Sex Ed

Yeah, that got your attention, didn’t it?

A while back The Curmudgeon read an article in Mother Jones about sex education in a few states and thought there were interesting, entertaining, infuriating, and amusing ideas in it worth sharing.

So share he shall.

The article’s author starts with her own experience learning about sex as a high school student in Tennessee in 2004, where her

ninth-grade health teacher, a sarcastic guy in his 40s, opened class one day with a single statement: “Ladies, everything can be avoided if you’ll just keep your legs closed.”

Now that’s education.

...even educated fleas do it...

…even educated fleas do it…

She then reports that

…in 2012, Tennessee legislators passed a law that marked a new extreme, requiring anyone teaching sex ed to teach abstinence as the only legitimate option, and banning any discussion that could be perceived as encouragement of “gateway sexual activity.” Educators who crossed this murky line could face legal action.

So does abstinence education work?

A study in 2011 by researchers at the University of Georgia found that states that stressed abstinence had a roughly 25 percent higher rate of teen pregnancy than states that didn’t mention abstinence in their policies; a University of Washington study found that teens who went through comprehensive sex ed were 50 percent less likely to get pregnant than kids who had abstinence-only education.


…another study, published in the journal Pediatrics in 2009, showed that young people who took virginity pledges—a common practice in abstinence-only programs—were less likely to use protection when the time came.

So much for abstinence education, eh?

Maybe not. Even in the face of this research,

In 2012, Mississippi implemented a law that mandates either abstinence-only curricula or abstinence-plus curricula (which stresses abstinence but also teaches kids about contraception). In 2013, legislators in Ohio tried to pass a measure that looked a whole lot like Tennessee’s law. (In the end, it didn’t get enough support.) And last year, Texas—which is one of the most ardent abstinence states and has one of the nation’s highest teen pregnancy rates—took $3 million from the budget for HIV and STD prevention and reallocated it to abstinence ed.

Because those Texans are never going to allow undeniable proof that they’re going about something the wrong way to persuade them not to keep doing it the wrong way.

Tennessee has an interesting approach to deciding who needs sex education:

State law dictates that in counties where 20 or more young girls out of every 1,000 get pregnant, schools have to teach sex ed.

In that state, responsibility for providing sex education is farmed out to a group called Life Choices (once called “Right Choices”).

If Tennessee seems to have taken a wrong or at least strange turn in the provision of sex ed, a reasonable argument can be made that it was pushed in that direction by someone trying to push the envelope much, much too far:

The origins of Tennessee’s current sex ed law can be traced to early 2010, when a woman who was teaching AIDS prevention to high schoolers in Nashville demonstrated how to apply a condom—by rolling it onto a dildo using her mouth.

The outrage that resulted – understandably so – led to an amendment of the state’s constitution to say that nothing in that constitution protects a woman’s right to an abortion.

Because you know the anti-abortion folks are always looking for new ways to protect women from themselves.

When the state legislature considered an abstinence bill, it necessitated discussion and debate that left some legislators… uncomfortable:

Mike Turner, a Democrat from Nashville, stiffly joked, “Well, the bill itself gets pretty explicit. Matter of fact, when I read it the first time, I had to ask Representative Sargent for a cigarette before I got done reading it.”

And another:

John DeBerry Jr. waved his spectacles about as he voiced his approval of the bill and added, “Everybody in this room knows what gateway sexual activity is. Everybody knows that there’s certain buttons, when you push ’em—certain switches, when you turn ’em on—there’s no stopping, especially for undisciplined, untrained, untaught, and unraised children who just want affection from somebody or anybody.”

Apparently DeBerry and his merry men knew what buttons to push, too, and the bill passed easily.

Some of the information Life Choices shares with its students isn’t exactly accurate, though.

Hampton told the class that even though the media tells us that condoms can protect us from STDs, it isn’t completely true. She clicked to a slide that read, “Condoms fail 1 out of 3 times for HIV; fail 1 out of 4 times for pregnancy; do not protect against HPV/Herpes.” As each new slide went by, the kids’ expressions flashed between horror and fascination. One boy was so overwhelmed that he fainted.

Well, if any of that was true it might be faint-worthy, but it isn’t: condoms are 98-99 percent effective in preventing the transmission of HIV; they’re 85-90 percent effective in preventing pregnancy – but are 95-98 percent effective if they’re used the right way and every time; and are 97 percent effective in preventing STDs.

So it looks like those sex educators need some serious re-educating themselves, doesn’t it?

As for virginity pledges? It turns out that when teens take virginity pledges they stop paying attention to what they’re being told about how to protect themselves and are then less likely to use appropriate protection when they do have sex. That may help explain why the STD rates are soaring in parts of Tennessee.

So let’s summarize what these states are doing: they set a goal, they intentionally use misinformation in its pursuit, and when they see that it’s not working, they just keep on doing it.

Now that’s bad. And dumb.

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