In the last few years, I've heard about fundamentalist Christians and other conservative groups pushing for an"abstinence-only" agenda for sex education programs in American high schools. Such "education" typically precludes any mention of contraception, safer sex techniques, or abortion. According to "True Love Waits", a fundamentalist organization devoted to "sexual purity" before marriage for high school and college students:
"Sexual purity includes abstaining from intercourse until marriage, but that is not all it means...being sexually pure means not even dwelling on thoughts of sex with someone other than a spouse...Until you are married, sexual purity means saying no to sexual intercourse, oral sex, and even sexual touching. It means saying no to a physical relationship that causes you to be "turned on" sexually. It means not looking at pornography or pictures that feed sexual thoughts."
Give me a break! What kind of la-la land are these people living in? Sex is a basic human instinct, not to be easily thwarted by "Just Say No" tactics. Nature itself has designed human beings to desire sex once their hormones kick in during puberty; it's a normal fact of life. People can try to pretend that the elephant in the living room isn't there, but it's almost always a fruitless endeavor. The old expression "You can't fool Mother Nature" was never more true when it comes to sex.
Considering that many people nowadays do not marry until their late 20s and beyond, if at all, expecting total abstinence from any sort of sexual expression is laughably ludicrous, not to mention unrealistic to the point of fantasy. I'm thinking that the typical result for those who attempt to try to take such a philosophy seriously is an upswing of premature, ill-conceived marriages entered into for all the wrong reasons.
A sex education curriculum that does not include complete, frank information about contraception, safer sex, and abortion is just plain irresponsible. Some conservatives have insisted that teaching such information is like "playing with dynamite" and will only encourage teens to have sex. No, nature itself encourages teens to have sex and it is only to their benefit to have complete and accurate information in order to make informed choices. I can't see how "playing with dynamite" while also being blindfolded can benefit young people in any way.
That's not to say that I think that fourteen year olds ought to go out and get laid every weekend. But I also know that teens do have sexual thoughts, feelings, and desires and that the solution isn't simply to tell them to "just say no" until they have that magical marriage license in hand ten, fifteen or twenty years down the road. And abstinence education doesn't even address the sexuality of gay teens or those who might wish to pursue sexual options other than lifelong monogamous marriage..
Judith Levine points out in her excellent book, "Harmful to Minors", that it might be more realistic to educate teens in the various methods of sexual pleasure that do not include intercourse, such as mutual masturbation and oral sex. Such methods would likely help many to delay intercourse before they are ready to accept the responsibility for their actions. And those who go ahead, anyway, and have intercourse need to have the knowledge to prevent unwanted pregnancy and to lower risks of STDs.
As far as older teens go, once they've turned eighteen, their sex lives are entirely their own business just as it is for any other adult. I figure if they can vote, be drafted, sign contracts, and so on, then no one needs to tell them how to manage their sexuality, either.
With my own son, before he entered junior high, I made sure he knew about the mechanics of sex, along with methods of contraception and minimizing risk of STDs. I did not tell him when or how to have sex, other than to stress than any sex he would have must be totally consensual with a partner old enough to make that choice. This is basically as I was taught by my parents. I ended up as a libertine, my son has confined his sexuality to committed relationships only. Same advice, different results. This is not a bad thing, as it isn't necessary for everyone to do things the same way.
There is nothing particularly noble about a philosophy of virginal "purity", that assumes that there is something shameful and "dirty" about acting on one's desires unless it is in the confines of church and state-approved legal marriage. What is ethical and worthy of respect is to make fully informed sexual choices when one is willing to take responsibility for any consequences which may result.