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The Other Washington Sex Scandal—Federally Funded Misinformation

October 10, 2006

As sexually explicit and highly inappropriate exchanges between Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) and a congressional page occupied the headlines last week, the Republican’s “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy when it comes to sex and sexuality became all too evident. The party that implemented and funded a federal policy that has poured millions of taxpayer dollars into programs that tell young people that they must abstain from any and all sex unless they are involved in a heterosexual marriage now finds itself trying to explain why it covered up outrageous and predatory behavior of one of its own. Ironically the very same week, but without garnering any press attention, the Sexuality Information and Education Council (SIECUS) released its annual review of abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula used in many federally funded programs. And just like the past three years, the analysis demonstrated the government’s complicity in spreading dangerous medical misinformation, gender stereotypes, and promoting religion that put our nation’s young people at considerable risk. In fact, for the past six years, more than $800 million dollars have been dumped into these programs, yet not one has been proven effective. President George W. Bush is seeking another $204 million in fiscal year 2007 alone. This year, SIECUS reviewed Why know, WAIT (Why Am I Tempted?) Training, and Heritage Keepers. These curricula are taught in federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs located in more than a dozen states across the nation, including, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee among others. Below are some examples of messages included in the reviewed curricula:

Why know: “The condom has a 14% failure rate in preventing pregnancy . . . since the HIV virus is smaller than a sperm and can infect you any day of the month, the failure rate of the condom to prevent AIDS is logically much worse than its failure rate to prevent pregnancy.”

The tradition of lifting the veil shows that “the groom [is] the only man allowed to ‘uncover the bride,’” and demonstrates “her respect for him by illustrating that she [has] not allowed any other man to lay claim to her.”

The curriculum includes religious messages telling students that the “best guideline about love ever written” is from 56 AD, and then hands out a direct paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:4: “Real Love: is patient; is kind; does not envy; does not boast; is not proud; is not rude; is not self-seeking; is not easily angered; keeps no record of wrongs; does not delight in evil; rejoices with the truth; always protects; always trusts; always hopes; always lasts; [and] never fails.”

WAIT Training: “Sexually speaking, it has been said that men are like microwaves and women are like crock pots. What does that mean? Generally, men get stimulated more easily than women and women take longer to get stimulated. Men are visual responders and women respond when they feel connected and close to someone.”

“While in ‘theory’ teen use of contraception every time sounds good, it isn't realistic to expect. Thus, a condom is actually setting a teen up for failure when we realize, as adults, that condoms won't be used ‘consistently and correctly’ every single time.”

Heritage Keepers: “Sex is like fire. Inside the appropriate boundary of marriage, sex is a great thing! Outside of marriage, sex can be dangerous!”

“Males are more sight orientated whereas females are more touch orientated. This is why girls need to be careful with what they wear, because males are looking! The girl might be thinking fashion, while the boy is thinking sex. For this reason, girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn't invite lustful thoughts.”

“When you have sexual intercourse with someone there is a good chance that you could create an entirely new person-a living human being; a son or daughter.” The unit continues with leading questions such as “How did the Preview of a Birth video make you feel about the wonder of a new human life forming?”

These three courses of study are just a small sampling of the curricula used in federally funded programs. Unfortunately, telling young people that condoms don’t work, belittling girls, and promoting anti-abortion and religious views are widespread throughout many others. What young people need is medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education that works. We should be teaching curricula that include messages about both abstinence and contraception and empowers all our young people to make healthy and responsible choice for themselves—including the ability to recognize inappropriate and/or potentially coercive behavior. But instead, the Foley scandal in Washington has our lawmakers embroiled in trying to determine who knew what when and how to maintain congressional seats in the mid-term elections, leaving another very real scandal to go unchecked. According to William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS, “Curricula that instill fear and shame in young people, disparage condom use, perpetuate gender stereotypes, and contain anti-abortion messages have no place in any program for school-aged young people, let alone programs sanctioned by the federal government, and paid for with hard-earned tax dollars.”