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Dear Teenagers: If You're Not a Virgin, You're Like a Dirty Old Toothbrush - Sincerely, Your School

According to abstinence only programs like 'Aspire', 'Reality CHECK', kids who have sex are like dirty old toothbrushes - used up and worthless. Is this really what we should be teaching our children?

This is what your daughter will turn into if she has sex.

A parent (who wishes to preserve her anonymity) took a photo of sexuality education materials teachers of 5th and 6th grade students in the Canyon Independent School District in Texas are given that advise, “Virgin means not having participated in any sexual activity of any kind. Toothbrush or stick of gum demonstration can be used here to show the difference in used vs. new. Encourage students to stay like a new toothbrush, wrapped up and unused. People want to marry a virgin, just like they want a virgin toothbrush or stick of gum.”

So according to Reality CHECK, the abstinence-only education program taught in Canyon schools, if one of these 5th or 6th graders is being sexually abused, he or she is as worthless as gnawed-on gum or a germy used toothbrush. Wonderful message – well done, abstinence-only assholes.

Earlier this year, Elizabeth Smart, who at 14 was kidnapped and sexually abused for nine months before being rescued and is now a sexual violence prevention advocate, recalled during a human trafficking forum at  Johns Hopkins University how the chewing gum analogy she was also taught in the abstinence program at her school in Utah affected her after she was raped:

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I'm that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value.”

When another local parent, Kristina Drumheller, saw the Canyon curriculum photo, she shared it with other parents, even though her own daughter is home-schooled. In an interview with ThinkProgress reporter Tara Culp-Ressler, Drumheller said, “There is a difference between teaching children about the real consequences of any sexual encounter and teaching them that they become less valuable because they choose to have sex before marriage.”

Almost half of 16 year olds nationwide have had sex, and the figure jumps to 71 percent by the time teens reach 19, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. That's a lot of icky gum and used toothbrushes. And although at one point 94 percent of school districts in Texas provided abstinence-only sex education, the state has the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the country.

The robust funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage education like Reality CHECK of the G.W. Bush era decreased considerably since President Obama took office, but pro-life sources expressed their outrage with the cuts in 2009 anyway, claiming that Obama was mandating funding for “contraceptive-only education,” which I'm pretty sure doesn't actually exist:

Leslee Unruh, president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse,warned in her interview with LifeNews, "I believe there will be a political backlash for those who oppose these life-saving abstinence programs. The enemies of sexual integrity programs will feel the heat from the army of youth who have seen the light through these programs as they approach voting age.”

I'm not sure if a flaming army of youth had anything to do with it, but in 2010 and 2011, $50 million was still being allocated for such programs under Obama's Healthcare Reform package. And the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been criticized for endorsing Heritage Keepers, a marriage-pushing sexuality program of which Salon (Chez's favorite) reported last year:

“On April 30, over a dozen major organizations, including the ACLU and Human Rights Campaign, asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to explain Heritage Keepers’ inclusion [on a list of approved sexuality-education programs]. They said the program 'ostracizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth; promotes heterosexual marriage as the only acceptable family structure; withholds life-saving information from sexually active youth; and uses fear-based messages to shame youth who have been sexually active and youth living in ‘nontraditional’ households.'”

I fell down an investigatory rabbit hole researching this blog; many accounts of what kids are taught in these programs are fascinating, in an appalling way.

In an article for RH Reality Check, a Maryland-based sexual health and justice watchdog group, Martha Kempner, former vice president for information and communication at the nonprofit Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SEICUS), evaluated claims kids were told last year in an abstinence-only presentation at Hillsboro High School in Tennessee that a student recorded and leaked to the media.

The school's principal defended the erroneous and misleading information the students were reportedly given by Joi Wasill, founder of the nonprofit Decisions, Choices and Options, and Beth Cox, a member of the Sumner County School Board who serves as a presenter for Wasill’s organization, in an interview with USA Today:

“Fortunately, I believe the Hillsboro High School kids are smart enough to separate fact from fiction and that some of the opinions and scare tactics used in the presentation they will know are incorrect.”

Yes, of course it's ok to tell lies to kids, even in the context of sexual health instruction, because they'll probably know when they're being lied to. At least we hope so, lol!

