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Monday, January 12, 2009

More Work to Do: End Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

Carmen Toft, South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families organizer, reviews curriculum in the Huron High School health classroom.
Don't mistake the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families' press conference last week for triumphalism. Far from it: they know there's still plenty of work to do to promote healthy families through sensible, science-based legislation and curriculum.

I got a reminder of that Saturday while judging the Central Forensics Conference tournament in Huron. In the health classroom, I happened to notice a big orange poster offering "101 Reasons to Be Abstinent." Setting off the irony meter:
  • We were in this classroom to judge the Humor final.
  • One of my fellow judges was Carmen Toft, one of SDCHF's organizers.
Providing anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of the message, the students present generally chuckled at the poster. One young woman asked if she could pitch her script and simply read the poster for her humorous selection. (There are some readers theater possibilities.)

The poster does carry some blatant sexism, citing as one reason to say no to nookie, "Don't have to shave your legs all the time."

I don't get it. I engage in non-abstinent behavior, and I don't have to shave my legs. Neither does my wife.

I'll admit that there's nothing inherently wrong with many of the suggestions on this poster. Save money on condoms, avoid gonorrhea... can't argue with that. But when this is the only message kids get—when birth control is portrayed as nothing but a burden, on a par with sexually transmitted diseases—we're leaving our kids ill-equipped to face all the decisions that will come their way.

I guarantee that Madville Times Jr. will get a heavy dose of encouragement toward abstinence from her father (as will any young men who presume to be worthy of her time and attention). But she'll also know all about condoms, the pill, and all the other ways to control her reproductive capacity. (Her mother may also add judo to that list—watch out, fellas.) We know abstinence-only education doesn't work. We hope President-Elect Obama remembers his past votes for better sex ed and puts the Abstinence Clearinghouse and other purveyors of bad science on the chopping block.


  1. Why are we teaching sex ed anything in our public schools?

    Shouldn't sex ed be taught in the home?

    Why should I let liberal "abstinence only" views be taught to my children?

  2. Abstinence by itself is a pipe-dream. The surveys tell you how many young teens and twenty-somethings are having sex. As responsible adults and parents, we need to make sure our children have every possible tool to avoid STD's and unwanted pregnancy. The dream is that your child isn't sexually active, but the reality is that most are. Teach them young, be informative as they mature and make "sex" a normal family conversation just like the basketball game. Then you kids will make choices that mirror your wishes and they'll learn to honor their body and protect it.

  3. Thanks so much for this post Cory.

    It's also very interesting that the report just came out saying the STD rate in South Dakota rose in 2008.

    Hmmmm... coincidence?

    We need to prepare our children for the real world... and even if abstinence is part of that message... we need to be smart enough to know that our children may not always do what we tell them is best for them... so they need to be prepared to protect themselves.

  4. I don't think telling kids about birth control and ways to protect themselves is a bad thing, but I also think there should be a liberal sprinkling of why abstinence is so important.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with teaching kids to "Just Say No" to sex before marriage. But I think there should be some common sense in the whole sex ed curriculum.

    The idea "They're going to do it anyway" is ridiculous and says to me "Why even try?" Even the most reliable of birth control can fail sometimes; why not encourage kids to work to keep their hormones in check until they're mature enough to handle something like sex?

  5. In today's info-friendly world I was able to do a search and look at the poster, and you must admit Cory number 18 is pretty important: more time to spend online. As much as I like your blog, nothing can quite compare, although my memory is fading.


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