Sex, Lies and Politics : Congress Is Poised to Reauthorize Fearmongering 'Abstinence-Only' Sex Ed

By Heins, Marjorie | The Nation, May 7, 2001 | Go to article overview

Sex, Lies and Politics : Congress Is Poised to Reauthorize Fearmongering 'Abstinence-Only' Sex Ed


Heins, Marjorie, The Nation


Kids "know far too much too soon" about sex, a recent college graduate named Wendy Shalit lamented in her 1999 book A Return to Modesty, and Congress seems to agree. In recent years, it has been doing everything in its power to prevent comprehensive sexuality education from reaching America's youngsters and to promote, in its place, an educationally limited, fear-based curriculum that preaches "abstinence unless married."

Later this year, Congress will probably reauthorize an "abstinence education" program that it created in 1996 with $250 million in matching funds (to receive the full amount, states must put up at least three-quarters as much, or an additional $187.5 million). The original package was part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act--otherwise known as welfare reform. It was the 104th Congress's attempt not only to eliminate welfare but to impose conservative standards of sexual morality on low-income Americans.

The law enumerates eight principles for "abstinence education," among them that "abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other associated health problems"; that "a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity"; and that "sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects." Gay and lesbian youngsters, unlikely to conduct sexual activity only "in the context of marriage," are thus rendered deviant or invisible, while the children of single moms or unmarried couples are implicitly told that their parents have suffered "harmful psychological and physical effects" from sex outside marriage. Funded programs cannot discuss birth control or safer-sex techniques, except to highlight (or exaggerate) their shortcomings. The goal is quite explicitly to discourage adolescents from using condoms or other contraceptives.

The premise that is usually articulated to defend this unusual pedagogy is that an unambiguous "just say no" message is the only way to reduce teen pregnancy and STDs. As Oklahoma Republican Ernest Istook, one of the program's most vocal Congressional champions, puts it, teenagers cannot understand "mixed messages." While this may be true of cultural conservatives like Istook, it is not necessarily true of American teenagers, most of whom are adept at negotiating the ambiguities of popular culture. Indeed, Istook's reductive approach to education and his low opinion of youthful intelligence have not in any event proven accurate. As Planned Parenthood, Advocates for Youth and SIECUS (the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) pointed out in the wake of the 1996 law, studies have shown no decrease, and often an increase, in the age of "sexual debut" after the introduction of sex-ed programs that include straightforward contraceptive and safer-sex information in addition to abstinence messages. By contrast, there is no evidence that abstinence-only programs discourage sexual activity.

By late 1998, though, every state had applied for and received abstinence-unless-married funds. Some sought to use the money without compromising existing programs; in Maine, for example, as one official explained, "the limits on what you can say are so restrictive that we decided we could not use the money for classroom programs or anywhere else where there was face-to-face contact." Two states--California and New Hampshire--ultimately did not use the funds, in California's case because it was determined that the eight-point program violated state law by withholding contraceptive information and forbidding mention of the fact that condoms reduce the risk of AIDS. And there were a few surprises: Richmond, Virginia, withdrew from participation, its director of health declaring that the program was "ill-conceived" and "did not help children who were already sexually active or gays and lesbians. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Sex, Lies and Politics : Congress Is Poised to Reauthorize Fearmongering 'Abstinence-Only' Sex Ed
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.