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February 06, 2004
For Girls Only

Just in case there wasn't already enough insanity for you to worry about, I was listening to NPR again last night and heard a story about an "abstinence only" sex education program in Texas.

The part that sticks in my mind is that the presenter of this one school "abstinence" session had a pretty extreme scare story to use to open her presentation.

It seems there was this girl who had pre-marital sex. She got chlamydia which, in some way the presenter, or at least the program's coverage of the presentation didn't bother to explain, caused her to get cancer and she wound up sterile.

I kid you not, the risk of getting cancer was one of the main points the presenter was using to convince girls not to have premarital sex. She also explained to the boys that they weren't at the same risk, but that they were capable of being 'carriers' and infecting everyone they came into contact with. That, in short, their penises could kill.

What the hell kind of message is this to send to kids already a little freaked by the changes in their bodies?

I'm dismayed that the presenter didn't bother to explain that the girl in the horror story clearly had no access to a trusted health care professional and that the absence of treatment for this relatively common and curable condition is what caused the horrific complications.

And by the fact that the presenter stressed that condoms don't eliminate any of the risks of sex...without pointing out that they can cut most risks by about 98%.

It was a fundamentally dishonest approach, even when I weigh the comparative youth of the audience against the material they were seeing.

Mind you, this was a presentation to, if I remember correctly, 12-13 year-old kids, and I think encouraging them to abstinence is a good idea because I don't care how mature they think they are, 12 year-olds really shouldn't be having sex, but I'm appalled that they're trying to terrify 12 year-old girls with the idea that having sex can give you cancer.

(I'm unaware of any scientific documentation on the subject of untreated chlamydia leading to the development of cancer, but let's let that pass. There's a lot of disagreement on exactly what "science" is these days and I'm grateful at least that the presenter wasn't using hellfire and damnation religious mania to try and scare the kids.)

I am also angered by the mindset in this society that thinks making people afraid of sex is not only okay, it's preferable to the alternative. (The alternative being that this society develop a healthier relationship to sex as a whole, making it actually possible for people like, let's say, parents to sit down and discuss sex and its complications, both emotional and physical, with their children openly and honestly. Children are lured by the forbidden. As long as Janet's boob flash is more shocking than blood streaming from the face of a hockey player on national television, children will be inured to the idea of violence and fascinated by the idea of sex.)

This is what I don't like about the conservative (small 'c') approach, okay? If something isn't working (the way sex education has been taught in schools for the past couple of decades, for instance), then they don't want to think of something new to try. They want to go back to what wasn't working before the current plan and that's just stupid.

People, including kids, have been having sex inside, outside, upside, and downside of marriage since three seconds after the comparatively recent moment when marriage was invented. Telling them not to hasn't worked for the last ten thousand years, so what makes anyone think telling them not to is suddenly going to start working today?


Posted by AnneZook at 12:30 PM


I listened to the story and was really struck by the truth expressed by the principal of the school: if we tried telling the whole truth, including the facts about condums, parents would be attacking us for promoting sex. The only program that is politically acceptable is the abstinence program.

This has a minimum to do with sex education and a maximum do to with legal and political problems for the school districts.

The NPR commentator [?Wade Goodwin?] gave us reality at the end talking to the kids - they are not going to abstain.

Posted by: Bryan at February 6, 2004 01:23 PM

Thanks for mentioning that.

I had almost forgotten they pointed out that the 'abstinence' program was allowed to speak more plainly, to deal more openly with everything because you can say anything to kids, or show them any kind of pictures at all, in the context of 'just say no.'

Except, of course, for any advice about what to do when you don't say no. No advice given about how to find a health care professional or to talk to a school authority or even how to talk to your parents.

Right now in Texas, there's a girl who didn't say no and who is dying by inches wondering when she's going to get cancer. And she doesn't have anyone to talk to.

(I missed part of the story. I may go over to the NPR site and listen to the streaming audio of it this weekend.)

Posted by: Anne at February 6, 2004 02:15 PM

I was working in California before returning to the Florida Panhandle. In both areas, if you wanted inexpensive/free pre-natal care you had to go to a family planning clinic. Of course all of the family planning clinics were under attack by the anti-abortion people, so most young women were afraid to go near them.

The county health departments are overburdened with uninsured people that you can't get an appointment until the problem is critical.

We have entered the 21st century with 19th century health care system.

Posted by: Bryan at February 6, 2004 07:17 PM

I heard that story too I think. I'm not upset about linking sex to cancer because I thought that the HPV does lead to increased risk of cervical cancer. Anyway, I think that sex ed classes should explain all the diseases that are spread by sexual contact instead of focusing on HIV/AIDS and pregnancy, which kids don't think will happen to them. Go down the list of the more easily transmitted diseases (some incurable) with them calmly and honestly and I think they'll think twice. At the very least they'll be better informed. And since they are watching consequence-free sex nearly all the time on television, they should know the not so pleasant facts as well before they make any decisions.

Have you seen that scene in Clueless where Cher is asked about having sex? She says something like - 'You've seen how picky I am about my shoes, right? And they go on my feet!' More kids should know why that's funny.

Posted by: eRobin at February 8, 2004 03:39 PM

eRobin - A big part of the problem with explaining all of the risks, openly and honestly, is that (as Bryan was reminding me) regular sex-education classes, the type to, you know, educate without an agenda, aren't allowed to talk about those things.

Posted by: Anne at February 9, 2004 11:12 AM