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Sexual Abstinence Programs: Why They’re Failing and What Needs to Be Done

A simple class in middle school cannot stand up to an outside world, where media bombards the youth with sexually charged material on a daily basis. And making choices about sex is not just a one-time issue; it is something that comes up constantly during the course of a person's life.

ImagePresident Bush has often received criticism for the apparent failures of the abstinence education program that he founded as governor of Texas. During the presidential race, Bush used the abstinence program as one of his platforms, promising that he would push to match the federal funding received by the more popular Safe Sex campaign.

But a recent survey of 2,000 teenagers across the country found that President Bush's "No Sex" program has had no significant effect on students' abstinence from sex compared to the students that were involved in the conventional sex program.

The $1 billion spent on this abstinence campaign since 1998 has obviously been in vain.

The Republicans stood behind the President's campaign, stressing the importance of abstinence as a way to guarantee avoiding unplanned pregnancies, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases. However, there have been many critics to Mr. Bush's campaign over the years, especially when he extended the program to unmarried adults 19 to 29, an age group where 90 percent are sexually active. Even though some might say that this is one of the few promises of his campaign that President Bush carried through on, it seems that this would have been better left untouched.

The program which proved to be ineffective was highly funded by the federal government and wasted many of our tax dollars. Critics of the program argue that not only had there not been enough research done on the abstinence education program when the President was pushing for greater funding, it also fails to educate teenagers about safe sex, in this regard it could be counterproductive.

President Bush should have not put an immense amount of funding in a program that lacks research. This program has been sponsored by the federal government for almost a decade. Nearly a billion dollars in taxpayer money has been wasted, without any apparent benefit to our children. 

Even though the concept of abstinence should be stressed among the youth, the way this program was implemented was not very pragmatic.

A simple class in middle school cannot stand up to an outside world, where media bombards the youth with sexually charged material on a daily basis. And making choices about sex is not just a one-time issue; it is something that comes up constantly during the course of a person's life.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there has been a drop in teen pregnancy in the developed world over the past 25 years. While that might come as a relief to some, the same institute reports that at least three quarters of the female population in developed countries are sexually active by the age of 20.

In other words, while teen pregnancy might be down, it does not mean that teenagers are less likely to be sexually active. The question is: how do we enable teenagers to understand and accept abstinence?

We believe that before we can put all the blame on the youth or a program for not doing its job, we need to take a closer look at society and the ways in which it promotes sexual intercourse outside of marriage.

We live in a society where sex is used as a marketing tool to reach out to both youth and adults alike. While abstinence needs to be encouraged, short of promoting a particular spiritual outlook on the importance of the practice, we need to at least redefine the way premarital sex is depicted in our society and ensure that our children understand the repercussions of their actions.

According to Islamic guidelines, it is clearly stated that one should abstain from intercourse until marriage. While sex is considered to be highly positive according to Islam, it needs to be within healthy parameters which can only be fulfilled within the boundaries of a marital relationship made holy by Allah.

We need to stress the correct perspective on sex and abstinence to our community, especially to our youth, who are bombarded with sexual temptations from all directions, whether it is via the Internet, television, radio, or temptation from peers. We cannot ignore the problems around us and assume all will be well. At the same time that we discuss the issues, we need to provide the sort of positive social network that helps our community members shun such filth.

Even though some of the responsibility falls on the parents to set the proper foundation for their children's future, it is also the job of society and our community in particular to maintain a standard for others to look up to.


EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally appeared in a previous edition of
Islamic Insights.

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  • Hassan A

    Ahsant! This is so true. So many times our leaders take the easy way and “throw money” at a program hoping that will solve the problem. I understand that money drives our society, but we need to establish rules based on good morals and ethics, not on capatalistic dogmas.
    Very well written article. Thank you for this insight.

  • Nichole

    The statistics on young Muslims and sexual concerns are equally depressing, but in our communities not even money is thrown at the subject just more hushing and shooshing and not dealing with the issue. Nor do most communities whole heartidly back early marriage or encourage their youth to marry before college, in college, before grad school, etc… It would be naive to think our youth have not been exposed to corruption if they are in there late 20s/30s and still yet married. I mean are we to good to do as the Prophet and the Ahlul Bayt did (a.s.)?

  • Ed Abd Al-Ghafur

    One issue that needs to be addressed is the issue of pornography addiction in the Muslim community. I’ve put together a Muslim Accountability circle on a website called http://www.no-porn.com. The idea is basically for Muslims who struggle with pornography to have an online support group in which they encourage each other to live up to their deen. You have to be a registered member to view this particular part of the forum, but to preserve your anonymity you can fudge the information if necessary. My idea is just to create some forum online for Muslims struggling with this problem to help each other out. To my knowledge, none exists so far, though Christians have put together some impressive support networks, and I suspect that its largely Christians who run this http://www.no-porn.com website.

    To find the circle go to: http://www.no-porn.com. Click on forums, click on the support boards, register as a member, and then click on accountability circle. There you’ll see a posting for the Muslim Accountability Circle. It’s completely anonymous. This might very well be the first support circle of its kind for Muslims on the internet.

    Ed Abd Al-ghafur

  • Alex

    I don’t believe that sex is something that should be taboo. It is pleasurable and people [b]want[/b] to do it; why deny yourself pleasure? There are diseases and pregnancies, yeah, but very few sexual encounters end in a disease or pregnancy. Frankly, I don’t believe that it’s something that should be so hushed and not talked about.

    Those are just my beliefs. I’m not Islamic, and just going off the morals that I developed over the course of my life instead of Islamic ones.

  • Muslim Brother

    Dear brother Alex,

    Islam does not consider sex to be taboo at all. As Muslims we believe we should discuss such topics with our children – as the article points out, abstinence programs in schools are not achieving their intended purpose and Muslim families need to fill in the gaps. In terms of sexual activity, again Islam does not consider sex to be taboo but instead grants that it’s pleasurable and people want to do it. However, Islam says that sexual activity needs to exist within certain limits, otherwise society as a whole will suffer as a result. As proof of this, visit the poorest areas of your nearest major metropolitan city – New York, L.A., Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, DC – this list goes on. See how many single mothers, who had intercourse without proper education and without proper morals, are now trying to raise multiple children on their own without any other financial and emotional support. Often times these women aren’t well educated either, making their job prospects very poor and resulting in their needing to work long, tiring hours and not being able to raise their children with proper care and attention. The neglect of these children results in their becoming deliquents in society down the road. So, such situations – which are quite rampant in American inner cities – make it quite evident why human sexual activity needs to exist within certain limits.

    By the way, the proper phrase is, “I’m not Muslim,” not “I’m not Islamic.” 🙂