Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sex Ed In Collin County Schools - Part 4

This is Part 4 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 turned to a frank discussion of the Factual Errors, Lies and Distortions about Condoms and STDs taught in these Collin County school districts. In part 4 we cover how abstinence-only programs base their educational philosophy on fear and shame about sex.

Shaming and Fear-Based Instruction

Abstinence-only programs apparently base their educational philosophy on fear: if teens are scared enough, they’ll remain abstinent until marriage. Research contradicts this assumption and proves teens see right through the manipulation efforts.
“…if both the perceived risks of sex and the perceived efficacy of prevention strategies are high, individuals are more likely to adopt preventive behaviors. However, when perceived risk is high but expectations about the effectiveness of prevention are low, individuals are likely to dismiss the risk message as propaganda.” (“Just Say Don’t kNOw” Wiley, Wilson and Valentine, pg. 27)
In other words, teens are likely shrugging off the shrill message of fear when it is followed by only one solution, in this case abstinence. Teens can sense when they are being “sold” on something and suspicious of not getting the full story. Based on the number of teens having sex in Texas (link to other article), teens are clearly rejecting the abstinence-only fear message.

Selling fear doesn’t end with topics like STDs or condoms. Abstinence-only organizations have turned sex itself into something of which to be to be afraid and ashamed. This use of fear and shame has serious consequences:
“Presenting students with negative and shameful information about sexuality can implicitly discourage questions about healthy sexuality, relationships, methods of protection, STD testing, sexual abuse and other important topics. This often means students feel too guilty, shamed or embarrassed to talk to trusted adults or to seek medical advice if they do engage in sexual behavior.” (Wiley, et. al., p. 27)
This fear message is sold to students here in Collin County. For example, programs used in three of our four largest ISDs claim the following conditions are “caused” by premarital sex (Wiley, et. al., pg. 28):
  • Suicide (WAIT Training – McKinney ISD, Scott & White Worth the Wait – Frisco ISD)
  • Divorce (Scott & White Worth the Wait – Frisco ISD)
  • Depression (Scott & White Worth the Wait – Frisco ISD)
  • Low Self Esteem (Choosing the Best – McKinney ISD, Allen ISD)
According to Worth the Wait, the world rests on the teens’ abstinent shoulders: “teenage sexual activity can create a multitude of medical, legal and economic problems not only for individuals having sex but for society as a whole.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 28)

With this kind of perspective on premarital sex, the leap to shaming those students who choose to have sex is short. Often materials portray those who are not married and engaging in sexual behavior as “‘unhappy’ individuals with low self-esteem and universally poor judgment.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 30)

In contrast, those who abstain are presented as morally superior and infused with excellent judgment. WAIT Training (McKinney ISD) “suggests that young people who are not sexually active have the ‘ability’ to develop their self-control and create a value system.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 30) This implies that teens who choose to have sex don’t have this ability.

Programs enlist shame to manipulate students when discussing relationships as well. Real Options for Women (used by Frisco ISD) uses clear tape in an exercise to symbolize virginity. Students are instructed to place the tape on their arm. According to the program, “the tape demonstrates how easy it is to pass on STDs and how ‘emotional scars can lead to problems ‘bonding’ with their husband/wife one day.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 31) WAIT Training uses a similar exercise, except that removal of the tape implies the break up of a relationship. The teach holds up the tape, showing it is no longer clear and demonstrates that the tape strength is diminished. The exercise instructions tell the teacher to ask students: “If this process gets repeated too many times, do you think it will affect this person’s (hold up the tape) marriage?” (Wiley, et. al., pg 31)

For teens who decide to abstain from sex after being sexually active, the abstinence-only community created the term “secondary virginity.” This term is not supported or used by the scientific or medical community. (Wiley, et. al., pg. 31) Secondary virginity is supposed to offer a sense of renewed purity but it can’t overcome the power of the foremost message: someone who has premarital sex is guilty of poor judgment, poor character and is doomed to have unfulfilling, destructive relationships. Unfortunately for sexually active teens, secondary virginity never quite measures up to the originally kind even in the programs’ materials.

For example, Choosing the Best PATH (used by McKinney ISD) has an exercise called “A Mint for Marriage.” Students pass around an unwrapped peppermint patty. Once the candy is returned, the teacher is instructed to ask if any students would like to eat it and then must conclude, “No one wants food that has been passed around. Neither would you want your future husband or wife to have been passed around.” How can the students salvage the used mint/used body? Put it back in the wrapper and refrigerate it. The bacteria will die and will be “almost like new.” (pg. 32)

These exercises are not based in reality – people who choose to have premarital sex are able to have strong, healthy relationships. They are not the same as food touched by 40 people or tape applied to an arm. Without medically accurate information mandated by the Texas School Board of Education or the Texas Legislature, we are sure to see more of the same made-up examples meant to leave students feeling guilty and ashamed of sexual behavior, even sexual urges.

As for those still holding onto their virginity, abstinence-only programs use virginity pledges as support. WAIT Training, Choosing the Best and Scott & White Worth the Wait all use this activity. Based on the group mentality, virginity pledges can provide additional shame to those students who “break” their pledge (Wiley, et. al., pg 32).
Recent research suggests that the pledges don’t affect sexual behavior either way (less likely or more likely to have sex). 2009 research does suggest that students who make virginity pledges are less likely to use protection during premarital sex. Another study found that 53% of pledgers denied ever making the pledge. Apparently, virginity pledges are more important to the adults who promote them than the students who make them. And they are no substitute for actual sexuality education. (Wiley, et. al., pg. 32)
Putting Gender Roles in a Time Machine

Abstinence-only programs have long been criticized for teaching outdated and potentially harmful stereotypes. In 2008, a study done on this topic documented numerous cases where these programs present gender stereotypes as truth. (Wiley, et. al., pg. 33) In Texas, the stereotypes mostly fall to females by typecasting women as “gatekeepers of aggressive male behavior,” a perspective public health organizations have spent 50 years trying to undo.

