October 2008 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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SIECUS Releases New Reviews of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Curricula

As part of its Sixth Annual “Back to School” briefing, held October 14, 2008, 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. The National Education Association (NEA) and the National Education Association’s Health Information Network (NEA HIN) again cosponsored this year’s briefing.

The newest reviews documented that trends in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have gone unchanged: these curricula are often riddled with messages of fear and shame, gender stereotypes, and medical misinformation that put young people at risk.

This fall, SIECUS reviewed Healthy Image of Sex (HIS), Reasonable Reasons to Wait and the newest version of A.C. Green’s Game Plan. These curricula are taught in federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs located in more than 20 states.

A.C. Green’s Game Plan
Project Reality, an abstinence-only-until-marriage industry leader based in Illinois, developed Game Plan. In an effort to scare students into abstaining from sexual activity, Game Plan names numerous physical and psychological consequences of premarital sexual activity. The student handbook poses the question: “If you were to choose to be sexually active, is it possible that some things may happen to you that you didn’t expect?” Students are then told to brainstorm the possible negative consequences in each of these four categories: “Physical, Emotional, Mental, and Social.”[1] Suggested answers include:

Physical: Pregnancy, STDs, AIDS, infertility, cervical cancer.
Emotional: Feeling used, empty, low self-esteem, lonely, broken hearted, angry, bitter, depressed.
Mental: Stress, worry, fear, regret, memories, pressure, confusion, distraction.
Social: Bad reputation, loss of friends, rumors, gossip, poor grades, withdrawal, parental conflict. [2]

This focus on the inevitable negative consequences of premarital sexual behavior is clearly designed to scare students rather than educate them. There is no evidence that premarital sex leads to everything from bitterness to a loss of friends.

Healthy Image of Sex (HIS)
The faith-based HIS curriculum was co-authored by Sheri Few, who is President of both Few Consultations and South Carolina Parents Involved in Education (SC PIE), a CBAE grantee in South Carolina. HIS is used by three federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in South Carolina.

One activity in the HIS curriculum asks teachers to “apologize” to students for a wide array of wrongs that adults have perpetrated that have allowed for “over 100 years of breaking down morality in this country we call ‘free’.” One of the apologies begins, “We are sorry we didn’t stick to what was right, but let money and convenience become our god.”[3] A page in the student manual is titled “Boundaries,” and pictured with a railroad crossing light, a speed limit sign, and a police badge are the Ten Commandments written out on what looks like an open page of a book. While everyone in this country must obey speed limits and the police, not everyone believes that “You shall have no other God but me” or that “You shall keep the seventh day holy.” Nonetheless the curriculum tells students that boundaries such as the Ten Commandments and marriage “…are established to protect us.”[4] (HIS, Teacher’s Manual, p. 57).

In our pluralistic society that believes in a separation of Church and state, a curriculum like HIS, which thinly veils its religious content but remains patently religious in nature, is not appropriate for public schools and should not be eligible for federal funding.

Reasonable Reasons to Wait
A single evaluation of Reasonable Reasons to Wait has become the cornerstone of the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry’s defense of its programs. The curriculum is used throughout the South including in the states of Virginia, Alabama, and Florida. Despite severe methodological flaws, the study’s authors concluded that “abstinence programs can achieve significant reductions in teen sexual initiation.” This sounds like an important achievement, until we remember that the students in the study were 7th graders, (12–13 years old) and the success of the program was based on whether these students remained abstinent for one year. In 2001, only 6.6 percent of high school students reported having sexual intercourse for the first time before the age of 13.[5] Given that the average age of first sexual intercourse is 16.9 for men and 17.4 for women, keeping 12 or 13 year-olds abstinent for one year is admirable, but no great feat.[6] Still, it is important to look at the specific messages found in this curriculum.

The curriculum tells teens that while it might seem like everyone is engaging in these pleasurable activities, they should not compromise their values. “No matter how many people accept a dumb idea, it is still a dumb idea.” Two of the examples used to illustrate this point are:

Slavery—At one point in our country’s history, a majority of people believed it was acceptable to own slaves. They were wrong. It took civil war, as well as a lot of time to help people see this.
Hitler—There were people in Germany and other places who went along with his plan to exterminate “inferior” people. When the reality of this was made known, near the end of World War II, people’s mind changed.[7]

Comparing premarital sex to slavery and genocide is dangerous and offensive. While all moral authorities can agree that holding slaves or summarily executing people is wrong, many throughout the world think it is wholly appropriate for two adults to have consensual sex outside of marriage. Moreover, this offers no concrete information for young people making decisions about their health.

“SIECUS’ curricula reviews continue to document why abstinence-only-until-marriage do not work: supplying half-truths, misinformation, and biases to youth doesn’t help them to make fully informed health decisions,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. “Congress must eliminate funding for these harmful programs and create the first federal funding stream for comprehensive sex education.”

Joseph DiNorcia, President and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), commented on the newest reviews of abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula on RH Reality Check. He said, “Most disturbingly, all of our examples come from programs that received federal funding. Congress has been educated time and again of the profound problems with these federally funded programs and yet, they continue to fund them. We are pleased that no increases have been approved for years, but it is time for Congress to work with a new administration to end all funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage initiatives. Many of us have labored over the past decade to gather the evidence and political cover our leaders need to end this experiment and the time has come to call our policymakers on the carpet. We’ve done our part. Now it’s their turn.” Read the full blog here.

To view the full curricula reviews, please visit www.communityactionkit.org. To review which abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are operating in your state, go here: SIECUS State Profiles .

1 A.C. Green’s Game Plan (Golf, IL: Project Reality, 2007). For more information, see SIECUS’ review of A.C. Green’s Game Plan at http://www.communityactionkit.org/curricula_reviews.html, p. 26.
2 Ibid.
3 Sheri Few and Pamela L. Jones, Healthy Image of Sex (HIS), (Charleston: SC: Healthy Image of Sex, 2008). p. 15. For more information, see SIECUS’ review of Healthy Image of Sex at <http://www.communityactionkit.org/curricula_reviews.html>.
4 Sheri Few and Pamela L. Jones, Healthy Image of Sex (HIS), Teacher’s Manual, p. 57
5 Jo Anne Grunbaum, et al., “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States, 2001,” Surveillance Summaries, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 51.SS-04 (28 June 2002): 1-64, accessed on 2 October 2008, <www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5104a1.htm>.
6 For more information on this study see, SIECUS’ Research Update: Marginally Successful Results of Abstinence-Only Program Erased by Dangerous Errors in Curriculum, SIECUS, at http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&featureid=1030&pageid=682&parentid=478 .
7 Maureen Gallagher Duran, Reasonable Reasons to Wait, (Chantilly, VA: A Choice in Education, 2002-2003), p. 39. For more information, see SIECUS’ review of Reasonable Reasons to Wait at <http://www.communityactionkit.org/curricula_reviews.html>.