The Sex Ed Hall of Shame (reprint from Salon.com)

In light of NYC’s mandate, we look at states with the worst policies when it comes to the birds and the bees
The sex ed hall of shame

iStockphoto/Salon

This week people were abuzz over news that New York City had mandated sex education — and some were simply scratching their heads at the realization that this wasn’t already the case. Seriously, it took this long?

Well, seriously, there are still 24 states that haven’t mandated sex education, including New York state.

That’s too many states to cover in any detail, so I’ll narrow it down to the worst of them. These are states that not only fail to mandate sex ed, but require that when it is taught, abstinence and the “importance of sex only within marriage” are stressed. These states make sure to defend “traditional” values, but they don’t protect scientific ones: Unlike some states, they don’t require that classes provide medically accurate information. Without further ado, the embarrassing eight that meet this criteria:

  • Alabama has “among the highest rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis of any state in the union,” according to youth advocate Amplify, and has the 15th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Another not-so-fun fact: It bans schools from teaching anything positive about homosexuality.
  • Arkansas has landed on some unfortunate top-ten lists: When it comes to STI rates among young people, it ranks 5th in terms of chlamydia, 7th for gonorrhea and 10th for syphilis. It also has the 8th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country.
  • Florida has the sad distinction of ranking 1st in HIV infections and 12th in teen pregnancies.
  • Indiana fares well in terms of teen pregnancy and STI rates — relatively speaking — but the state’s teens “are among the least likely to report having used condoms the last time they had sex,” according to Amplify.
  • Louisiana has the highest syphilis rate among young people in this country. It’s also in the top ten for both chlamydia and gonorrhea, and 11th in terms of teen HIV.
  • Missouri was given a “C” rating on teen health by Amplify — while most of the states on this list received closer to a “D” — but, still, “the state has higher than average rates of STIs and lower than average rates of condom use among sexually active high school students.”
  • Texas has several claims to sex-shame: It ranks 5th for teen pregnancy, 3rd in young people with AIDS and 4th in terms of syphilis among teens. A whopping 96 percent of Texas school districts teach abstinence only, according to a study by the Texas Freedom Network.
  • Virginia has the 8th highest syphilis rate among young people. While it’s seen a decline in unplanned pregnancies, a study found that between 1991 and 2004 teen births still cost taxpayers roughly $3.1 billion.

The good news is that there are 20 states, along with the District of Columbia, that currently mandate sex education. But that’s a very basic achievement — it says nothing of the requirements and restrictions that are made on curricula across the country. Guttmacher reports that “26 states require that abstinence be stressed” in sex ed classes; meanwhile only 19 states insist on any mention of contraceptives. And we wonder why the U.S. has the highest teen birth rate in the developed world.

Goodbye To Abstinence-Only Programs

Congress released the final FY 2010 appropriations bill Wednesday night, which eliminates traditional sources of funding for abstinence-only programs and instead provides funding for “a new evidence-based teenage pregnancy prevention initiative.” The bill calls for $114.5 million to be appropriated for the new programs, which will include age appropriate and medically accurate information on both contraception and abstinence, will be distributed through the new Office of Adolescent Health under the Department of Health and Human Services. A 2004 study by the House Committee on Government Reform, conducted at the request of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-30-CA) found that over 80% of the curricula used in the largest federally funded abstinence-only programs contained “false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health.”

Despite the elimination of abstinence-only funds, there is some criticism of the sex education funding as currently allocated. President and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, Joseph DiNorcia, Jr., said in a press release, “we do think that by focusing the funding on teen pregnancy prevention, and not including the equally important health issues of STDs and HIV, Congress has missed an opportunity to provide true, comprehensive sex education that promotes healthy behaviors and relationships for all young people.”

Source: Feminist Daily News

Talking About Sex

Want to know how to talk to your kids about sex? It’s very simple, really, any parent can do it: just tell your kids to wait. That’s it. Apparently that’s all they want to hear.

I love what Noble Savage has to say about a PSA on this topic put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Read it here: “Yes, you do need to talk about ‘the parts.'”

Like it? Here’s another Department of Health and Human Services video and a talk sheet for parents that you can find on a governmental web site for parents.

I can’t believe that our taxes are paying for this simplistic drivel.

And to shake things up a bit, here’s an alternative video. I’m not recommending it for Prime Time TV but it is more realistic.

