Did you hear the one about condom companies placing their products in the back of hot trucks, causing holes to form in the latex before they arrive on store shelves? How about the link between birth control pills and breast cancer? Then there’s the one about Intrauterine Devices causing abortions.
These are the myths abstinence-only programs convey to adolescents in public schools about contraceptives. Misconceptions about contraceptives are certainly not a new phenomenon as fairly recent medical advancements, offer new insight into birth control and condoms as methods of preventative health.
Before contraceptives were all about preventing unwanted pregnancies and diseases. Now, they may actually preserve fertility, prevent seizures and pain associated with conditions like Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder and Endometriosis.
However, despite these new advancements, antiquated misogynistic beliefs are unyielding regarding contraceptives. Morality is more prudent than empirical evidence and contraceptives are viewed as the weapons of the immorally bankrupt. These messages are funneled to adolescents who lack access to comprehensive information regarding contraceptives and are left to decode the subliminal messages provided within this current climate.
Sandra Fluke’s Congressional testimony supporting mandated private health insurance coverage for contraceptives suddenly turned her into a “slut” and “prostitute.” Public Schools in Utah are now banned from even mentioning contraceptives as a method of preventing unwanted pregnancy and STDs.
The general public simply does not associate contraception as a form of preventative health care. Decreases in the teen birth rate and STI transmission nationwide are linked to an increase in the proper use of contraceptives. This information is not communicated to adolescents in abstinence-only curriculum. With the potential benefits, how did contraception become such a dirty word?
Ronald Reagan, who eschewed sex outside of marriage, supported abstinence-only education which he believed promoted chastity and self-discipline as the surest way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STIs. These programs do not promote the use of contraceptives because abstinence advocates believe knowledge will encourage and increase sexual activity among teens. Instead curriculum tends to overemphasize failure rates and encourage inaccuracies about contraceptives as a scare tactic to prevent early initiation of sexual behaviors during adolescents.
Since the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, the federal government has invested $1.5 billion on abstinence-only programs in public schools. However, since this investment, the United States maintains the highest teen birth rate among industrialized nations. Young people, ages 15 to 25 comprise nearly half of the 19 million STI cases each year.
Adolescents are clearly becoming the casualties of this war on contraceptives as they experience more of the damaging consequences from a lack of accurate information. The charged discourse in politics and the media has a stigmatizing effect that generates fear among adolescents to even voice questions and concerns regarding issues of sex.
Like condoms and birth control, abstinence-only education programs have a failure rate when executed improperly. Some teenagers will fail to remain abstinent, which means backup plans need to be in place to support their choices.
Comprehensive approaches to sexuality education offer equal information on contraceptives and abstinence and are linked to successful decreases in teen pregnancy, STIs and early initiation of sexual activity. These programs promote an open environment for adolescents to ask questions and receive honest feedback.
Despite these successes, the federal government does not have the funds to implement these programs due to the large investment in abstinence-only programs. The Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act of 2011 would amend Title V of the Social Security Act, eliminating these programs.
However, the backlash against contraceptives may impede this legislation which remains inactive. The goals of the special interest seem more important than the human interest. As Ms. Fluke stated, “We refuse to pick between a quality education and our health, and we resent that, in the 21st century, anyone thinks it’s acceptable to ask us to make this choice […].”
The very quality of education compromised by the misinformation funneled through the educational system concerning contraception. Schools are duty bound to offer accurate information to student’s applicable inside and outside of the classroom, including curriculum regarding sexual health.