Brazil’s minister of human rights, family and women is doubling down on abstinence-only education by pushing religion-based policies that tell teenagers to save sex until marriage, a move critics say oversteps the country’s separation between church and state. It also absolutely won’t work.
The New York Times reports that the abstinence-heavy initiative is spearheaded by Damares Alves, who was appointed minister by President Jair Bolsonaro (this guy). Alves reportedly consulted with a team of evangelical pastors who launched an abstinence-only social media campaign called “I Chose to Wait,” which, based on a quick look, seems to use memes and pictures of cats to convince teens not to have sex.
Alves is herself an evangelical pastor, and claimed recently that teens were only having sex because of social pressure. “You can go to a party and have lots of fun without having sex,” she said. That’s true, but teens are probably still going to bone sometimes, and they should be armed with accurate information about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases if and when they do.
Studies have repeatedly shown that abstinence-only education is ineffective and can cause an increase in teen pregnancy rates. This is the case in the United States, where the government has spent over $2 billion on abstinence-only programs, and it will probably be the case in Brazil, should Alves’s initiative take hold. 15-year-old Laryssa Pereira de Souza, who had a baby last year, told the Times she doubted the policy would do much to minimize teen pregnancy rates.
“Almost all my friends at school got pregnant,” she said while bouncing her 7-month-old son, Arthur Bernardo, on her lap. Like many girls her age, Laryssa took advantage of home schooling programs that allow teenage mothers to stay enrolled in classes.
“Here, things are very liberal,” she said. “What we need is better access to pills and those things,” she added, referring to birth control.
Alves claims the emphasis on avoiding premarital sex won’t replace access to contraceptives and condoms, but abstinence campaigns have historically minimized the importance of contraception in favor of pushing a no-sex agenda. It seems pretty likely this will be no different, to everyone’s detriment.