The news about this latest campaign to promote abstinence-only education has sent me into the fetal position.

Proponents of sex education programs that focus on encouraging abstinence are launching a nationwide campaign aimed at enlisting 1 million parents to support the controversial approach.

The National Abstinence Education Association, a Washington-based advocacy group, said that it sent e-mails last week to about 30,000 supporters, practitioners and parents to try to recruit participants and plans to e-mail 100,000 this week as part of the first phase of the $1 million campaign.

The e-mail is promoting the Parents for Truth campaign, which the group hopes will eventually involve 1 million parents nationwide to lobby local schools to adopt sex education programs focusing on abstinence and to work to elect local, state and national officials who support the approach.

“There are powerful special interest groups who can far outspend what parents can in terms of promoting their agenda. But we recognize that parents more than make up for that by their determination and motivation to protect their own children,” said Valerie Huber, the group’s executive director.

Yeah, right. It’s funded with all of the millions of dollars that Planned Parenthood makes from providing abortions.

This video is being used to promote the campaign. Honestly, the first time I watched it, I laughed my ass off at the way that the information supposedly being taught in these comprehensive sex education classes is being misconstrued. (And please — like most comprehensive sex ed classes go into nearly this much detail. I call bullshit.) The materials aren’t actually encouraging kids to shower together — they provide a list of sexual activities and use a coding system to identify the risk of pregnancy and STDs present in each one. In other words, they’re providing kids options and acknowledging that sex isn’t all penises in vaginas, with no alternatives for closeness or gratification. I’m pretty positive that stuff about condoms isn’t as much about teaching kids role-playing games (I somehow doubt that there are instructions on safely engaging in BDSM) as it is presenting condoms as a normal part of sexual experience, that doesn’t ruin sex but is in itself erotic. It’s also about broaching the subject of protection in a way that isn’t embarrassing, is playful and sexy, feels less awkward and ensures that sexual partners are prepared, rather than expecting the other person to take care of it. People may disagree on whether or not they like condoms, but I don’t honestly see how anyone could view the normalization of condoms as a negative message.

Of course, I am making some inferences here, since the woman in the video is too “embarrassed” to read from the curriculum and say what’s actually in there. I could figure out the list part from watching the clip in the video, seeing the book on the screen and using my awesome powers of logic. I’m assuming the condom part because of my knowledge of how comprehensive sex education actually works, having researched and worked directly with the topic a fair amount. These folks are really good at taking stuff out of context. For example, here’s a list of what Parents for Truth “found” in comprehenisve sex education:

The study revealed startling components of the “comprehensive” curricula that taught teens as young as 13 lessons that include:

  • Advocating showering together as a no-risk activity
  • Promoting methods for sexual stimulation
  • Conducting role-plays on how to help a partner maintain an erection
  • Describing how to eroticize condom use with a partner
  • Suggesting teens wear “shades” or disguises when shopping for condoms so parents and adults won’t recognize them

Of course, what this means is that they’re teaching kids how sex actually works, rather than leaving them in the dark. As someone who was left in the dark, didn’t know jack shit about sex and had that lack of knowledge exploited by a sexually violent boyfriend, I’m personally failing to see the downside here. I’ve covered the shower and eroticized condom use bit. The last point is merely teaching kids to not be so ashamed, embarrassed or afraid of their parents that they put their very health at risk — something I’m also struggling to see negatively. As for the bit about helping partner’s maintain erections? Like I said, the source material isn’t provided here — so I’m going to make a guess that this was a bit of vital information for boys and straight girls that penises malfunction, particularly when nervous, it doesn’t mean that there is something “wrong” with you (or for the other partner, that you’re not attractive), and there are things you can do to help prevent it in some cases. I know, scary, radical stuff. Also, saying that the information was found in courses designed for teens as young as 13 doesn’t mean that all of this is necessarily in curriculum designed for 13-year-olds. Nice syntactical trick, though.

