Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sex Ed In Collin County Schools - Part 3

This is Part 3 of a 5 part series on the state of sexuality health education in Collin County based on the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund study, “Just Say Don’t kNOw” by Dr. David Wiley, Dr. Kelly Wilson and Ryan Valentine. A copy of the study can be found online at The series is researched and written by Linda Magid.

In Part 1 of our series, we gave an overview of the state of sex education in Texas. In Part 2, we looked at how the Texas Education Code deals with sexuality health and what is and isn’t covered in Allen, Frisco, McKinney and Plano ISD classrooms. In part 3 we turn to a frank discussion of the Factual Errors, Lies and Distortions about Condoms and STDs taught in these Collin County school districts.

Factual Errors, Lies and Distortions about Condoms and STDs

With one in four teenage girls in the U.S. diagnosed with having a sexually transmitted disease, national teen births on the rise and with chlamydia cases increasing 25% for teens in Collin County, one might assume educators are acting quickly to teach teens strategies for protection against STDs including information on condoms. Unfortunately, educators in Collin County are more interested in furthering their personal philosophy of abstinence rather than teen health.
[“CDC Reports One In Four Teenage Girls Has an STD,” redOrbit, March 11, 2008, "Bristol Palin and other teen moms: New trend setters?" Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 2009 and the Texas Department of State Health Services, TB/HIV/STD Epi and Surveillance report]
According to the study “Just Say Don’t kNOw,” two out of five secondary schools in Texas teach children “demonstrably incorrect information on sexuality education instruction.” (Wiley, Wilson and Valentine, pg. 17) 40.1% of Texas ISDs use materials that perpetuate at least one distortion about condoms and some use materials with multiple errors (Wiley, et al., pg. 18).

For example, Just Say Yes (used by Frisco ISD) is an abstinence speaker bureau based out of Dallas whose presenter, Howard Flaherty, tells students, “(the) lie suggests that if you hand out a condom to young people that you’re going to lower teen pregnancy and disease. Not true.” (Wiley, et al., pg. 18) He goes on to claim that giving a young person a condom does not give them the message of personal responsibility.

Abstinence-only programs offer condom failure rates that do not match the CDC failure rates, or distort statistics on the topic. For example, Scott & White Worth the Wait (used by Frisco ISD) says condoms fail 15% of the time. The publication does not include the information that condoms fail 15% of the time based on user error (opening the package with one’s teeth, for example). When used perfectly, condoms fail only 2% of the time. (Wiley, et al., pg. 19) If teens are taught the correct way to use a condom, the failure rate lowers significantly. However, none of these programs teach the proper use of a condom, which only perpetuates the myth that they are unreliable.

Choosing The Best Path (used by Allen ISD) uses a fill-in-the-blank worksheet whose answer states, “because latex condoms are made of rubber, they can break and slip-off.” (Wiley, et al., pg 20) This statement is wholly misleading. According to a study in Consumer Reports, “with correct use, a condom will break as little as 2 percent of the time, authorities believe, and will slip off as little as 1 percent of the time.” (Wiley, et al., pg. 20) Choosing the Best Path leaves students thinking slippage and breakage are due to latex, and so won’t trust condoms to work.

The Medical Institute (used by Plano ISD) informs students that “condom breakage and slippage is estimated to occur 1-4% of the time,” (Wiley, et al., pg. 20) another misleading statement. It does not distinguish between latex and non-latex condoms, which have very different breakage and slippage statistics. Also, medical experts do not recommend using non-latex condoms for STD prevention.

According to Wiley and Wilson, “much of the misguided propaganda against condoms…stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of risk reduction.” (Wiley, et al., pg. 20) The authors explain that abstinence-only proponents assume that because condoms do not offer 100% protection they are some how “inadequate” or “flawed.” Rather, condoms are a tool for risk reduction much like air bags or lap-shoulder belts in cars.
Air bag use reduces mortality by 63%, lap-shoulder belt use reduces mortality by 72%. Even though they don’t reduce risk 100 percent, safety laws mandate using them both. Condoms provide even better risk reduction but are dismissed to the detriment of our children.
The Sex Might Not Kill You but the STDs Will

Apparently, abstinence-only program designers see STDs as an opportunity to frighten teens into abstinence rather than an opportunity to inform. Contracting disease is scary and abstinence-only proponents use that fear to great effect.