Bush’s Legacy: Decrease in Teens’ Contraceptive Use

The abstinence-only programs that were promoted and funded by the Bush administration may have contributed to an unsettling decline in the use of contraceptives by teenagers. From 2003 to 2007 condom use has leveled off but contraceptive use across the board has decreased by 10%.  This is while the level of sexual activity has stayed the same. Not surprisingly, the teen birth rate increased by 5% from 2005 to 2007. [Source here.]

President Obama has decreased funding for abstinence-only programs in favor of comprehensive sex education. I say good for him. And I am a Christian. But I have never seen the wisdom in handicapping young men and women by ignoring the very real threats of pregnancy, AIDS and sexually-transmitted diseases. Teenagers are in a hurry to grow up, they are curious about sex (especially when it seems like the whole world is having it) and their sexual hormones are starting to kick into high gear.  The chances are that they are going to have sex sometime before they get married. To refuse to arm them with the information they need to make informed decisions seems to be both unwise and irresponsible. [quote]

There are ways of teaching our children about sex without encouraging it, just as there are ways to discourage sex without making it seem dirty or unpleasant. Abstinence-only sex education is like teaching a person to drive but neglecting to teach him how to drive defensively. There are ways to limit tragic consequences in both instances without relying on “just say no” slogans.

One weakness of the abstinence-only programs is the reasoning they follow. For one thing, they try to convince our teens that they are not mature enough for sex. They’re not mature enough to drive either, but we allow them to.  They also teach that sex outside of marriage is unsatisfying, but teens see evidence to the contrary everywhere they look.  And when we tell teens that they will become impure if they have sex, what kind of sexual problems are we setting them up for as they travel into adulthood and marriage? If they have engaged in sex, will they feel anything but guilt ever afterwards? And even if they haven’t. will they be able to make the transition from seeing sex as “bad” and sex as “good” when society finally gives them permission to engage in it?

Another criticism I have of abstinence-only programs is that they put the greatest part of the burden on our young women. They are to safeguard their virginity at a time when being popular often means giving it up. Boys are taught to abstain as well, but they aren’t expected to have the self-control that girls have. Along with these messages is the confusing one that children are a blessing from God, even if they don’t wait until marriage to have them. (Think of Bristol Palin as a trend-setter.)

I am glad that the Bush years are over, but I’m afraid that his legacy will continue for many of our teens whose parents and teachers are unwilling to face the facts, the same facts they don’t want their children to have access to.

Obama’s Courage: His Repeal of the Global Gag Rule

He may have done it quietly, but Obama did it: he reversed the “global gag rule,” otherwise known as the Mexico City policy (for the city in which it was first introduced in 1984, making it Reagan’s baby–no pun intended). Clinton repealed the gag rule in 1993, right after his inauguration, and Bush reinstated it right after his inauguration in 2001.

In the eight years since then, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) worldwide have been severely hampered in their attempts to educate people about family planning and to disseminate birth control. This is even if they never actually performed abortions, but only educated people about them. And even if they used their own funds, not federal funds from the U.S.; if they so much as uttered the word “abortion,” the U.S. withdrew its funding from them. Those organizations that continued to receive U.S. funds did so only by curtailing their services.

This has been going on for the past eight years! In that time, thousands of women and/or their babies have died in childbirth, and HIV has been on the rise (even the dissemination of condoms has been affected). The number of unwanted children world-wide has escalated. Apparently, it’s okay to bring misery into countless lives in order to prevent abortions and abortion counseling from being made widely available.

What gets me is that Reagan had the gall to announce the Mexico City policy at the United Nations International Conference on Population! As if to say: we need more people in this world, more infant and maternal mortality and more sexually transmitted diseases. Somehow I don’t think that was the conference’s intention. The United States’ position was a slap in the face for the United Nations, saying, in effect, we refuse to cooperate with the rest of the world in controlling world population growth, death and disease. The wealthiest nation in the world (for now anyway), stingily withdrew its support if the rest of the world didn’t measure up to its moral standards. And what really gets me is that those standards are not even held by the majority of the people in the U.S.! (See “Abortion in the United States” on Wikipedia.)

