I talked yesterday about some of the scholastic information about abstinence-only education, and I may expand on this sometime in the future, possibly this Saturday. Today, I would like to share my own personal experiences with sex education in public schools.
I said before that a John Bircher owned my mom and grandma’s health food store before they bought it. She left behind some right-wing literature that she used to sell with health food and nutritional supplements, and one example was a pamphlet by Gordon V. Drake entitled Is the School House the Place to Teach Raw Sex? Drake portrayed SIECUS‘ sex education programs as pornographic and pro-promiscuity. He upheld the Judeo-Christian ethic, which is abstinence before marriage and fidelity thereafter.
If memory serves me correctly, my first actual experience of public school sex education was in the sixth grade. It was basically a biology presentation, and I don’t remember any discussion of values or what was morally acceptable.
In seventh grade, we began to get into those issues. There was no explicit statement that premarital sex was morally wrong, but we were urged to weigh the issues carefully before we made a choice. My teacher had us vote on how far we would go, list the positives and negatives of premarital sex, and watch videos in which people said “no” because the consequences of premature sexual activity could harm their future. In the end, she said that we could use a condom, but we might have a baby on our hands if that condom broke. She asked us if we were prepared for that risk.
In eighth grade, we heard a week-long series of lectures from a Crisis Pregnancy Center representative. For those who are unfamiliar with that organization, the Crisis Pregnancy Center is a pro-life (anti-abortion) organization that helps unwed mothers. We watched a video about a single parent who wished she had waited, and we also saw a Josh MacDowell video in which he said that television is not realistic about sex and other issues. He was right about that, but he used a bad example. He asked the teenage audience how many of them ever saw a show about a child struggling with his or her parents’ divorce, and he said that he could not think of a single one. I could think of many such shows, so his argument was bad.
But what remains most in my memory is an exercise that we did to demonstrate a point. A series of boys stood in line, and a girl was given a paper heart. She tore off a piece of her heart and gave it to each boy, symbolizing the times that she had (fictionally) said “yes” to premarital sex. When she came to the last boy, the one she wanted to marry, she had only a little piece of her heart to give to him. The point was that we should wait for that special person, the one we want to marry. The Crisis Pregnancy Center lady was presenting sex as an act of love that should be limited to marriage, and this was the first time I heard that message in a public school setting.
Did this program work? I don’t know. It was only a week, and that may not have been enough to counter the barrage of immoral messages that kids got on a daily basis, from the media and their peers. Perhaps some people were affected, but those who wanted to be promiscuous probably remained that way.
My next experience was in the tenth grade, in my high school health class. The school nurse talked about sexually-transmitted diseases, and she showed us a video by Focus on the Family on the ineffectiveness of contraception. Kirk Cameron was the host, and Dr. Dobson made an appearance. She then taught us about various kinds of contraceptives and told us that they were mostly effective, though not 100% of the time.
My last experience was at Harvard Divinity School. I went to a Seventh-Day Adventist church, and someone from the Unification Church (the Moonies) was giving us a presentation about its abstinence-only program for schools. The presenter asked the audience what type of abstinence education they had, and one person (who attended a private school) responded, “The type that scares people.” The presenter then said that his program was different in that it tried to focus on the positive values of waiting before marriage. A friend of mine did not like the presented curriculum because it neglected God and Christ, the only true sources of moral authority and the strength to overcome temptation.
So what can I say about all this? In my opinion, there were positives and negatives in all of the programs. Emphasizing biology to the exclusion of morality was not right, since kids should be taught that there are important values like love and fidelity. I disagreed with the seventh grade approach that made everything about personal choices rather than an external moral standard, but I appreciated the message that we should realize that our decisions have consequences. The abstinence-only program seemed more oriented toward girls, who would be more likely to see sex as an act of love. The boys needed a message to help them counteract their hormones, and there wasn’t much of a focus on that in the lady’s presentation. My high school experience wasn’t perfect because it gave us an inconsistent message: it is best to abstain, but here are some options if you choose not to. And the options are not even totally effective against AIDS or certain STDs, making even protected sex a form of Russian roulette. The Moonie program probably had its merits, but my friend made a good point: If we exclude God from the picture (as is legally mandated for public schools), where is the moral authority or the strength for abstinence?
So young people should be told that their choices have consequences, but they should also hear about morality. Public schools can do this, but they can only go so far because they can’t teach kids about God. As a result, it is also a job for all of us: parents, churches, and the rest of society. People should be given a message that can help them control their impulses, and that message includes the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the benefits of God’s law in terms of physical, emotional, and spiritual health.