Moms in Babeland

What Should Kids be Learning in School About Abstinence?

Many parents and caregivers worry that talking with their kids about sex and contraception will encourage them to have sexual intercourse. But with the pressure that many young people feel regarding having sex, they acknowledge that having conversations with their parents and caregivers (check out these tips on how to get that started) will make it easier for them to postpone sexual activity. Also, discussing contraception with them means they will be more likely to use it should they become sexually active.

More young people are having sexual intercourse at an earlier age than in the past, and among those who consider themselves “virgins” there are many who are engaging in sexual behaviors that put them at risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). According to the National Survey of Adolescents and Young Adults, of adolescents 15 to 17 who have not had sexual intercourse:

  • 30% have “been with someone in an intimate or sexual way”
  • 13% have had oral sex


Even if your children are not sexually active it’s important for them to learn that certain behaviors, like oral sex, can put them at risk for STDs. Also important is that they learn how to prevent unintended pregnancy even if they choose not to use that information until later in life.

So what should children know about abstinence? Abstinence is the conscious decision to avoid certain activities or behaviors, but which activities to avoid differ for every family. It’s up to the parents and caregivers to decide if it means no physical contact at all, not engaging in any sexual intercourse (oral, vaginal or anal), or if it means no vaginal intercourse but some physical contact is fine. Identifying and communicating your values with your children is an important first step.

Educators can supplement the learning happening at home by teaching that abstinence is not the only acceptable behavior. With comprehensive sex education, teachers should also cover an extensive list of other sexuality-related topics including decision-making, resisting peer pressure, assertiveness skills, and information about reproductive health and contraception. By focusing purely on abstinence children don’t learn the critical information about contraception and disease prevention that they will need when they become sexually active in the future.
To find out if what your children are learning about sex is comprehensive information, ask them about what they’re studying. Review their handouts and textbooks and speak to teachers and principals to get more specifics. Be an advocate by supplementing their education at home if necessary, and being a voice for change in your local schools.

Excerpted from SIECUS FAMILIES ARE TALKING Newsletter,Volume 2, Number 3, 2003. Learn more about SIECUS.

Have an anecdote or a comment about talking to your kids about sex? You can win prizes by posting comments on Moms in Babeland during October. Details.

Related posts:

  1. What Kids Should Be Learning in School About Sex
  2. Montana Sex Ed Program: Why Kids Need It
  3. Q: The kids hear so much in school the negative side effects of sex. Do you have any tips on how to offer a more pleasure-positive counterpoint?
  4. Toddlers and Preschoolers: Too Young for the Sex Talk?
  5. Sex Ed As It Should Be (Or Things I Wish I’d Learned in School)

topics: Parenting


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