Sex education

‘Personal Responsibility’ Sex Ed – and Why It’s a Terrible Idea

Published: JUNE 22, 2018 | Updated: JANUARY 12, 2022
The best way to promote personal responsibility is to provide data-backed and science-based facts about sex.

It’s a fact: People often do the opposite of what they’re told. Call it the Romeo & Juliet or Adam and Eve effect, if you will. It’s human nature to want to scratch a sexual itch, especially when puberty hits. Forbidden fruit (and teen horniness) is hard to resist.


The current government in the U.S. is trying to control those urges with the proposed allocation of $75 million to the 2019 education budget to fund sex education programs that de-emphasize contraception and safer sex and focus on what the President has called “personal responsibility” and, more recently, "sexual risk avoidance" programs that favor an abstinence-only approach.

The things is, people cannot take responsibility when they don’t have all the facts. I’m talking data-backed and science-based facts.

“In order to have personal responsibility, you have to be educated. And in order to have personal responsibility, you have to have choice,” says Dr. Juliana Morris. “You have to have the ability to have consent and make decisions, and if you’re taking away education, you don’t have the ability to have personal responsibility.” Instead, you're being told what's right instead of being taught to decide what's right for you, Dr. Morris says.


Also, this kind of sex ed just doesn't work. Study after study has shown that abstinence-only sex education isn’t effective in preventing sexual activity, pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections. Many preeminent members of the medical community have backed this claim up, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine.

Need further proof? According to the CDC in its 2011-2015 survey, 88.8% of women (15-44 years of age) and 89.9% of men (ages 20-44 year of age) had premarital intercourse.

Here’s a quick look at what we’re dealing with in the U.S.:


  • Only 27 states and the District of Columbia mandate that, when sex education is provided, it must meet certain general requirements.
  • Of these 27 states, only 13 require that the instruction be medically accurate.
  • 18 states and the District of Columbia require that information on contraception be provided.
  • 25 states require that abstinence be stressed.

In comparison, many European countries, like France, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands set a better example, making comprehensive sex education mandatory. Sex ed starts as young as four in the Netherlands, where children learn how to develop healthy emotional relationships, according to PBS. In Denmark, it’s legal to learn about pornography in the classroom. As a result, these students have the smarts on STIs, contraception, sexual orientation, and how to develop a healthy sexuality.

The result? These countries boast a teen birth rate that's five to eight times lower than that teen birth rate in the U.S. Clearly, instead of waging a war on sex, it would befit U.S. government officials to focus on a more holistic approach to sex education.

“At some point in a new administration, sex education, abortion, all that kind of stuff inevitably comes up, and elected officials have to put their money behind where the stance is,” says Dr. Juliana Morris. Sex education has long been a hot topic, especially in our public schools. “Not only does this screw up what’s been built in the previous administration and the education we’re putting forth, but it sets the tone for society at that time too ... it’s so shortsighted, it’s scary.”


Jenny Block, author of "The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex," compares abstinence-only education to prohibition.

“As soon as we told people they couldn't drink, they started making shit that ate up their insides. It tasted terrible, was dangerous and exploded the stills in people’s homes,” she says. “We need to start with the fact that young people are going to have sex. The option is not not having sex. That's not an option. We have to stop talking about that like it's an option.”

Instead of teaching teens about contraception, prevention of pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections, conservative lawmakers naively think this no-sex-before-marriage nonsense will work. Yet reports show that young women who’ve taken a virginity pledge have higher rates of HPV and unplanned pregnancy. Still, in August 2017, the Trump administration terminated the Obama-era funded federal Teen Pregnancy Program - against the advice of experts at the Department of Health and Human Services. The reason? The administration called successful bipartisan program, one that helped bring teen pregnancy and birth rates in the U.S. to an all-time low, “ineffective.” Go figure.


Block isn't suggesting that it's a good idea to have sex at whatever age and with whoever you want. “That's not the opposite of abstinence education,” she says. “The opposite is just informing teens about this thing called sex ... because right now we're not teaching them anything. And if we are, then we're teaching them you're only as good as your virginity.”

A head-in-the-sand approach is not only ignorant, it’s harmful. Ditto for piecemeal education. Instead of supporting sexual education programs that work, the Trump administration wants to ask every highly hormonal adolescent in the country to wait until marriage. This is never going to happen.

In other countries, comprehensive, factual sex education has been shown to have huge benefits in how kids behave. By showing students what a healthy relationship looks like and giving them the tools to make informed decisions, we allow them to approach their sex lives from a place of empowerment.


The bottom line is teens are going to do it. “They're not these babies like we're making them out to be,” says Block. “So, my question is: do you want them to do it safely - or not? Those are the two choices, not do you want them to do it – or not.”

Plus, if this budget passes and these changes are made to sex education, it'll put a lot more pressure on the parents, family members and role models in young people's lives to teach them everything they need to know, Dr. Morris says.

“If we’re going to accept this, people have to step up and supplement it and take over.”

So, how do we do this? She suggests by opening up kids’ lives in order for them to start asking us questions – on their own. “Frankly, this generation wants that. They’re going to be annoyed by abstinence-only programs. They’ve progressed past this. How do you, in this day and age of technology, when kids can look up stuff wherever they are, literally, deny them the proper education to sift through what they’re seeing on the internet? This is the generation that needs sex education the most. They need to be armed with information, they need to be able to ask about porn and what they’re learning through porn. And they need to have sex education beyond that, not regressed from it.”

Ryn Pfeuffer

Ryn Pfeuffer is a versatile print and digital writer specializing in sex, lifestyle, and relationship topics. She got her start in the mid-90s at the Philadelphia Weekly, managing a 10-page section of the newspaper and more than 500 lonely hearts.Her professional stock skyrocketed when she started writing a saucy (and pre-Carrie-Bradshaw-era) dating advice column called “Ask Me Anything.” She appeared regularly on local radio stations and late-night TV as an expert on everything from grooming...

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