In addition to the old pro-life chestnuts that abortion is likely to pierce your uterus and make you sterile, that health textbooks state definitively that life begins at conception, and that condoms fail 14 percent of the time (the actual failure rate is one in 100, according to the Centers for Disease Control), Kempner described even more outlandish – and disgusting – bullshit these kids had to sit through:

Sex and Spit

One speaker suggests that they pass a cup around the classroom, each student spit in it, and then the last one drink out of it: 'What do you all think about that? Pretty disgusting, right? You wouldn’t do it because you’re exchanging bodily fluids, and that’s what you do in sexual activity; you exchange bodily fluids so you see how rampant you can go in terms of your sexual activity.'

This is not the first abstinence-only speaker to focus on spit. It’s pretty common. In fact, the spit game, of which there are many versions, has made its way into numerous abstinence-only curricula. It usually goes something like this: A teacher lines a few kids up facing each other (girls facing boys, of course, because we’re all heterosexual); gives them a cup of water and something edible that once chewed looks gross, like Cheetos; and asks them to take a swig of water with the gross item and then spit the contents of their mouth back into their cup. One line (usually the boys) pours their spit into the cup of the girl across from them and then turns their cup over to learn it was labeled with an STD that they’ve now spread.

In my favorite variation, all the cups are then poured into an empty glass pitcher, which is placed next to a pitcher of clean water, and students are asked to choose which pitcher they would like their 'future husband' or 'future wife' to come from.”

One of the speakers warns kids about a new deadly STD that shall remain nameless:

“I just got some information last week from the Department of Health and Human Services. There’s a new STD that they’re saying is gonna be the new AIDS. It’s deadly and it’s and it’s fast. Like before you even know you have it, it’s gone beyond treatable. And it’s deadly.”

Kempner couldn't even figure out what they were talking about but speculated that it could be an antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, which hasn't killed anyone, or a strain of meningitis that can be contracted through sharing utensils or hugging, not just sexual contact.

SEICUS reviewed another abstinence-only-until-marriage program called Aspire in 2006, finding:

“Aspire is designed to prepare young people for marriage and as such covers only a few selected topics. It does not provide information on most of the topics in the [government] Guidelines, including reproduction, puberty, contraceptive options, sexual health care and sexual orientation. Even those topics often given a lot of time in other fear-based abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, such as sexually transmitted disease and condoms, are glossed over in favor of discussions and exercises about 'character,' self-control and planning for the future.

Aspire exaggerates both the benefits of sexual abstinence and the risks of sexual activity outside of marriage. Furthermore, it creates a dichotomy between those who wait to have sex until they are married, who are portrayed as virtuous and good, and those who do not, who are portrayed as flawed and unhealthy.

One exercise walks young people through a flowchart that goes from abstinence, to academic achievement, to future opportunities, to future freedoms. Teachers are told: 'Although this exercise may seem obvious, it is best not to assume that students have thought through the relationship between abstinence, academic achievement, and future freedom. (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 78) At the conclusion of the exercise students are told, 'Research indicates that abstinent teens tend to do better in school and are nearly twice as likely to graduate from college.' (Aspire, Teacher’s Manual, p. 80) Students are not told that the research was conducted by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that supports an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach in order to reduce 'illegitimate births.' Heritage frequently reexamines data and statistics in an effort to find support for its own opinions. Its research is not peer-reviewed or published in legitimate scientific journals.”

In a supposed real-life example, the kids are told about a post-high-school couple, Tammy and Shane. Shane visits Tammy to find that Tammy's roommate is out and they're alone (gasp!); she pressures him to have sex. He refuses, and it destroys their relationship. Later, Shane learns – somehow – that Tammy was already pregnant the night she wanted to have sex with Shane, and the students are asked to speculate why she did that. They conclude that it was an attempt to trick Shane into having sex with her because, the kids guess, her babydaddy abandoned her and she wanted to trick poor virtuous Shane into thinking her baby was his.

SEICUS concluded that the Tammy story “embodies the curriculum’s opinion of sexually active students: she is conniving, unscrupulous and has ulterior motives for desiring sex. In contrast, abstinent students are compared to a push-up champion who understands that 'saving sex until marriage is similar in the sense that when you realize the prize is something magnificent, you are more likely to preserve through the pressure. In the meantime, you are developing your character: stamina, endurance, focus, strength, perseverance. These are important qualities to possess in order to remain abstinent and to bring to a healthy, lasting marriage.' (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, Sec. 5:A)

Aspire believes that 'Abstinence isn’t about not having sex—it’s about saving sex for the context of marriage where it is safe and protected.' (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 20) To illustrate this point to students, the curriculum relies on countless analogies comparing sex to everything from pies and candy to houses.

