Abstinence Until Marriage Programming As A Human Rights Violation

by Ashley Burczak
Program and Development Associate, Co-Founder and Former Executive Director of Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER)

The National Sexuality Resource Center has released a new study on the impact of abstinence-only programs, and their findings point to problems so deep that these programs can actually be considered a human rights violation.

by Ashley Burczak

The National Sexuality Resource Center has released a new study on the impact of abstinence-only sex programs, and their findings point to problems severe enough to warrant characterization of these programs as a human rights violation.

The report states that:

"Taken as a whole, these articles build a strong scientific and human-rights case against [abstinence-only programming]. Together, they find that the very idea of an abstinence-only approach to sexuality education is scientifically and ethically flawed... [abstinence-only] programs not only fail the usual public-health standard of program efficacy but also actively restrict life-saving information and promote misinformation about scientifically accepted public-health strategies such as condom use."

It is heartening to see a study that addresses alarming human-rights issues implicit in abstinence-only programs. It is clear that abstinence-only programming fails the students it seeks to serve—it reduces the likelihood that teens will use condoms, provides dangerous misinformation, and has been shown to be completely ineffective in convincing kids to delay sexual contact. But, as the above study notes, abstinence-only programming harms students not only by failing to impart vital skills, but by succeeding in imparting values that marginalize entire populations. In this way, abstinence-only education compromises the human rights of specific groups of teens.

LGBT youth, in particular, are harmed by abstinence-only programs. These programs teach abstinence until marriage, a cruelly unattainable goal for most LGBT youth. Same-sex marriage is unavailable in most states, and most religious institutions will not conduct same-sex weddings. Marriages with one or more transgender partners are often challenged, and the legal status of these partnerships is still unsettled.

The implicit lack of respect for LGBT people and their partnerships inherent in abstinence-until-marriage programs creates a problem for LGBT youth that goes beyond the already grave consequences of being denied necessary life-saving information. Students in these classes learn that Queer sexuality or nontraditional gender identity is not even an option. For LGBT students, this may mean self-esteem problems and an unwillingness to be open with others about their sexuality. For others, it legitimizes homophobia and transphobia by authority figures. 

The consequences of this are not trivial. Homophobia and transphobia don't just create a hostile environment for LGBT youth—they create a dangerous, violent environment. People are hurt and killed on a regular basis because of these ideologies. Abstinence-until-marriage programs implicitly tell students that homophobia and transphobia are acceptable, and they make the violence that is a natural outgrowth of such dehumanization more likely.