For example, WAIT Training tells students that “women need ‘financial support’ and ‘family commitment.’ Men need ‘domestic support’ and ‘admiration.’” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 33)

Why is this a problem? According to Dr. Deborah Tolman, Professor of Human Sexuality Studies at San Francisco State University,
“…the more girls buy into stereotypes about how they are supposed to behave in relationships…and about treating their own bodies as objects, the lower their self-esteem and the more depressed they are.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 34)
Also questionable is where this stereotype comes from and what it represents. Students in Collin County schools come from a diverse list of backgrounds. (Children in our schools represent over 90 different languages.) (need to cite) Educators are na├»ve to assume that every culture’s role models fit the picture of a docile woman and a strong man. Teens need to be, and can be, empowered to make good choices without pigeon holing them into gender stereotypes designed by a fraction of the county’s population.

As damaging as it is to teach girls their place is in the home, scarier still is the idea that female are responsible for male sexual action. Abstinence-only programs perpetuate this myth by presenting it as fact.

Many programs lay the job of keeping males abstinent on females. “Not only does this stereotype unfairly burden the female with a responsibility both partners should share, there are also potentially dangerous consequences to such message with regard to domestic violence and sexual assault.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 35)

Such a message is a short stop before blaming females for forceful sexual behavior, and Just Say Yes (used in Frisco ISD) comes dangerously close to that assumption. Here is a quote from their materials:
“Girls, taking into consideration that guys are more easily sexually turned on by sight, you need to think long and hard about the way you dress and the way you come on to guys…How can you tell a girl is an easy target for a guy?...By the clothes she wears…A girl who shows a lot of skin and dresses seductively fits into one of three categories: 1) She’s pretty ignorant when it comes to guys…2) She’s teasing her boyfriend which is extremely cruel to the poor guy! 3) She’s giving her boyfriend an open invitation saying, ‘Here I am. Come and Take me.’” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 35)
This example shows how abstinence-only programs are unraveling 50 years of work done by domestic violence prevention advocates teaching both teens that “No means No.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 35) This kind of thinking effectively says that words don’t mean anything and that girls who dress “seductively” (open to interpretation) are asking for sex no matter what they say. A guy who “gives it to her” can’t be blamed for his behavior. It was her fault.

With approximately one in five female high school students reporting being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner, our schools send a loaded message – there are no victims of sexual assault. In fact, “recent research has shown that both victims and abusers attribute the responsibility for violent dating behavior to victims.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 35) Not only are we leaving students defenseless against pregnancy and STDs if they chose to have sex, we are leaving them defenseless against violence and abuse.

Preliminary research in Collin County’s four largest ISDs shows that sexual orientation is not mentioned in sexuality health programs (nor is it addressed in the textbooks). At first glance, this seems like a positive note given that in some parts of Texas, teens are told homosexual acts are illegal or abnormal. However, with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered issues ignored, LGBT students are effectively ignored, and this group needs support. According to a study done in 2007 by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network,
  • “more than half (60.8%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation.
  • 86.2% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed at school (in 2006) because of their sexual orientation.
  • 44.1% reported being physically harassed at school (in 2006) because of their sexual orientation.
  • 22.1% reported being physically assaulted at school (in 2006) because of their sexual orientation.”
26% of 114 Dallas-Forth Worth LGBT teens report being forced to have sex against their will, and 55% of respondents report having attempted suicide in their lifetime, according to Youth First Texas. As hard as schools work to make all students feel included, gay students who want to better understand themselves and how to stay safe and healthy can’t feel welcome if they are treated as though they don’t exist. And by being quiet about the LGBT community, rather than fostering understanding and compassion, the schools become complicit in the violence against these teens.

Abstinence-only programs first try to scare teens into abstinent. Next they try to shame them into abstinence. The programs throw modern modes of empowerment (like being responsible for one’s actions) out the window in favor of a “know your place” mentality. And if a teen is different, they simply aren’t there. Rather than being armed with helpful, accurate information for the rest of their lives, teens are being taught from another age – an age from our past.


Similar to the distorted facts used by The Medical Institute regarding condom effectiveness, the conservative Heritage Foundation misrepresents study findings to assert that premarital sex leads to suicide. Using as study done by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the Heritage Foundation analysts applied the term “sexually active” to any teen who had ever had sex and the term “depressed” to any teen who indicated a “general state of unhappiness.” Redefining study terms and then drawing new conclusions is called Secondary Analysis but is presented to the students as fact. The authors admit that there is an association between teen sexual activity and depression but they also admit that the cause and effect is not yet understood. It could be that teens who are generally unhappy have more sex as a way to cope with their feelings. Assuming that sex is what causes the depression is simply that – an assumption.

The Heritage Foundation bases the claim that sexually active girls are three times and boys eight times more likely to commit suicide (found in WAIT Training – McKinney ISD) on this secondary analysis, and the message gets to our teens.

Next: Part 5 – Who Makes These Decisions and How You Can Change Them

Click to read part-1, part-2 and part-3.

Related Posts:

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment