In America, we have a bad habit of politicizing issues we shouldnt and thats especially true when it comes to our approach to sex education in public schools. Last weekend, I attended a conservative voters conference in downtown Washington, D.C., which gave exhibit space to several abstinence-only education organizations.
The fact that these groups (many of them taxpayer-funded) accepted invitations to a highly partisan conference speaks volumes about the state of sex education in this country. Despite our high rates of teen pregnancy and STI infection, the federal government continues to dole out money to activist groups who view sex ed as an opportunity to promote their own agendas.
That might explain why, with the blessing of Congress, federally funded abstinence-only programs openly lie about contraceptive failure and discourage condom use. One popular program, Choosing the Best PATH, tells students, At the least, the chances of getting pregnant with a condom are 1 out of 6, and Condoms provide no proven reduction in protection against chlamydia, the most common bacterial STD. (Most studies show that condoms are about 95 to 98 percent effective at preventing both pregnancy and chlamydia transmission.) Another guide bluntly states that no competent educator should imply that condoms make sexual activity safe.
Its common for these programs to imply that girls are responsible for enforcing abstinence and controlling male impulses with modest dress and proper behavior and, in the process, promote dangerous ideas about rape and sexual abuse. Girls need to be aware when a kiss is leading to something else, says the program Reasonable Reasons to Wait. The girl may need to put the brakes on first in order to help the boy. Other textbooks promote gender stereotypes as hard fact: A young mans natural desire for sex is already strong due to testosterone ... females are becoming culturally conditioned to fantasize about sex as well. Really?
In addition to publishing misleading and biased curricula, some abstinence-only organizations have questionable political ties. Abstinence Clearinghouse, one of the most high-profile abstinence groups in the country, is headed by Leslee Unruh, who was a leading activist behind the South Dakota abortion ban two years ago. She has also been a vocal opponent of birth control.
Unfortunately, things arent much better in the comprehensive sex ed camp. Last winter, I worked as a researcher for a doctor who was writing a book on the subject and was shocked by how schools often turn the classroom over to self-described sex-positive activists who promote a reckless attitude toward teen sex.
Consider the government-funded Programs that Work, which were introduced to schools a few years ago. Rather than simply teaching students about condoms, these sex ed programs actually required students some as young as 14 years old to go out and buy them. The curriculum included school-sponsored field trips to family planning clinics and drugstores to compare condom brands, preferably with a partner. As the program advised, Go to the store together. Buy lots of different brands and colors. Plan a special day when you can experiment. I wonder if they got extra credit for actually using the condoms on school grounds.
SIECUS, a highly influential group that issues guidelines for comprehensive sex ed programs, recommends a list of X-rated Web sites that teens should visit for sexual health information. (You dont have to take my word on these sites being X-rated; just go to Scarleteen.com or gURL.com and browse through some of the pages.)
A good indication of what the sex-positive crowd has in mind is the incident at Chelmsford High School in Massachusetts, where the administration invited a sex-positive AIDS educator and activist to give a mandatory presentation.
I cant believe how many people came here to listen to someone talk about sex, instead of staying home and having it yourself, the educator, Suzi Landophi, told the teens.
Landophi invited students to demonstrate their orgasm faces for a camera and to lick condoms with her onstage. Her program included asking a female student to blow up a condom and place it on a male students head. According to a lawsuit against the school district, Landophi made 18 references to orgasms, six references to male genitals, and eight references to female genitals, and used profane, lewd and lascivious language to describe body parts.
What good is a condom on your head going to do?
American-style sexual health education is in a sorry state. Thats because, for many of the groups who design these programs, its not about health at all. Instead, they view sex ed as an opportunity to preach their personal views on abortion, contraception and gender issues to a captive audience of schoolchildren. Instead of having dispassionate doctors and medical organizations write the curricula, weve handed it over to activists with social and religious agendas.
And, considering our teen pregnancy and STI infection rates, schoolchildren are paying a heavy price for their politics.