These false, ideologically-driven programs are turning out sexually illiterate young people whose lives and health are put in literal danger by “educators” handing out false information. All this, just so your teenager might be scared straight enough to forgo sex for a few extra months.
In the wake of a human rights complaint by a Canadian student and her mother, the Edmonton Public School board agreed last week not to use the curricula and program provided by the Edmonton Pregnancy Care Centre. The religious center is part of a large network of “crisis pregnancy centers” that aim to stop women from getting abortions, often through lying and bullying tactics.
According to student Emily Dawson, the abstinence instructor shamed students, refused to talk about the needs of the LGBTQ community, and gave out false information about contraception and single-parent homes.
"It was basically composed of false information about the effectiveness of condoms,and birth control and any form of contraceptive. When questions about LGBTQ were asked, they were immediately shot down with ‘we’re not here to talk about that,’" Dawson told CBC’s Radio Active.The teacher also told students that gonorrhea could kill you within three days and that girls should “watch what they wear” because boys don’t have self-control.
When Dawson’s mother complained, she was told her daughter could opt to write an essay – forgoing sexual education entirely – or fail the class. That’s when they moved forward with their complaint.
Students need sexual education that’s comprehensive, medically accurate, and free from shame and ideology. Not just because sexuality is an integral part of our humanity, but because when you withhold medical information about sexuality from children and teens, you are endangering health and lives. That some students today are actually learning less than their parents did in sex ed is a scandal. Do we really want our children to be less-informed than we were?
But that’s exactly what’s happening. Abstinence-only education programs in the US – over 80% of which were found by a 2004 congressional report to have “false, misleading or distorted” information – is still widely utilized and well-funded.
When I wrote The Purity Myth in 2009, I spoke to dozens of young women. One told me that in her ninth-grade class in Virginia, students were taught that it was illegal to have premarital sex – and that if they were caught, they could go to jail. Another woman in Florida outlined how her middle school teachers instructed abstinence: They showed the students a wrapped gift, and the girls were told they shouldn’t give their gift away until marriage. If students did give away “their gift”, it would be ruined, they were told. Teachers demonstrated this by sending the wrapped present around and having each student stomp on it.
Outside of the bizarre teaching methods, abstinence programs simply don’t work.
Some students who have had abstinence-only education or took virginity pledges will delay sexual activity by a few months, but given that these same young people are much less likely to use contraception, that extra time as an ill-informed virgin hardly seems worth forgoing a real sexual education.
Just ask Bristol Palin, the famous teen mom of Sarah Palin, who went through abstinence-only education and later called it "not realistic". Or the pregnant 17 year-old daughter of Republican congressman and Louisiana Senate candidate (and abstinence-education proponent) Bill Cassidy. Abstinence-only education didn’t help them abstain from sex, just from protected sex.
Dawson and her mother were right to report her religious sex-ed class as a human rights violation – because that’s exactly what it is. Teens – whether you like the idea of them having sex or not – deserve access to information that can keep them healthy and safe. Anything else is criminal.