Obama may have done it on the Q.T., but at least he did it. Of course, I realize that this gives pro-lifers all kinds of grist for their mill. But it had to be done, if only to demonstrate the good will that the U.S. holds for the world and for the health and better quality of life of the people in it. The point that the pro-life movement doesn’t seem to get is that withholding assistance to programs that perform and counsel about abortion does not mean that there will be a vast reduction in the number of abortions. Abortions will still be performed, just as they were before Roe v.Wade in this country, but they will not be safe and, indeed, will often lead to the death or sterility of the women undergoing them.

Obama’s action is a first step in his program to make abortion less of an issue, not by sweeping it under the rug as so many liberals seem to do, but by confronting it head-on. If it is clear that the federal government holds abortion to be an inviolable right, then the pro-lifers will have to spend their energies elsewhere. They might even start caring for the women who have to make this decision and for the children who are brought into this world. Imagine that.

What Did I Tell My Daughters About Sex?

There was no such term as “safe sex” when I was becoming sexually active. The slogan “Make love, not war” was as much pro-free love as it was anti-war and both sentiments were wildly popular among the under-30 crowd. The Pill was emancipating women from all walks of life and social mores against unmarried sex were loosening. Abortion became legal nationwide in 1973, giving women even more control over their bodies. Sex was a wide-open territory.

I had my first child in 1973. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but my daughter was going to inherit the legacy of the ’60s. Sex free from unwanted pregnancy and access to abortion were going to make her life better than even mine had been. But not long after the youngest of my four daughters was born in 1980, the first mentions of AIDS were appearing nationally. My daughters’ sex lives were not going to be so free and easy after all.

I had never been entirely comfortable with the idea of casual sex–thanks to a rather puritanical upbringing, I suppose–but now it became imperative to teach my daughters that all sex, but especially casual sex, could be dangerous. How do you teach your daughters that and at the same time lay the foundation for an enjoyable sex life? It seemed that we were returning to the mores of earlier generations: sex was a necessary evil, necessary because men wanted it and it was required to make babies, and evil because it could debauch a woman’s reputation and even kill her. (In ages past, when so many women died in childbirth or from too-frequent pregnancies, sex certainly could kill; we didn’t need AIDS for that.)

My first step was to encourage my children to ask whatever questions they wanted from a very early age. I made no distinction between questions like “Why is the sky blue?” to “Where do babies come from?” I didn’t preach. I did choke occasionally, like when one of my daughters, then aged six, asked me “Why do they say that AIDS is a homosexual disease?” I wasn’t expecting that one.

When asked, I told them my views on abortion. I told them that I had had one when I was 19, but that it wasn’t something to be taken lightly and that it was far better to not put yourself in the position where you would have to make that decision. So far my oldest daughter has opted for having and keeping her baby even though she wasn’t married; she says she would never have an abortion. One of my other daughters, however, recently made the painful decision to have an abortion; it was the only one she could live with when she took into consideration her financial and emotional resources. I ache for her, but respect her decision. She was the only one who could make it, but she did have both advice and support as she went through it.

I am a bit of a prude when it comes to talking about sex. My daughters are the total opposite, and they will talk about anything and everything to, or in front of, me. I swallow my embarrassment and keep my mouth shut. I do not show shock or disapproval. They all have reported to me that they like sex, which is more than I can say for myself sometimes. At least two of them have taken it upon themselves to be tested for AIDS. Thankfully, they tested negative. So far so good.

Did I do enough? More importantly, is my job over? My answer is no, to both those questions. I probably didn’t encourage enough openness, because of my own hang-ups about sex. But I have never felt comfortable quizzing them about their sex lives. I feel that my job is to be here if they have questions or problems, but not to preach to them.

I do think that I fell down on the job when it came to talking about sexual molestation and rape. When they were children, I told them about not letting anyone touch them inappropriately and to tell me if anything like that ever happened. When they were older I told them that they always had the right to say no, but that a man might not always accept that, so they should be careful what kind of sexual situations that they got themselves into. I was more careful to tell them about sexual harassment and that they had the legal and moral right to stand up against it. But I didn’t ask enough questions in order to gauge how they were doing in these areas. I should have done more to draw them out.

And yet, like all young women, they have managed to navigate the rocky waters of sex and intimacy. I did the best I could for them at the time. It was more than my mother did for me. Hopefully, they will be wiser and even more open with their own children. For now, it is enough for me that they are safe.