Frequently Asked Questions

What is The Abstinence Project?

→ Abstinence – the message that abstaining from sex is an option – is an important message in any sex education program. But abstinence can’t be the only message. The Abstinence Project aims to uncover the harms of abstinence-only sex education through storytelling and highlight the importance of comprehensive and inclusive sex education.


→ We know that when abstinence is the only message provided to young people, they experiment with sex earlier, unintended pregnancy and STI rates are higher, and it can have a lasting impact on adult sexual development. Further, many abstinence-only sex ed messages are shame-based and utilize fear tactics in their implementation. These shame-based messages can remain harmful well into adulthood. The Abstinence Project provides a space for people to share their stories of the ways in which abstinence-only and shame-based sex ed impacted them. I also hope it will provide a sense of community to let people who are negatively impacted by these shameful thoughts about sex see that they are not alone. And I hope this community will fuel efforts to fight for the rights of young people to have access to comprehensive and inclusive sex education.

Why was The
Abstinence Project founded?

What is
abstinence-only sex education?

→ Abstinence-only sexuality education teaches abstinence as the only option for sexual expression prior to marriage. Often, information about contraception, condoms, and other risk-reduction tools are censored, and the abstinence messaging is typically paired with fear tactics and/or shame-based messaging about what happens if you don’t remain abstinent. Additionally, there is usually an explicit exclusion (or even punishment if not obeyed) of information about sexual identity development and gender diversity. Sometimes, these curricula are called “abstinence-until-marriage” or “sexual risk avoidance” or “abstinence-centered” programs. 


→ The harms of abstinence-only sexuality education include withholding sexual health information that is crucial for young people to make informed decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health. Most abstinence-only sexuality education programs rely on scare tactics and shame strategies (many of which are demonstrated in the stories provided in this project) that stigmatize sex and stunt healthy sexual development. The heterocentric nature of abstinence-only sexuality education results in the promotion of dangerous gender stereotypes and the perpetuation of systems of inequity. Additionally, abstinence-only sexuality education is ineffective at achieving the basic goal of promoting abstinence until marriage!


Why is abstinence-only sex education harmful?

What is the alternative to abstinence-only sex education?

→ Really anything is better than abstinence-only sexuality education (no sex ed is frankly better than receiving the harmful messages in abstinence-only sex ed). However, there are some evidence-based alternatives that are readily available. These programs are typically referred to as “comprehensive sexuality education” curriculum. Comprehensive programs include the message that abstinence is a healthy option, but also provide medically accurate and inclusive information about consent, contraception, condoms and other barrier methods, the realities of STIs and unintended pregnancy (no scare tactics!), sexual identity development, and gender-inclusive content that empower youth to make healthy decisions that work for them. The Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change) partnered with Future of Sex Ed (FOSE) and other entities to develop the National Sexuality Education Standards, and it provides clear guidance and developmentally appropriate inclusive comprehensive sexual health education standards for kindergarten through grade 12.

→ There are powerful entities that lobby policymakers to get the government to fund abstinence-only sex education; funding is largely up to state and local governments. In fact, more than $2 billion has been wasted by the government on abstinence-only until marriage programs since 1982. Additionally, typically the smallest opposing group are the loudest voices against comprehensive and inclusive sexuality education. Despite the fact that, regardless of political affiliation, more than 93% of parents support comprehensive sex ed, school districts, principals, and teachers normally just hear complaints from those who oppose the programming; those voices mount pressure to cave.

Why is abstinence-only sex education still being taught even though it is harmful?

Why is comprehensive sex education important?

→ Young people should be provided with the opportunity to make informed decisions about all aspects of their health, including their sexual health. If we equip young people with information to make the right decisions for them, they’ll be empowered to do so. By withholding information about sexuality and gender development, we leave sexual and gender diverse people with nowhere to turn and cisgender heterosexual people with little understanding of diversity beyond their experience. By withholding information about contraception, we sentence kids to parenthood before they’re ready. By withholding information about sexual pleasure, we ignore the main reason people experiment with sex to begin with.

→ Some scholars argue that if we could eliminate unintended pregnancy, we would disrupt the poverty cycle in such a profound way that we would make the largest single-issue dent possible to poverty in the industrialized world. Sexuality education to prevent massive public health issues like unintended pregnancy, HIV, STIs, and sexual assault is well documented. Further, the importance of sexual wellbeing, beyond risk-reduction and the prevention of disease, is underscored by the World Health Organization, World Association for Sexual Health, American Sexual Health Organization, and other major scholarly outlets in public health.

Why is sex education a public health issue?

Who is funding the abstinence-only sex ed agenda?

→ There are three main entities that fund the abstinence-only side of sex education and work to prevent inclusive comprehensive sexuality education from moving forward: Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Family Policy Alliance. These are very well-funded on an international stage and push extreme christian fundamentalism with the aim of protecting the “nuclear family”. These groups are on the forefront of anti-LGBTQ+ rights, particularly trans kids’ rights. They have a lot of money and a lot of power. They also funnel money down into several smaller organizations to make their efforts appear to be “community driven”, when they are all created by and funded by these large organizations.