In one exercise, the teacher creates two pies out of shaving cream. Both pies contain the exact same ingredients but one is inside the pie tin and the other is created on the bottom of an upside-down pie tin. 'As you can see here, both pies have all the same ingredients but one will be better. The first pie will work because it has boundaries. The first pie represents sex within marriage. Sex is wonderful inside the boundaries of marriage because you have a solid commitment.' (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, Sec 1:B)

In another exercise, 'Sweet as Sugar,' the teacher is instructed to give each student a piece of chocolate that looks identical, tell them to eat it and ask who liked it. Students may be surprised that not everyone enjoyed the chocolate until the teacher explains the twist behind the exercise. 'I handed out sweetened chocolate to some and unsweetened chocolate to some. I deceived you because you all thought the chocolate would taste good because it looked the same. In the same way, our society thinks sex is good for everyone at anytime, but we are deceived. Sex is like the chocolate I handed out. The unsweetened chocolate represents sex outside of marriage. The sweetened chocolate represents sex within marriage. What chocolate would you rather have?'”

In another program called “Just Say YES” (Youth Equipped to Succeed), kids are warned that they're more likely to drop out of high school, less likely to be financially successful and have a higher risk of depression and suicide if they have premarital sex  – stats courtesy of the Heritage Foundation, once again.

Here's a hilariously goony promotional trailer for “Look Before You Leap,” a YES-produced training video for a heated young army of virgins:

InTENSE, brah! Hosted by some pro sky-diver who is evidently the Guy Fieri of not fucking, “Look Before You Leap” offers teens hypothetical situations and characters assigned stereotypical roles, such as “The Snake,” a Biebery fellow who just wants to do you and use you, and “The Visionary,” who eschews sex to save his precious prick from disease. From what I gleaned amid the Poochy-from-“The Simpsons”-style “cool” editing, sex – likened to a “life-altering sky dive” – will leave you in tears and your friends will slap you upside the head, you will hysterically berate yourself in the mirror and batter your self-esteem (If only Pia Zadora was young enough to play the mirror girl: "You have to be sexy! You put on a show, and THEY WILL LOVE YOU!") and could even become infertile.

I'm not sure if this part of the video is referring to having had sex or implying that the weepy blond woman sitting next to a vase of flowers had an abortion, but she laments, “I wish that I had thought more about my future, and how those choices that I made would affect my dream to be able to have my own children.” Many abstinence-only programs claim that the abortion procedure shreds uteruses to the point that post-abortion infertility is commonplace, a claim that's actually a pile of shit.

Scott Phelps, executive director for the Abstinence and Marriage Education Partnership, was a guest on WGN Radio after an Illinois law passed in August that requires schools with sex-ed programs to also offer “age appropriate, medically accurate and complete” lessons on birth control and sexually transmitted infections (STI). I was actually surprised that he was so open about his priority of preserving heterosexual marriage rates over keeping kids free of babies and sexually transmitted diseases:

“We do talk about contraception. What we don't do is tell teens how to use it and where to get it.

...Here's the big problem ... [With contraception education], what you're really doing is you're codifying the sexual revolution. What the sexual revolution did was separate sexual activity from the marriage relationship. And when you teach kids that in order to have sex what you need to do is get yourself some contraception, what you've done is you've separated sex from the marriage relationship. And when you require that by law, you've codified it. The sexual revolution has been devastating to the American family. And that's well-documented; I'm not making that up.”

Devastating, indeed!

Pretty amazing brainwashing techniques, but let's get back to Canyon's program, Reality CHECK, which teaches kids about:

-Peer Pressure and Refusal Skills

·Personal Value and Self-Esteem

·Sexually Transmitted Diseases

·Sexual Messages: What They Are and Where They Come From

·Sex, Contraception, and Abstinence

·Sex, Teen Pregnancy, and Consequences

·Legal Implications of Sexual Activity [??? Has any kid ever given a shit about whether the sex they're having is, by legal standards, statutory rape? My guess is no.]

Sex, Drugs, and Alcohol

Decision-Making Skills

It's a good thing that this program includes a section on “sex, drugs and alcohol,” because kids who are told that they are soiled and worthless often end up abusing drugs and alcohol. Way to prep them for the future, Reality CHECK!

PS: Fuck you.