The Human Cost of “Abstinence Only”

Today’s Vagina News is really interesting. Remember Elizabeth Smart, the young woman who was kidnapped from her bedroom at 14 and held as a sexual slave until being rescued 9 months later? She recently spoke at Johns Hopkins University about human trafficking, and specifically about her personal insight into why victims like her often don’t run when they have the opportunity.

Smart received an ‘abstinence only’ sex education. Often, in order to convince students of the merits of abstinence (given the powerful hormonal arguments against it,) students are taught that their virginity is directly tied to their value as human beings, and once they’ve had sex, that value is diminished. She recalls being taught that sex is like chewing gum – as in, no one wants a piece of already-chewed gum. Because she was repeatedly raped by her captor, she believed her human value was depleted, and no one in the outside world would want her anymore. In her words:

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

We talk a lot about the quantifiable benefits of comprehensive sex education – reduced rates of unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection, and abortion. But let’s take a moment to absorb this… The greatest benefit of comprehensive sex education may be the decoupling of virginity from human value, the lesson of unconditional self worth.

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