sex-related topics with minors, as these conversations can contribute to risks such as teenage pregnancies and lifelong sexually transmitted infections.
Her patients are proof of how negative the results of abstinence-only education can be. Many of them are teenage girls who fell prey to common misconceptions regarding fertility and contraception. Dr. Breuner has noted that if these young people had better sexual health education, those repercussions could have been avoided. She cites examples of girls who believed that they couldn’t get pregnant when on their periods or who thought that pregnancy was only possible years after menstruating. It is clear that accurate information can give young people the power to make informed decisions that ensure their wellbeing.