Taking on your school’s abstinence only sex-ed culture is no easy task, but five graduates of Monroe County’s Mary Persons High School are advocating that their school provide a comprehensive sex-education curriculum.
The school’s current curricula — “Choosing The Best” — is strongly centered on abstinence until marriage, which leaves students without the tools they need to practice safer sex, whenever they choose to become sexually active.
This curriculum is funded by a local anti-abortion organization called the Pregnancy Center. Like many crisis pregnancy centers, this place engages in “options counseling” and offers information on “abortion procedures,” without making it clear that they are an explicitly anti-abortion organization anywhere on their website. CPCs often use deceptive tactics like this — presenting as an “all options” resource — to get folks dealing with unplanned pregnancies in the door, only to offer medically inaccurate information about abortions.
The Mary Persons alums are concerned that the materials do not provide fact-based information about the use of different forms of birth control, as well how to prevent STD transmission regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. Probably not an activity an anti-abortion center is really equipped to do.
“It’s just really sort of closed-minded of gender stereotypes and things that we don’t think are accurate or fact-based,” Sharon Kinsella told WMAZ-TV.
So she formed a group called Students for Comprehensive Sex-Education, along with four of her peers.
Abstinence only sex-ed relies on creating fear and shame around sex. For 9th and 10th graders, the Choosing the Best curriculum encourages:
“Teens learn about the negative emotional effects of sex before marriage and how abstinence provides freedom…After evaluating the options for themselves, students are given the opportunity to commit to abstinence until marriage.”
For some conservative Christians, that is certainly a message that lines up with their beliefs. But it does little to actually help the 95 percent — yes 95 percent — of Americans who will ultimately have sex before getting married, and need to make informed decisions about protecting their sexual health.
Students in the “Choosing the Best” program are taught that, really, abstinence is the only way to prevent pregnancy and “why “safe sex” does not completely eliminate their chance of getting an STD.”
The curriculum for older high schoolers is called Choosing the Best SOUL MATE, including a whole lesson dedicated to “Making Marriage Work.”
You can’t make this up.
Abstinence until marriage sex-ed programs have been shown to do little to delay teenager’s initiation of sex, nor do they reduce risky behaviors. On the other hand, providing information about safer sex does NOT increase sexual activity, but does arm teens with the tools and knowledge they need to engage in condom and birth control use, to prevent unplanned pregnancies and STD transmission.
NARAL sums it up quite well:
“Abstinence-only” programs can harm young people by putting them at risk of pregnancy and STDs. They fail to provide information about contraception beyond failure rates, and, in some cases, provide misinformation. Without complete and accurate information, some young people may forgo contraception use altogether. By denying adolescents such information and by censoring teachers, “abstinence-only” programs endanger the reproductive health of our youth.
Unfortunately, despite the well-documented findings about the value of comprehensive sex-ed, one Department of Public Health worker told WMAZ, “You made a lot of statements about kids who have comprehensive sex education are less likely to get pregnant. I haven’t seen that data. And so I would appreciate a reference on that.”
The student group is recommending the county use a curriculum called “Flash.” WMAZ reports:
“It would include abstinence as an option, and it would recognize that abstinence is the only 100% effective option to protect against unwanted pregnancies and STDs,” Lindsey Kinsella said. “It would also teach the safe way to go about not choosing abstinence.”
Here’s a snapshot of some of the “Choosing the Best” curriculum taught to 8th graders, courtesy of this thorough ThinkProgess article on sex-ed programs. Rather than being offered any factual information about how STD’s are spread, they use an exercise to focus on purity until marriage.
Serious kudos to these students and grads for taking on this harmful curriculum and advocating they actually get a respectful, comprehensive sex-ed program.