As part of its Fourth Annual “Back to School” briefing, held October 4, 2006, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS) released its latest reviews of three abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula used in federally funded programs. This year's briefing, cosponsored by the National Education Association (NEA) and the National Education Association's Health Information Network (NEA HIN), documented that although they vary, abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula are often riddled with messages of fear and shame, gender stereotypes, and medical misinformation that put young people at risk.
SIECUS reviewed WAIT (Why Am I Tempted?) Training, Why kNOw, and Heritage Keepers. These curricula are taught in federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs located in more than a dozen states across the nation, including, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee among others. Since FY 2001, the programs that use these curricula have received more than $6 million in federal funding.
Examples of the messages included in the curricula are as follows:
• This curriculum tells students that the “best guideline about love ever written” is from 56 A.D., and then hands out a direct paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:4: “Real Love: is patient; is kind; does not envy; does not boast; is not proud; is not rude; is not self-seeking; is not easily angered; keeps no record of wrongs; does not delight in evil; rejoices with the truth; always protects; always trusts; always hopes; always lasts; [and] never fails.” (Why kNOw?, 8th grade and High School, p. 118)
• “The condom has a 14% failure rate in preventing pregnancy...since the HIV virus is smaller than a sperm and can infect you any day of the month, the failure rate of the condom to prevent AIDS is logically much worse than its failure rate to prevent pregnancy.” (Why kNOw?, 8th grade and high school, p. 96)
• “Sexually speaking, it has been said that men are like microwaves and women are like crock pots. What does that mean? Generally, men get stimulated more easily than women and women take longer to get stimulated. Men are visual responders and women respond when they feel connected and close to someone.” (WAIT Training p. 62)
• While in ‘theory' teen use of contraception every time sounds good, it isn't realistic to expect. Thus, a condom is actually setting a teen up for failure when we realize, as adults, that condoms won't be used ‘consistently and correctly' every single time.” (WAIT Training, p. 36)
• “Sex is like fire. Inside the appropriate boundary of marriage, sex is a great thing! Outside of marriage, sex can be dangerous!” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 22)
• “Males are more sight orientated whereas females are more touch orientated. This is why girls need to be careful with what they wear, because males are looking! The girl might be thinking fashion, while the boy is thinking sex. For this reason, girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn't invite lustful thoughts.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 46)
Recent research published by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) that reviewed the successful behavior change studies of the past 25 years found that fear-based health messages are ineffective. This supports what public health experts have long known about abstinence-only-until-marriage programs: no sound study exists that shows these programs have any long-term beneficial impact on young people's sexual behavior. More than a dozen states have completed evaluations of their federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, and still none have found the abstinence-only-until-marriage approach to be broadly effective. Recent studies are instead showing that virginity pledges, common components of these programs, may be potentially harmful to young people.
In contrast, numerous studies and evaluations published in peer-reviewed literature suggest that comprehensive education about sexuality—programs that teach teens about both abstinence and contraception—are an effective strategy to help young people delay their initiation of sexual intercourse.
“Curricula that instill fear and shame in young people, disparage condom use, perpetuate gender stereotypes, and contain anti-abortion messages have no place in any program for school-aged young people, let alone programs sanctioned by the federal government, and paid for with hard-earned tax dollars,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS.
Over the past six years—since President Bush came into office—almost $800 million federal dollars have been spent on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. President Bush is seeking an additional $204 million in Fiscal Year 2007 alone.
“We hope exposing policymakers to the messages included in many of the abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula will encourage them to rethink their commitment to these unproven and harmful programs, and support a more comprehensive approach,” Smith said.
To view the full curricula reviews, please visit www.communityaction.org.
To see what abstinence-only-until-marriage programs may be operating in your state, go here.