"They need accurate information about how their body works. They think they know it, but they don't. There's no such thing as safe sex, but there's safer. To know how to make themselves safer if they are engaging in a sexual manner, how to make themselves as safe as possible, and to know the consequences because there's so much misinformation that goes along with the pressure to be sexually active."
Tonya Waite has a different method for preventing teen pregnancy her goal is to make "saving oneself" until marriage the "cool" thing to do. As the Director of The East Texas Abstinence Program, also know as "Virginity Rules," she has reached over 60,000 students in nine years. She uses billboards, commercials, t-shirts and other swag reach out to her community's young people on a level they understand.
She insists students can and do abstain. "I hear adults saying, 'Well, what are you teaching abstinence education for? They're not gonna do it anyway, you know. They're just a bunch of animals.'"
In fact, 64 percent of the students enrolled in Virginity Rules programs have pledged to abstain from sexual activity until marriage, whether or not they were sexually active in the past. According to the National Abstinence Education Association, approximately 2.5 million students receive abstinence education in this country.
Waite teaches her students that nothing but abstinence is a sure thing. As she explained to Primetime's Jay Schadler, "I think it's more truthful. I think that we educate kids like that on tobacco, on drugs, on alcohol, on cigarettes. And I don't understand why we don't take that same concept with sex."
She thinks that stressing the "success" of contraception gives kids the message that it's okay to have sex.
Her teaching methods? "A little bit of fear and a whole lot of hope, that there is something better."
Ireland disagrees. "As far as condoning sexual activity, by giving information, by making condoms available, it is not true. It's not just making things available but it's also about talking about goals and those consequences and emotional consequences in their lives as to why to prevent a pregnancy or an STI."
Both women remain committed to keeping their students safe in spite of drastic funding cuts over the past year. And despite their philosophical differences, they agree that without education, lives are at stake.
Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas in Austin who studies teen sexual behavior, sums up the ongoing debate when he says, "It's a conundrum: abstinence, when truly practiced, is inarguably effective. It's just not very common among older teens and young adults...I think we ought to hope for the best yet prepare youth with plenty of knowledge about their bodies, their choices, and the norms that pervade their cultures. To me that's a win-win situation."