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Adamantly Abstinent

Adamantly Abstinent

Looking at Sex Education in Adventist Schools 

By Emmett Pennington-Guthrie 

There is often a marked difference between sex education in public schools and that of Adventist schools, in which sex education is far less developed. 

Rachel Hare, a freshman psychology major, recalled that her school’s sex education centered largely around abstinence, emphasizing that students shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage. Additionally, Hare described something of a lack of information on topics related to sex itself, most notably information on safe sex. [1] 

Hare isn’t alone. Paula Deschenes, freshman biology major, as well as Lukai Webley, freshman nursing major, attested that their sex education, which occurred largely while they were in seventh grade, expressed the importance of abstinence until marriage while omitting information about condom usage and other forms of safe sex practices. [2] 

This style of sex education differs widely from the type of sex education taught in many public schools. I come from a public-school background myself, and I was taught far more about safe sex and protection than it seems those in the Adventist school system were. 

WWU student Bella Quintero thinks back to her own experience with sex ed in school. Photo by Bella Quintero.

Adventism promotes the belief that sex outside of marriage is against God’s will, and this belief seems to be the bedrock for the Adventist sex education system. Intuitively, at least for some people, it makes sense that if adults weren’t taught earlier about safe sex outside of marriage, they’ll wait until they’re ready, which is of course after marriage. 

This isn’t completely effective, however. Findings from researchers at the University of Washington in 2008 found that adolescents who receive thorough sex education are less likely to become pregnant as compared to those who don’t receive such education, which may indicate that teaching adolescents to use protection can help reduce teen pregnancies. [3] 

When children aren’t taught in classes, they may turn to the internet or to other students for information, which can easily lead to health misinformation that may very well prove dangerous. For example, Hare described how she was often asked questions by classmates she wasn’t suited to answer because her mother, a nurse, once came in to class to give a talk on sex. [4] 

There are other reasons for comprehensive sex education to be deemed necessary, such as eliminating certain stigmas around discussing sex or asking healthy questions about the topic. Deschenes and Webley described the school culture at the academy they attended in which asking questions about sex or physical contact was frowned upon. Furthermore, they describe that physical contact (including hugs) between students was largely restricted, even between friends of the same sex, to an extent. [5] 

There are downsides to these sorts of stigmas around sex and contact. Webley remembered knowing two individuals who were victims of sexual assault, both of whom felt they would be ostracized if they came forward. Webley described that the individuals felt sinful for being assaulted despite being the victims of the situation, in large part due to the negativity around premarital sex in the Adventist environment. [6] 

Teaching comprehensive sex education can help reduce some of these stigmas and lead to better outcomes for victims of assault like those who Webley knew. Furthermore, eliminating stigmas through education can make it easier for students to ask questions of teachers, who can then give informed and safe responses. 

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Hare, Webley, and Deschenes agreed that they feel they would have benefitted from a more thorough sex education. [7] 

Sex education and an emphasis on abstinence don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, the two went hand in hand throughout my own public education. 

While abstinence in public school is promoted on a health-based perspective, abstinence in Adventist education is of course based on the Bible, and it can remain the center of Adventist sex education while still allowing for education on safe sex. Safe sex remains important even after marriage, so perhaps sex education could be framed around teaching what’s important once students are married. 

Additionally, offering sex education in schools doesn’t mean that every student must take the proffered courses. For instance, schools may require parental consent for students to attend sex education classes, allowing parents greater control over what they feel is appropriate for their children. 

Ultimately, Adventist schools will do what they feel is best, but it’s important to realize the full consequences of what is taught to children. 

References 

  1. Interview with Rachel Hare, 11/11/21. 
  1. Interview with Lukai Webley and Paula Deschenes, 11/11/21. 
  1. Bright, M. (2008, March 28). Study finds that comprehensive sex education reduces teen pregnancy. ACLUhttps://www.aclu.org/blog/reproductive-freedom/study-finds-comprehensive-sex-education-reduces-teen-pregnancy 
  1. Interview with Rachel Hare, 11/11/21. 
  1. Interview with Lukai Webley and Paula Deschenes, 11/11/21. 
  1. Ibid
  1. Interview with Rachel Hare, 11/11/21, and Interview with Lukai Webley and Paula Deschenes, 11/11/21.
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