And in contrast to this super-scary presentation of comprehensive sex education curriculum, a lot of the stuff found in abstinence-only sex education sounds great!:

  • Identifying healthy relationships
  • Avoiding or getting out of dangerous, unhealthy, or abusive relationships
  • Developing skills to make good decisions
  • Setting goals for the future and taking realistic steps to reach them
  • Understanding and avoiding STDs
  • Information about contraceptives and their effectiveness against pregnancy and STDs
  • Practical ways to avoid inappropriate sexual advances
  • Why abstinence until marriage is optimal

Well golly, I can get behind all of those points except the last two. (The second to last point seems rather innocuous on the face of it, but makes me feel queasy and sets off my slut-shaming, victim-blaming, “women shouldn’t have fun or they’ll get raped” radar.)

Of course, knowing that I shouldn’t trust anything these folks say without some kind of verification, I decided to see if I could find info on what they actually want to be taught. I couldn’t find copies of curriculum or suggestions of curriculum on their site (they may be there, but the places they appeared most likely to be were mysteriously only for those who have paid the $30 fee to join the wingnut cause). But I did find this handy guide to talking to your kids about sex and healthy relationships on their website (pdf). (This is just way too amusing to not point out. I recognized the unfortunate girl in the photograph on page three immediately. Because she’s on the website partially run by Planned Parenthoods of NY State to promote a bill that would grant additional funding for comprehensive sex ed. No joke. But hilarious.)

So where is all that stuff about healthy relationships, how to form them, recognize warning signs and get out? Well, gay, lesbian, bi and trans people sure as hell don’t exist in these materials, and neither does any real discussion of consent, but lo, there is a section on healthy relationships. Here it is, in its entirety.

When teenagers worry about sex, they are often really worrying about relationships. When you talk about sex, also talk about relationships. Help your teen build healthy relationships with their friends—boys and girls.

  • Teach your teen that healthy relationships are based on respect, caring, trust, and desire
    to help each other grow. Explain how early sexual activity can get in the way of their growth as a teen and young man or woman.
  • Teach them to show affection without having sex.
  • Encourage your teen to choose friends who have the same values as your family.
  • Help your teen know that violence is never a part of a healthy relationship.

Healthy relationships do not just happen. They require effort. Healthy relationships, whether between friends, romantic partners, or family members, promote positive, healthy behaviors. They are built on trust and are founded on common goals and interests. They encourage and enable both people to grow and progress.

Well god, where do I sign up to have kids taught this kind of comprehensive information? Through the Vague and Useless Foundation?

See, I make jokes. I read this shit and laugh. I mentioned laughing at the propaganda video they’re promoting. I did laugh. But in the first sentence of the post, I also mentioned curling into the fetal position. Because I started to realize: oh crap, this stuff is pretty good. It’s fairly convincing. Much more sophisticated than the True Love Waits people, in my opinion. And look at all the fake sex-positive language in that “how to talk to your kids” package. Essentially, it’s trying to trick parents into thinking that they’re doing the right thing while in fact failing to provide their kids with the tools they need to stay sexually healthy.

By the way? Those particular materials were created by our government. No, really. Our tax dollars paid to make a discriminatory guide which advises parents to suggest their teen give their significant other a card rather than have sex. Proud to be an American yet?

The question I always like to ask is this one: why on earth would you want your kid to have an ungratifying sex life filled with embarrassment and confusion? Granted, I don’t have kids. And I can only imagine that parents don’t want to think about their sexual pleasure — I don’t want to think about my family members getting it on, either. But chances are extraordinarily good that they’re going to do it someday. Sexuality is such an important part of so many people’s lives, a good part. Why the hell do you want to take that from your kid?

Honestly, I don’t think that most parents do. There are definitely some nuts out there who really do want to control their kids’ sexuality. Most of them, though, just seem to (confoundingly) not consider that messages about sex being shameful and ruining might somehow carry over into adulthood. Or, they think, “well no one taught me this stuff, and I turned out fine.”

That may be the case, but really, folks: how much easier would your early sex life have been if you’d actually been taught about sex? Women, how much pain and frustration could you have been spared by being told the benefits of lubricant from the very beginning, and that it’s perfectly normal to need it for comfortable intercourse or clitoral stimulation? Guys, how much embarrassment and anxiety could you have avoided if taught that things like erection loss and premature ejaculation suck, but are common particularly for the sexually inexperienced? How many people out there were too embarrassed to use condoms and later got to regret it? Yeah, most of us lived to tell the tale. And a lot of the time, figuring out sex can be fun. But the stuff I just listed is not. If we can keep teens today from suffering a lot of that same anxiety and risk of medical problems and abuse . . . shouldn’t we?

