Yet another state has yanked funding for Planned Parenthood due to the mistaken impression that all they do is provide abortions. One would think that Planned Parenthood is building an AbortionPlex, complete with waterslides and “Buy 9, Get Your 10th Abortion Free” card. What’s even more troubling? Some states are forcing public school districts to choose between abstinence-plus or abstinence-only education.
Back in the late 70s, sex education in California meant the separation of boys and girls during physical education. Girls saw a film strip about menstruation, received a hand-out provided by Kimberly Clark, and we were sent on our merry way. I personally gleaned a lot of information from “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” Confusion set in when I read about sanitary belts. By 1979 the belts were all but gone from the drug store shelves.
I don’t recall attending any sex ed in middle school. During my freshman year, 1982, a week or two was set aside during drivers ed for Planned Parenthood to come in. We were shown a film about childbirth and learned about a variety of contraception. This was when AIDS was merely a whisper and our greatest fears were catching herpes or getting pregnant so this was extent of sex education as taught in the classroom. Otherwise we learned from excited whispers in the girls’ bathroom.
Fast-forward to 2012. Fewer than half of the states offer comprehensive sexual education. Some states don’t mandate sex ed. Luckily, teen birth rates are down but states like Mississippi that emphasize abstinence-only education have the highest birth rates in the nation.
Wait a minute…Mississippi? The state that recently voted on a personhood amendment that could’ve outlawed hormonal contraception? The state that recently blocked a doctor’s confirmation to the Board of Health because he agreed to help women with complications stemming from abortion?
Is it so hard to see the correlation? If teens are given solid information about contraception they’ll be able to make sound decisions regarding sex!
Comprehensive sex education is not a license for teens to go forth and rut like wild bunnies. It’s about teaching them that sex is natural, fun, and enjoyed in a committed relationship. But it’s best to know all the facts. Abstinence is the only way one won’t get pregnant or contract a sexually-transmitted infection but withholding information from horny teens about other ways to have fun in the back seat of a beat-up sedan will only result in hasty pull-outs and worries about late periods.
Sadly, the Obama administration has endorsed the Heritage Keepers abstinence-only education program. Per their website, “The goal of the Heritage Keepers® Abstinence Education program is to reduce the number of teens initiating sexual activity and increase the number of sexually active teens returning to abstinence…encourages teens to develop a strong sense of personal identity and worth, set protective boundaries, resist negative peer pressure, determine and protect personal values and goals, and set high standards for themselves.” Further reading shows a darker side of Heritage Keepers. Per Reality Check, they slut-shame girls for wearing provocative clothing, think that multiple sex partners leads to dysfunctional relationships, promotes homophobia.
There’s another program available via the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association called Our Whole Lives (OWL). Spanning six age groups from Kindergarten to adulthood, OWL promotes a well-rounded sexual education. Abstinence is but one aspect of the middle and high school curriculum. OWL also informs teens of the different aspects of human sexuality, the assortment of contraception, and (most important!) respect for others and oneself in regards to the variety of human sexuality.
Of course sexual education should begin in the home. However, parents frequently try to skirt the issue when asked, “How are babies made?” As the kids get older they tend to not talk about sexual issues with their parents. As their bodies are changing and coursing with crazy hormones, the last people they want to ask are the Parental Units. Our Whole Lives offers an alternative that’s age-appropriate and in a safe environment. As a certified OWL instructor for our local Unitarian-Universalist church, I can whole-heartedly endorse the program.
By arming our children, teens, and adults with comprehensive sexual education and information unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted infections can and will continue to decline. However, with the ongoing war on women’s reproductive health and Planned Parenthood our country has the potential to return to archaic sexual values and practices.