Love as a Drug (or Why My Eating a Doughnut May Make Your Child More Sexually Active)

The following item recently appeared on the Think Progress blog:

“Ohio lawmakers failed to advance an amendment to the state budget that would have prohibited sex ed classes from including any instruction of “gateway sexual activity” under penalty of a potential $5,000 fine. News of the provision sparked outrage earlier this week, particularly since banning any health materials that might ‘condone’ sexual contact doesn’t have much to do with the state’s economic policy.”

Yes, if you somehow missed it, the “jobs-focused” Republican legislature in Ohio actually considered a bill that would have banned most sex education in the state by calling it “gateway sexual activity.” That is, they applied language commonly used to refer to marijuana or other less addictive narcotics to sex education, implying that sex education leads to increased promiscuity and to a higher incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy. Never mind that there are some 600 studies that suggest the exact opposite. Never mind that study after study has shown that teen pregnancy is much more prevalent among teenagers who have not had sex education, regardless of their religious affiliation.

In order to counter the misinformation being spread by the bill’s sponsors, the coalition fighting for “comprehensive sex education” in Ohio schools—and by “comprehensive, they mean something more than the “Just Say No” approach of abstinence education (recall that Nancy Reagan advocated such an approach during the crack epidemic of the 1980s and how effective it was in meeting that crisis)—was forced to produce and circulate the information that I have reproduced at the end of this post.

More than anything that I can say, that fact that such basic information needs to be shared in 2013 demonstrates the extent to which the assertion of ideology over science has had a very regressive effect—educationally, politically, socio-economically, culturally, and ethically. Yes, ethically. I have placed the word “ethically” emphatically last because, however well-intentioned the authors of the bill may have been, their ideologically driven misapplication of power would have been directly responsible for complicating a great many young lives. And it is time, I think, to start holding our legislators as accountable as they insist that we need to hold our teachers and other public employees.

To illustrate how ridiculous the bill was, let me test its premise on a topic less politically charged than sex education. I’m fat. If you see me eating a doughnut and hand me a pamphlet that explains why obesity may be shortening my life but that includes any mention or images of food—or especially any mention or images of doughnuts–are you then making it more likely that I will ravenously consume doughnut after doughnut until my enhanced craving for them has somehow been satiated?

Or regardless of whether or not my personalized analogy has been at all helpful in making the point, doesn’t this bill suggest that all public information campaigns and especially those aimed at teenagers—for instance, the ongoing campaigns against smoking, bullying, and excessive computer gaming—are all inherently counterproductive? And would not that inherent flaw extend as well to the campaign to promote abstinence? Following the logic of the bill, would not the emphasis on behavior that should be avoided only make it all the more likely that it will occur?

 

WHAT TO BELIEVE

Myths vs  Facts

There are so many myths about comprehensive sexuality education, in fact, too many to list. A few of the most common, however, are below. You can always verify or double check information by going to the resource sites listed in the toolkit.
SIECUS Toolkit comprehensive fact check page.

Common Myths

  1. Comprehensive Sex Ed is designed to teach children to have sex.
  2. Comprehensive Sex Ed sends a mixed message — it may talk about abstinence, but because it also
    teaches about contraception, it confuses the lesson.
  3. There are clear health education standards from (the state) (the federal government) (the school board).
  4. Comprehensive Sex Ed makes everyone uncomfortable, so it should just be avoided.
  5. Comprehensive Sex Ed takes away parents’ role and responsibility to their kids.
  6. Teachers do not support the curriculum because it takes away from valuable class time.
  7. Kids in our district don’t have sex that young.

 

1. Comprehensive Sex Ed is designed to teach children to have sex.
This could not be further from the truth! Comprehensive Sex Ed is rooted in abstinence and seeks to help young people make informed choices based on medically accurate information if they do engage in sexual activity.

2. Comprehensive Sex Ed sends a mixed message — it may talk about abstinence, but because it also teaches about contraception, it confuses the lesson.

This is not true. Some educators use the analogy of teaching that drinking and driving don’t mix. Young people shouldn’t be drinking, but they are taught and encouraged to pledge not to drive while drunk. That doesn’t encourage them to drink; it teaches them how to be responsible IF they do.

3. There are clear health education standards from (the state) (the federal government) (the school board).

This is rarely the case. In Ohio as in other states, health education has, on occasion, been a politically-charged topic which many policymaking bodies either avoid or use to promote medically inaccurate abstinence only education. The State of Ohio does not currently have health education standards and health curriculum is not tested as part of Ohio’s standardized tests, including the Ohio Graduation Test. Similarly, the federal government does not have a clear policy. Rather, it provides grant funding in different targeted ways. Local school boards occasionally have policies around health education or benchmarks they aim to meet for their students, but often there simply are no clear guidelines or curriculum.

4. Comprehensive Sex Ed makes everyone uncomfortable, so it should just be avoided.

There are lots of topics that may make people uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be taught. In fact, a Cleveland Metropolitan School District survey showed that 78% of the teachers agreed (36%) or strongly agreed (42%) that they were comfortable delivering sexuality education in the classroom. This is important information that young people need, and teachers are generally receptive to delivering it. Read more

5. Comprehensive Sex Ed takes away parents’ role and responsibility to their kids.

Comprehensive Sex Ed curricula encourage young people to talk with their parents about their own personal values when it comes to sexual behavior. 73% of parents surveyed in a Cleveland Metropolitan School District study indicated that they had had a discussion with their child about sex or a related topic like puberty or protection from sex abuse because of what their child learned during the Responsible Sexual Behavior lessons. Read more

The comprehensive sex ed curricula used in schools uses factual medical information and terminology, that may be understandably less familiar to many parents. Schools cannot stand in for parents when it comes to moral and religious education. Rather, schools can provide facts for young people to use, along with the values imparted by their parents.

6. Teachers do not support the curriculum because it takes away from valuable class time.

Stakeholder groups have been surveyed and interviewed each year to determine their level of support for the initiative. The results consistently indicate that teachers are comfortable presenting about the topics included in the Responsible Sexual Behavior lessons and believe that the benefits of offering sexuality education outweigh the burden of interrupting class time.
Read more

7. Kids in our district don’t have sex that young.

http://www.odh.ohio.gov/ASSETS/BEC0EE39B2324D62B96D91CC9A6067B5/Behaviors-Activity.pdf

 

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