The other part that disturbs me is the abstinence-only brigade’s insistence on conflating all sexual activity. They’re going after comprehensive sex ed supporters for defining different types of sexual activity, particularly forms of outercourse. To the abstinence-only folks, sex is sex is sex. And yeah, I agree that outercourse is sex. But I always get the impression from these kinds of lessons that if you’re engaging in one type of sexual activity, you might as well do it all. How exactly is it protecting teens to treat oral sex as though it has the same risks as vaginal or anal sex? Granted, most straight teens won’t have oral sex before they have vaginal intercourse, but it seems to me that this shouldn’t necessarily be considered a good thing — and it certainly shouldn’t be taken as a reason to just not talk about oral sex, exaggerate the risk, or even mention the possibility of STD protection.

The fact is, most teens don’t have their first make-out session and intercourse at the same time (and those cases I’ve heard of have always been rape). But these abstinence materials seem to give teens absolutely none of the tools they need to set boundaries. Most of us know how quickly kissing can turn to fondling, and so on. To the abstinence-only folks, that seems to be a reason to tell teens avoid any kind of sexual contact whatsoever, rather than teach them about how to make choices on what they do and don’t want to do in advance, making sure that they have a partner who respects their boundaries, and being able to practice self-control. Yet again, this lack of skills can lead to exploitation and assault and plays into the idea that once you consent to some acts, you’ve consented to everything.

In my view, this sure as hell isn’t protection.

I’ll leave you with this: “a success story” on the Parents for Truth website talks about a parent who found out about the sex education taking place at her son’s high school, and decided to put a stop to it, goddammit. Here is some of the appalling — and since it’s what they chose to print, one would assume the most appalling — curriculum that was being taught. Brace yourself.

  • Though the school said the program “stresses abstinence” according to state law, it focused primarily on the “failure rate” of abstinence, suggesting students would eventually become sexually active and therefore emphasized the need to become more sexually sophisticated.
  • 14 year-olds were being taught that a positive, healthy sex life was possible by using proper protection, by asking their partner for permission for sexual favors and by visiting the local clinic for guidance.
  • There was also a very strong emphasis on normalizing alternative sexual lifestyles and practices.

Wait wait wait. I had to read that twice. You mean that the school acknowledged that all but an extraordinarily tiny percentage of all people will have sexual contact in their lifetimes? That they treated gay people like human beings? Even worse, they taught 14-year-olds that sex should be had only with protection, that they should ask for consent before sexual activity to avoid raping someone, and worst of all, suggested that students who have health questions or concerns go to a licensed medical professional? How DARE these monsters indoctrinate teenagers with medical facts and go behind their parents’ backs with messages about bigotry and sexual assault being wrong?

Seriously, folks, take a look at what they’re complaining about. If these people had any marbles to begin with, they’re long gone now. Any rational, logical person can call bullshit on this

In which case, I ask: how long do you think it will take to get their one million American parental signatures? One week or two?

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{ 11 comments }

1 lepidopteryx June 4, 2008 at 1:46 pm

Cripes. Thank the gods I didn’t count on the government-produced programs to teach my daughter about her body.
From the time she was old enough to form questions, she got answers. From me, and later from an OWL program at our UU church.

I got “Wait until you’re married. No dencet man will want to marry you if you’re damaged goods.”

Did she become sexually active earlier than I would have liked? Yes.
I also became sexually active at an earlier age than my parents would have liked.

Did she talk to me about the decision she and her boyfriend had made? Yes.
I didn’t talk to my parents about it until the cops caught me and the guy in a park.

Was it a decision made in haste due to pressure? No.
My decision wasn’t one of pressure from the guy, but a desier to not be the last virgin at my high school, and to “prove” to everyone that I wasn’t a lesbian by ahving sex with a guy.

Did they use condoms? Yes.
I did have sense enough to know we needed to use a condom, but was afraid to buy them, so I made sure he bought them.

