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Sex Education Programs Endanger Students and Violate the First Amendment

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Message Gene C. Gerard
According to a report released by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS), the Bush administration is funding sex education programs that provide misinformation and foster fear. The three curriculums SIECUS reviewed are "Passion and Principles," "Worth the Wait," and "Navigator." Since President Bush took office these programs have received $4 million in federal funding. The programs are taught in public high schools in 12 states.

All of the programs promote abstinence-until-marriage and exclude any meaningful discussion of safer sex. As SIECUS notes in their report, the curriculums argue against the use of condoms, promote shame, and contain blatant religious messages. In the last five years the Bush administration has channeled $600 million dollars into abstinence-until-marriage programs. Yet no scientific study has demonstrated that these programs actually curtail teenage sex.

These three sex education programs rely on messages of fear and guilt. The curriculums operate on the assumption that adolescents can be scared into refraining from sex, rather than making educated decisions. Passion and Principles tells students that if they contract AIDS, "You're heading to the grave. No Cure." Worth the Wait cautions students that sex is an uncontrollable force of nature in that, "First, you start kissing and then hands start roaming and then, oops! Sex just kind of happens."

Navigator asks students to consider possible consequences of having sex before marriage. It then suggests possibilities including AIDS, cervical cancer, loneliness, and having a bad reputation. As SEICUS indicates, these programs are designed to frighten students into avoiding sex. And the curriculums are condescending because they depict adolescents who engage in sexual activity as lacking self-control and being irresponsible. Given that studies estimate that almost half of all high school students have engaged in sexual intercourse, sex education programs should provide information on abstinence and safer sex.

The programs contain unambiguous religious messages, despite being used in public schools. Passion and Principles encourages teachers to ""teach the students that sex is the glue that ultimately links them to someone for the rest of their lives within a biblical marriage relationship." A segment in Passion and Principles on pornography advises, "Pornography, like sin, promises to please me and serve me BUT its only desire is to enslave and dominate."

These curriculums take a dim view of the use of condoms and offer inaccurate medical information. Passion and Principles warns students that, "Nearly 1 in 3 will contract AIDS from infected partners with 100% condom use." However, countless scientific studies have documented that when condoms are used accurately they can prevent HIV transmission from an infected partner.

Worth the Wait tells adolescents, "Condoms can never protect someone from the emotional problems that can result from multiple sexual partners and premature sexual activity." These programs operate on the false assumption that if students can be convinced that condoms don't work they will decide not to have sex. In reality, it is equally likely that adolescents will engage in sexual activity and simply not use condoms, since they have been told that they are not effective.

The worst of the programs is Worth the Wait. It asks students to sign a pledge promising to abstain from sexual activity until marriage. However, in 2001 the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development released a comprehensive study of almost 100,000 teenagers who had taken a virginity pledge. The study determined that after 18 months most broke the pledge and engaged in sexual intercourse, and since they didn't plan on doing so, a majority didn't use contraception. Clearly, encouraging teenagers to pledge to abstain from sex until marriage puts them at an increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

These supposed sex education programs pose a number of significant issues. The Bush administration is violating the separation of church and state, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, by spending federal tax dollars on the programs. And the curriculums provide false and misleading information to many high school students. A competent sex education program furnishes adolescents with factual, unbiased information and encourages them to make smart choices. These programs do neither.
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_______________________________________________ Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at several colleges in the Southwest and is a contributing author to the book "Home Front Heroes: Americans during Wartime," by (more...)
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