Holding Hypocrite Congressman Souder's Feet to the Fire on Dangerous Abstinence Education

What do Rep. Souder and others like him have to say to the millions of young people whose health was endangered by being told condoms don't work?

Yesterday, news broke that Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) is resigning in the wake of an affair with a female aide.  A “family values” conservative who’s sold himself as a proponent of “traditional marriage,” Souder repeatedly advocated federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs even after the programs were exposed as ineffectual and harmful to young people.

Shortly after the news of his resignation broke, a video surfaced of Souder being interviewed by the staffer with whom he was reportedly having an affair. In it, he attacks a 2008 hearing, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, on the efficacy of abstinence programs:

At the end of the video, Rep. Souder claims to have been “particularly offended when two young people were added to the supposed scientist panel” to testify about their experience with abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. He goes on to attack the youth, one of whom had contracted AIDS after he’d been told by his abstinence teacher that condoms don’t work, for coming to testify on something “they know nothing about.”

Max Siegel was the brave young man who risked his personal safety to disclose his AIDS status in an effort to keep other teens from being exposed to the lies that put his life in danger. I was the other young person who testified that day. Contrary to Representative Souder’s claims that I was almost thirty, I was three years out of high school and six years into my fight to make sure no other teen would be subjected to the shame and misinformation taxpayer dollars funded in the form of a pastor hired to give a ‘Love, Sex, and Dating’ seminar to my senior class.

“Sex inside of marriage is the only way to prevent AIDS,” we were told. “If you have sex before you get married, your husband won’t want you because you’re like a dirty, dingy toothbrush,” he said. “Sex inside of marriage is like a fire inside the fireplace – it keeps you warm and makes you feel good. Sex outside of marriage is like a fire in the middle of the living room – it will burn your house down and ruin your life. It can and probably will kill you.”

Frankly, I don’t really care that Mark Souder had an affair – that’s between him and his wife and his God. As for hypocrisy, that’s pretty standard in politics, it seems.

What I really want to know is what Rep. Souder and others like him have to say to the millions of young people whose health was endangered by being told condoms don’t work, or that we’re worth less as human beings depending on who we have sex with and when. What I want to know is how in good conscience adults – who knew by the simple benefit of life experience it was a lie – could pretend that sex and sexual relationships are always uncomplicated as long as they’re kept inside the safe confines of marriage?

Because we’re the lab rats of this failed experiment in legislating so-called morality, my generation has some of the highest rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in decades. We’re learning by trial and error when our sex education classes, instead of lying to us, should have been teaching us valuable life skills. We needed information on abstinence, as well as real facts on condoms and contraception, and practice in talking to partners about the expectations for a relationship.

It remains the policy of the American government to treat youth sexuality as in itself bad, including holding young people to different standards than adults and assuming we’re unable to make responsible decisions about sex when our elected officials can’t manage the task. Almost unbelievably, funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs still remains under President Obama, slipped into health care reform.  As long as the administration continues to view sex education as a method of avoiding a public health crisis – instead of an opportunity to teach young people the skills to be healthy sexual beings throughout their lives – the rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections will continue to rise.

If we can thank Mr. Souder for anything this week, it’s putting failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the public crosshairs once again. This year, for the first time in two decades, public schools will be eligible to apply for funds to teach comprehensive sex education that includes information on abstinence and condoms and contraception. Each community can now decide whether to adopt this proven method of educating young people about sex – and it will be up to parents, students, and teachers to stand up the right of young people to real information. For more information on this new funding and how to start a conversation in your community, visit

As for Mr. Souder: Sir, I think your house may be on fire.

Watch the trailer for the Sundance award winning documentary, The Education of Shelby Knox.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018