Did she become promiscuous? No.
I did to an extent during college.

Did having sex with one boy ruin her ability to form a healthy relationship with another boy later? No.
I didn’t know what constituted a healthy relationship.

Other than the fact that I would have preferred that she had been a little older, she has made carefully considered, well thought out, deliberate decisions about her sex life, and I don’t think that would have happened if her sex ed had consisted of “good girls don’t.” That message sure as hell didn’t help me any.

2 Sarah June 4, 2008 at 1:54 pm

I’m sure I should have something intelligent to say here, but it is being blocked by the blinding rage caused by this kind of idiocy. As Donna Martin once articulated, not teaching your kids about sex is like having a pool and not teaching them how to swim. Or something equally cheesy and simplistic, but also totally right on.

3 Izzy June 4, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Cara, this post gave me the giggles the whole way through. Thank you very much for that because, otherwise, I’d be horribly upset that there are grown adults that believe this crap. Think about it: we let these people vote and even give them driver’s licenses.
I really worry about the kids of these families. They probably have some of the most warped ideas of sexuality ever.

4 Cara June 4, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Hooray! It always makes my day when someone actually thinks I’m funny :)

5 Renee June 4, 2008 at 3:03 pm

Reading things like this confirm my belief that my childs sex education will happen at home. I have answered all of my sons questions openly and honestly. When I don’t know the answer we look it up together. By not informing their children about sex properly they are leaving them open to all kinds of risks. Whatever decisions my child makes when it comes to sex at least they will be informed decisions.

6 Genevieve June 5, 2008 at 4:50 pm

I think the thing that bugs me the most is how they want to treat queer people as if they don’t exist, when probably about 10% of the people being taught this tripe are queer. I’m bisexual–no one ever told me that this was okay in any sex ed I had, and so it was very weird after having gone through high school thinking I was exclusively attracted to men developing feelings for women as well. Kids need to be taught it’s okay to have feelings for either or both sexes.

7 Mortality June 6, 2008 at 12:49 pm

I was going to leave a comment, but it became so long I posted something over at my own blog. (The link I left as my website

8 Lyndsay June 6, 2008 at 7:51 pm

The lubrication thing would’ve been nice to know. I figured people had sex in the past without it so why couldn’t we but yeah, after some advice from a friend I bought some. The experience of all this was fine in the end for me but it made me wonder about girls who have not nice (or worse) boyfriends for their first time or who never have anyone tell them they should use lubrication and it’s natural. I wonder what girls’/women’s first sexual experiences are like sometimes. What do they wish they’d been told? Why don’t we design sex ed with the students needs and desires in mind?

9 SunlessNick June 11, 2008 at 8:25 am

Did she become sexually active earlier than I would have liked? Yes.
I also became sexually active at an earlier age than my parents would have liked.

All kids do become sexually active at an ealier age than their parents would like. Just as all parents become sexually inactive at a later age than their kids would like. (Ok, not literally “all” in either case, but every generation likes to think it’s the only one having sex).

10% of the people being taught this tripe are queer. I’m bisexual–no one ever told me that this was okay in any sex ed I had

And some of us are asexual, another disappeared group (albeit usually from genuine ignorance rather than the bigotry gays and bisexuals have to face).

10 Nyx June 20, 2008 at 11:24 am

I was expected to practice total abstinence – even though my mother told me my parents had had sex before they got married, and even though (by the birth dates of my oldest uncles) I figured out both sets of grandparents had as well.

I don’t need to go into all the details of my upbringing, it is sufficient to say that my parents are on the wingnut side of things.

I didn’t even get any sex ed during high school – such things being relegated to Health 2, a class rarely taken.

Most teens don’t have their first make-out session and intercourse at the same time (and those cases I’ve heard of have always been rape).

I just wanted to let you know, Cara, that this can in fact happen. My first kiss was with my current partner, and happened on the same night as our first sex session.

11 brenna June 21, 2008 at 7:38 pm

Tie this in with the parents who patently refuse to get their daughters vaccinated for HPV and you see the reality. They care more about their own twisted morality than they do about the health and safety of their children. They really, really will tell their daughters that they were raped because they acted like sluts.

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