Updated: Apr 2, 2020
Explaining OneLife's core message of Sexual Risk Avoidance and answering a few frequently asked questions
Here at OneLife, we're no strangers to questions, stares, and strange looks. We come into classrooms and students automatically start getting antsy. "Why do we have to talk about this stuff?" "Ugh...so weird!" Talking about sex is, well, weird. But also super duper important. So let's talk about it.
What even is SRA?
By definition, Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) education is an evidence-based approach to educate youth on the optimal health behavior of avoiding non-marital sexual activity and other risky behaviors.
Basically, SRA is an approach to sex education that focuses on eliminating all risk rather than simply reducing it. In contrast, Sexual Risk Reduction (SRR), often called Teen Pregnancy Prevention or “comprehensive” sex education, primarily focuses on reducing the risk of sexual activity by increasing contraceptive use among teens. Both approaches are fundamental public health models for addressing health risk behaviors, but risk avoidance is the preferred approach when possible, because it leads to optimal health outcomes.
For example, the message regarding smoking is: “Don’t begin smoking, but if you are already smoking, it is important to stop.” This is a risk avoidance message. A risk reduction message on the same topic might say: “If you choose to smoke, try to smoke less frequently and switch to an all-natural, low-tar brand of cigarettes.” Clearly, not smoking at all is a better choice than simply smoking less, because it completely avoids risk instead of merely reducing it.
In the same way, Sexual Risk Avoidance, by way of refraining from all non-marital sexual activity, is a better choice than Sexual Risk Reduction, or practicing “safe sex” through the use of contraceptives. That’s why OneLife, as a public health program, promotes abstinence—because it gives teens their best chances of achieving optimal health outcomes.
So...just say no?
Not exactly. Sex education programs that promote SRA principles, like OneLife, sometimes get a bad rap as having a “just say no” approach to sex education. We can’t speak for other programs, but here at OneLife, we know that it takes way more than just saying no to practically uphold a commitment to abstinence. That’s why so much of the stuff we talk about in class isn’t about sex as much as it is about goal setting, healthy relationships, boundaries, communication, recognizing red flags, and personal value and worth.
At the end of the day, our main goal isn’t discouraging students from being sexually active, but rather encouraging them to make choices that will help them have healthy, successful futures and get where they want to go in life.
We’re interested in whole-person health, because we want our students to thrive physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and financially. “Saying no” by avoiding risk behaviors like drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and non-marital sexual activity is only one aspect of thriving in all these areas. The things we say “yes” to are just as important as the things we say “no” to, and OneLife’s mission is to help students say “yes” to making their one life their best life.
But is it practical?
We get it. It’s way easier to talk about risk avoidance and optimal health than it is to walk it out in the real world. In fact, the biggest criticism we get—from teens and adults alike—is that expecting young people to avoid risk and make positive choices, especially when it comes to sex, is simply impractical. “Not everybody is going to make the choice to save sex for marriage. Shouldn’t you focus on helping them stay safe?”
Of course we want to keep students safe; that’s why we do what we do! But what does it really mean to be safe? By definition, the word “safe” implies the absence of danger or harm. In order to completely eliminate the threat of danger or harm, you have to avoid risk, not just reduce it.
Through providing medically accurate information about contraceptives without normalizing teen sexual activity, we arm students with knowledge that will help them make informed decisions about sex. It is our sincere hope that anyone who chooses to engage in risky behavior will take every possible precaution to protect themselves, but we would be selling teens short if we didn’t tell them the truth—that abstinence is the only 100% effective method of preventing unplanned pregnancy and STIs.
We understand that not everybody is going to choose abstinence, but that doesn’t mean we should lower our expectations. How is that fair? Adults tell young people they can do anything and be anything they want, if only they’ll work hard and set their mind to it. And then at the first sign of challenge, we back down and tell them they don’t have what it takes to resist their urges, so here, at least be “safe.”
Doesn’t really inspire much confidence, does it? Somebody once called that kind of thinking the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Miss us with that. Lower standards lower the culture. Period.
Are you for real?
Yep, sure are. We have high standards for our students because we believe in them! We believe they are capable of avoiding risk, resisting peer pressure, practicing self-control, and achieving incredible things. That’s why we bring our SRA curriculum into classrooms, host special events, and act like a bunch of weirdos on social media all in the name of putting our money where our mouth is. If we’re going to hold students to a high standard and encourage them to set big goals, you can bet your bottom dollar we’re going to do everything in our power to help them achieve those goals. Don’t believe us? Try us. We’re not going anywhere.