Abstinence, sexism and today’s youth | Amy Johnson

I was so excited when the Department of Health and Human Services decided to endorse only “evidence-based” programs for sexuality education — programs that are proven to reduce teen pregnancy, delay onset of sexual activity, and reduce the occurrence of STDs in teens.

This has been a defining piece of this administration’s supposed commitment to using federal dollars to fund only science-based sexuality education curricula for our youth.

I should have known better.

In the last month, three new programs were silently added to this coveted list—no fanfare, no press release, no announcement. Among them, a program called “Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of abstinence. I’ve written more than one article about it, and I encourage abstinence with teens. I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve said “Abstinence is the only 100 percent way to prevent pregnancy and STDs.” I’d be sailing in the Caribbean right now on an extended holiday.

Heritage Keepers goes beyond encouraging abstinence. This program teaches that “girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts,” according to the Heritage Keepers student manual.

In addition, “young women are asked to envision their wedding day: ‘Everything is just as you have seen it in a million daydreams…’ When the bride takes her father’s arm: ‘Your true love stands at the front. This is the man who you have waited for (remained abstinent for) and who has waited for you…This man wants to be strong and courageous for you, to cherish and protect you… You are ready to trust him with all that you have and all that you are, because you have waited (sexually) you have it all to give.’” (Source: rhrealitycheck.org)

Aside from the sexism of saying girls are responsible for anyone else’s lustful thoughts and behavior because of what they wear, and that women need protecting, this abstinence-only program is out of touch with the reality of today’s youth. It’s also immoral and unethical.

Programs like these, that on the surface seem to promote an ideal outcome, completely ignore lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV-positive youth —populations in need of life-saving health information that sexuality education classes are supposed to be providing.

If you have life-saving and health-promoting information for youth, and you don’t give it to them, it’s unethical and immoral.

In addition, programs like these discount youth who live in “nontraditional” households. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 29 percent of children in Washington live in single-parent homes — which is only one type of nontraditional household.

What about those children living with grandparents? Aunts and uncles? Two moms or dads? Foster homes?

And what about the one in four girls and one in six boys who are sexually abused by the age of 18? Where is their daydream? Eighty-six percent of sexual abuse incidents against 12-17-year-olds go unreported to any authority. By holding virginity as the ideal, these programs don’t help. That’s unethical and immoral.

According to RHReality Check: “It is not enough to help some students delay sexual initiation while leaving others ill-equipped to protect themselves when they do have sex. It is unacceptable to promote teen pregnancy prevention at the cost of ostracizing LGBT youth, survivors of sexual assault, or youth who are sexually active.”

Amen, sisters. We need to do better than promoting sexist versions of futures that make adults feel better. Our youth need enough information to be equipped to handle the complicated and potentially life-altering decisions our culture expects them to make.

Just say no? I don’t think so. Just say know.


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