When “Just Say No” is not enough

When I was a little kid, I asked my mom where I came from. She said I was picked up from a garbage can. I believed her words and cried for a long time. Most children in China have heard the same answer from their parents. It was a joke, but it also reflected the fact that adults are unwilling to talk about sex with their children. When I was in high school, I heard that a girl in our school committed suicide three days after having an abortion because she felt guilty. It is easy to imagine that when you find out you are pregnant as a teenager, you may think your future plans are gone and have thoughts of suicide. At first, I thought sex education in America must be developed much better than that in China. However, after doing some research, I found that America also has its own problems.

Although teen pregnancy rates have declined in recent years, the U.S.  rate is still one of the highest in the developed world. Just as first lady Nancy Reagan proposed to “Just Say No” to drug use in the 1980s, President Donald Trump’s administration is using the same approach to sex education. More than $213 million has been quietly cut in funding to help prevent teen pregnancy last July (Burns, 2017). This move eliminates Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs and family planning services, while investing money in abstinence-only education. I certainly disagree with this move.

Abstinence Only Until Marriage (AOUM) is one main route that school-based sexuality education follows in America. AOUM has been proven to be ineffective in preventing teen pregnancy (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). Even worse, AOUM policy unequally discriminates against certain minority groups such as LGBTQ individuals, youth of color, and youth with disabilities. I interviewed a sex educator who said that people often have stereotypes about sexual practices and beliefs of minority groups. For example, there is a long racist history of regarding individuals of color, particularly African American girls and Latina girls, as oversexed or hypersexual. While early sexual behaviors in White girls’ lives are regarded as sexual freedom, the same behaviors in Black girls’ lives are seen as an expression of innate over-sexualization (Lamb, 2016).

When students of color are presented with information about sexual activities, it is within the context of these youth being “at risk” and a danger to themselves and the community’s health. Teachers overemphasize pregnancy prevention to Latina girls because these teachers believe early pregnancy is consistent with Latina culture. Indeed, some Latina and African American girls engage in first sexual activities earlier than White girls (Lamb, 2016), and thus are at greater risk of teen pregnancy, but I think the main reason is that these girls fail to receive comprehensive sex education to protect themselves.

In my opinion, Black and Latina women are often regarded as cautionary examples of teen pregnancy and improper contraception because of the fact that Black and Latina girls are more than twice as likely as white girls to become pregnant before they leave adolescence (Elia & Tokunaga, 2015). Therefore, students of color will be more negatively affected if the Trump administration defunds Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs. In addition, the Trump administration has pushed for an approach like “sexual risk avoidance,” which encourages teen abstinence rather than Teen Pregnancy Prevention programs supported by the Obama administration (Hellmann, 2017).

The Obama administration put emphasis on comprehensive sex education. It has been proven to be more effective than AOUM in delaying sexual activity and increasing safer sexuality behaviors such as increased contraceptive use, fewer sexual partners and reduced frequency of sexuality. The primary goal of CSE is to lower rates of teen pregnancy and STI contraction rather than to improve sexual health of all students. Moreover, comprehensive sex education has the same problem in discriminating against certain minority groups such as LGBTQ individuals, youth of color, and youth with disabilities. There is very little information on sex education for these groups. Both AOUM and CSE are more likely to put emphasis on self-care rather than on other people.

It is not enough for students to “just say no” to sex. People are curious about things they don’t know, especially adolescents. “Just say no” is not enough for them to protect themselves from the negative effects of sexual activities such as teen pregnancy. I believe sex education should focus on justice and caring for the other person. It should include discussions of human rights, equality, and nondiscrimination by race, gender or sexual orientation. It was a pity that I never received any forms of sex education, but I hope my children can learn about it in the future. I want my children to protect themselves as well as to care about other people.


Burns, J. (2017, July 20). The Trump Administration just axed $213M from teen pregnancy prevention, all by itself. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/janetwburns/2017/07/18/the-trump-administration-just-axed-213m-from-teen-pregnancy-prevention/#4936c59f4495

Elia, J.P. & Tokunaga, J. (2015). Sexuality education: implications for health, equity, and social justice in the United States. Health Education, Vol. 115 (1), 105-120. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1108/ HE-01-2014-0001

Hellmann, J. (2017, November 03). Trump admin to fund $10 million teen pregnancy prevention effort. Retrieved from http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/358689-trump-admin-to-fund-10-million-teen-pregnancy-prevention-effort

Lamb, S., Roberts, T. & Plocha, A. (2016). Girls of color, sexuality, and sex education. Springer Nature.

Stanger-Hall, K. F., & Hall, D. W. (2014). Abstinence-Only Programs are ineffective in preventing teen pregnancy. In C. Watkins (Ed.), At Issue. Do Abstinence Programs Work? Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press. (Reprinted from 2011, October 14, 6) Retrieved from https://eps.cc.ysu.edu:8443/login?url=http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3010603217/OVIC?u=ohlink104&xid=04b35010