WAIT Training (used by McKinney ISD) includes a handout that lists in three columns “High Risk, “At Risk” or “No Risk” behaviors regarding HIV/AIDS (Wiley, et al., pg. 21). The “High Risk” behaviors are accurate, but the “At Risk” behaviors are either misleading or clearly outdated. The “At Risk” list includes French Kissing – the CDC characterizes this behavior as “very low” risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. The column also includes the words “tears,” “sweat” and “saliva.” Contact with these bodily fluids has never been proven to result in transmission of HIV, as stated by the CDC.
By creating categories that do not accurately describe the risk of contracting HIV, WAIT Training authors get to make most sexual behavior risky, and scary.
HIV isn’t the only STD used to scare students into being abstinent: Human papillomavirus (HPV) “has emerged in recent years as a prime target for anti-condom activists who simultaneous trumpet its dire health consequences and question…the effectiveness of condoms in preventing it.” (Wiley, et al., pg. 22)

First, here’s what is true: HPV is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different strains or types. More than 30 of these are sexually transmitted. It can infect the genital area of men and women. Most people who get it don’t know and it clears up on its own. Because HPV is in the genital area, like the vulva or rectum, it is fair to say that HPV cannot be “entirely prevented” by condom use. To say that they “don’t work” or “provide little to no protection” is not accurate. (Wiley, et al., pg. 23)

So what do our students learn about HPV and STDs in general?
  • Aim for Success states in a slide presentation on HPV, “Condoms are ineffective!” and “Condoms – little to no benefit.” (Wiley, et al., pg. 22)
  • Wait Training states students “should be told that condoms do not appear to provide any protection from HPV, (which causes 99% of all cervical cancer).” (Wiley, et al., pg. 22)
  • WAIT Training tells teachers to inform students “that, when used every time, condoms at best only provide a 50% reduction in the transmission rates of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia.” A study in the June 2005 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that “consistent and correct condom use provide a 90% reduction in the risk of gonorrhea and 60% reduction in the risk of chlamydia infection.” (Wiley, et al., pg. 23)
  • Scott & White Worth the Wait tell students that pelvic inflammatory disease is “caused” by chlamydia and gonorrhea but in reality the STDs can lead to PID if they go untreated. The program does not inform students about getting tested for STDs, which could avert serious problems like PID. (Wiley, et al., pg.23)
A few “random” errors here or there shouldn’t make any difference, right? Consider that these errors are not random but selected with the sole purpose of frightening students into abstinence. As Wiley and Wilson put it, “putting the ethics of misleading students aside, providing false information deprives students of critical information they need to make informed wise choices – not just while they are in high school, but for their entire adult lives.” (Wiley, et al., pg. 23)

This year, Texas Freedom Network and Planned Parenthood came together to lobby for the Education Works! bill, which would have guaranteed schools teach medically accurate sexual health information. Unfortunately, the bill failed to pass. One hopes that it will not take a full-blown chlamydia epidemic in Collin County to convince adults that teens need the correct information, not fear, to keep them safe. With rates increasing each year, we might be headed in that direction if we don’t make change soon.
SIDEBAR: WHERE DO THESE QUESTIONABLE STATISTICS COME FROM? (pg. 22 of “Just Say Don’t kNOw,” by Dr. David Wiley, Dr. Kelly Wilson and Ryan Valentine)
The origin of many of these bogus claims can not be identified because so many of them are not sited. However, a number of those that are sited can be traced back to The Medical Institute, a pro-abstinence organization that promotes research that supports this point of view. Here is an example of how the Medical Institute (Plano ISD’s only abstinence-only supplemental program) distorts studies on sexual health to further it’s abstinence-only philosophy:

The claim that “condoms provide a 50 percent reduction in the transmission rates of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia” appears in several classroom materials including McKinney ISD’s WAIT Training. The organization came up with the 50% statistic from three legitimate studies: Kenyan prostitutes, Ugandans living in areas with high prevalence of HIV and patients who attended an urban sexually transmitted disease clinic.

No Collin County students fall into the demographic of these studies. All three of the studies based their findings on inconsistent use of condoms and all three studies declared that consistent use of condoms offers protection from STDs and should be encouraged. Yet, the most conservative finding of 50% protection is passed off as the “common” efficacy rate to our students. (pg. 22)

Click For Summary Of Teaching Materials Used In Each ISD

The Texas Democratic Women of Collin Co. Will Host Guest Speaker Kathy Miller, Pres. Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, At The Group's Meeting On Monday, July 27, 2009. Ms. Miller will talk about the Education Fund's year-long study on sexuality health education in Texas public schools. See the "Calendar Box" in the left sidebar of this blog for more details.

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