"Abstinence Plus": Soothing to Parents, or Still Lying to Teens?
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As expected (or at least Obama promised during the campaign), the process of zeroing out funding for abstinence-only programs has begun, and there's even an emphasis in the new appropriations bill on using evidence-based evaluations of the programs to receive federal funding for sex education, instead of the hope and tweaking method used by the religious right to evaluate their own abstinence-only programs. While this is all very good news, however, sexual and reproductive health advocates have every reason in the world to be cautious and skeptical of the new standards. As Jodi points out in her report on the new bill, the narrow language of using teen pregnancy as the sole standard for evaluation leaves out the various other important aspects of sex education that also need to be considered, such as STD and violence prevention.
On top of that concern, I'd like to also argue that the skittish emphasis on abstinence shown by legislators might cripple the efforts to even achieve the stated goal of reducing teen pregnancy. With such a narrow stated goal like "reducing teen pregnancy" instead of something more comprehensive, there's a lot of room for programs that, while teaching contraception, still engage in slut-shaming and other shaming and scaring tactics. Could that mean there's a risk that abstinence-only programs could make minor changes to their sexist, retrograde, ineffective programs and continue to get funding to scare and misinform your kids about sex?
These aren't idle fears. I've been fascinated by the evolution of the National Campaign To Prevent Teen Pregnancy into the newer, shinier, but appallingly conservative National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a name change that suggests the very real expansion of their focus to include young women who are legal adults. There wouldn't be anything wrong with this, except that while the Campaign isn't anti-contraception like abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are, they also are not particularly realistic about the likelihood high school and college aged students will experiment with sex, nor are they willing to be positive and upbeat about sex, even though most human beings actually have pretty positive feelings about sex (for themselves, though the popularity of scare programs shows that people are willing to be negative about sex for others). And by being sex negative, the good information the Campaign has to offer will fail to get through to their intended audience, which will be turned off by the horror show tactics.
On the podcast, I've been having some fun with the National Campaign-funded website Sex, Really, which I find representative of some of the major issues I have with the National Campaign's tactics. Even a casual perusal demonstrates that the site is more about throwing a temper tantrum that dating styles are different for young people now than they were in the 1960s, and just generally promoting male dominance over women than it is about finding realistic strategies for women (who seem to be the only intended audience, because of course Sex, Really doesn't seem to know or care that men can take contraceptive responsibility) to take control over their sexual health. Site manager Laura Sessions Stepp's real mission is more about persuading young women to date according to a specific plan Sessions Stepp has than about helping young women make the best decisions for them. According to Sessions Stepp, there is only one real way to date, and that's what I like to call the baiting method. It assumes that men have no natural ability or desire to spend time with women, and so in order to extract love from men (which is all that women are supposed to want), women have to manipulate men using the only thing men think we're good for, which is sex. You're supposed to give the man small tastes of what sex might be like, but not have sex with him until you've extracted a commitment from him after a long dating process.