“Abstinence education” (also known as abstinence-only, abstinence-plus, or abstinence-only-until-marriage education) has, in recent years, become a specialized label, a technical term employed by educators, politicians, youth advocates, and public health workers in the USA. The label identifies a particular moral and educational agenda shaping what has been taught about human sexuality within USA public schools, since the 1980s. Approaches to teaching sexuality that lack the characteristics of this particular agenda (described in more detail, below) are titled, in turn, “comprehensive sexuality education.” Labeling or branding these educational efforts has facilitated their polarization, their validation as entrepreneurial efforts, and their entanglement in an ongoing, bitter dispute over the best strategies to teach children and adolescents about sexual health.
This brief essay – far from an exhaustive account of the issue – reviews the polemics surrounding abstinence...
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