#SRAisAbstinenceOnly: Same Old Stigma and Shame

By , 19, Contributor
June 12, 2019

“New name, same game: SHAME.”

That’s just one of the rallying cries for the #SRAisAbstinenceOnly campaign, which is challenging funding and support for sexual risk avoidance (SRA) programs. SRA is a new name for an old concept: abstinence-only sex education.

“Abstinence-only” describes a sex education curriculum that teaches only abstinence, or refraining from sex, until marriage. These programs don’t provide accurate information on birth control or safer sex, and they usually exclude LGBTQ identities entirely. Consent, communication and healthy relationships are also not included. What is included? Explaining sexuality to young people using faulty, outdated and hetero- and cis-normative language and metaphors. Shaming them by comparing sexually active young people to objects like a shredded piece of paper or a cup full of spit. Students are told that someone who has premarital sex is like a piece of chewed-up gum or used toothbrush and that no one will want them.

Shaming and scare tactics are harmful to young people, and they just don’t work. Abstinence-only programs have not been shown to delay sex among teens, while sex ed programs that provide all of the accurate information people need to make healthy decisions have. Abstinence-only programs actually increase the teen birth rate in conservative states, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health. In spite of this, Congress has spent over $2.1 billion on abstinence-only programs since 1996, a number that continues to grow.

But the abstinence-only agenda has grown unpopular among many. Polls have shown that the majority of American adults want teens to learn about both abstinence as a choice as well as topics like safer sex and birth control. That’s why abstinence-only promoters have rebranded themselves as “Sexual Risk Avoidance,” even though it’s the same old shaming, inaccurate thing.

“Over the past several years, proponents of abstinence-only programs have been working to enhance their brand and reframe their approach,” writes Jesseca Boyer in a report by the Guttmacher Institute. “Nevertheless, most of the ‘sexual risk avoidance’ curricula…are the same as the ‘abstinence education’ curricula…and have the same goals.”

In response to attempts to rebrand abstinence-only as SRA, over a dozen organizations from across the country, including Answer—publisher of Sex, Etc., have teamed up to promote honest, accurate and nonjudgmental sex education and to reject the SRA agenda through the online campaign #SRAisAbstinenceOnly.

“Don’t be fooled by [SRA’s] deceitful appropriation of new rights language,” says the #SRAisAbstinenceOnly website. “It’s the same old shaming, inaccurate lectures. These lessons do nothing but harm young people by reinforcing harmful ideology and stifling honest discussion about sexuality.”

Want to speak out about harmful abstinence-only programs? Use #SRAisAbstinenceOnly on social media, spread awareness about the intentions of SRA and contact your elected officials to demand comprehensive sex education. When it comes to your body, you deserve to have reliable, accurate information delivered in a non-shaming way so that you can make educated decisions about what’s right for you.

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