Why the abstinence speakers from Ithaca Pregnancy Center did not belong in our school
Let me start this off by saying that I really, truly believe that abstinence is one of many safe, realistic, and healthy options for teenagers concerning their sexuality. Which is why I am really glad that it is a part of Trumansburg’s sex education curriculum, along with information about contraceptive use and std education. Recently, the high school had guest speakers come in to health classes to talk specifically about abstinence.
The speakers came from the Ithaca Pregnancy Center, a center which provides “alternatives to abortion”. This seems like a needed public service, until you look closer into the background of the organization. The Ithaca Pregnancy Center is a part of a larger network of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, and can be found in listings of Crisis Pregnancy Centers across the United States. CPCs often exist to dissuade women from having abortions by offering information about the “emotional repercussions” of abortion, graphic, exaggerated descriptions of abortion techniques, and ultrasounds. In New York State,there have been probes into these centers in response to complaints of blatant misinformation.
Whatever an individuals personal beliefs about abortion, a factual unbiased approach should be embraced in the classroom. We deserve to learn the facts about intercourse, STDs, abstinence, and abortion from unbiased educators without an agenda. Bringing in speakers who are affiliated with a staunchly anti-choice organization, and presenting them as sex educators (which implies that everything they say is factual), polarizes and adds an element of discomfort to a classroom in which students should be presented with facts that enable them to make their own informed decisions.
The speakers included a married couple in their twenties, a woman in her early thirties, and two teenage girls. They made their message clear from the beginning: Abstinence until marriage is the best option for teenagers regarding their sexuality. They presented marriage as the ultimate and only complete safe haven from the dangers of intimacy. There are two problems with this message.
The first is that assuming that one option (in this case, abstinence) works for all teenagers is wrong. Teenagers are a diverse population of people with a plethora of opinions and backgrounds. Taking a “one size fits all” approach to sex is counter productive and alienating. The second problem is the “until marriage” part of the message. This completely excludes any gay or lesbian student, for whom marriage is not an option. It also idealizes marriage, making it seem as though it magically makes all the risks of sex- STDs, pregnancy, rape, emotional distress- disappear. It is possible to contract an STD, get pregnant before you are ready, and be raped by your spouse, but this was not addressed, which is dangerous.
They also gave the message that abstinence is not only an option, but the ONLY safe option by completely discrediting the use of condoms and not mentioning birth control. One of the speakers said “Condoms are an option, and claim to be effective...but they only are when used correctly so there goes that.” She then said that condoms can allow STDs to be transmitted, and can break. Which is factual, however she did not discuss ways to maximize the effectiveness of condoms (such as the use of spermicide and pulling out before ejaculation), or how to wear them properly. This gave the impression that condoms are ineffective, and therefor the idea of “safe sex” being possible outside of abstinence is false.
Abstinence, like condoms, is also effective only when used correctly. If you slip up once and engage in a sexual act, or use selective abstinence (ex abstaining from genital but not oral sex) then the 100% effectivity rate lowers. If students are under the impression that condoms are ineffective, practice abstinence, then slip up, they are more likely to not use protection. Teaching abstinence in a way that discredits contraceptives is irresponsible and counterproductive to the comprehensive sex education policy that our school follows.
The most important thing for a education program to do is not to idealize sex (marital or premarital), marriage, “love,” a non marital romantic relationship, or fetishize virginity or the loss of virginity. Sex ed should be honest and inclusive, and should provide an unbiased understanding of the multiple theories about sexuality (feminist, religious, etc.). Sex ed should, above all, enable students to communicate and advocate for what they do and don’t want their sexuality to consist of. Comprehensive sex education does this to an extent. These speakers, however did not. They should not have been included in our health curriculum, and should be prevented from being included in the future.