Parents beware!

Posted: Feb 11, 2005 12:00 AM

Parents, does the school your children attend feature a sex-education program that?s billed as ?abstinence-based? or ?abstinence-plus?? If so, you may be under the understandable impression that it tells teens, in clear-cut language, that they?re not ready for sex. That they should wait. That it focuses on ? well, abstinence.

But a major study from The Heritage Foundation, ?Comprehensive Sex Education vs. Authentic Abstinence: A Study of Competing Curricula,? shows that isn?t the case. Like ?People for the American Way? or ?Planned Parenthood,? the label ?abstinence-plus? is a flat-out lie. There?s a lot of ?plus? and precious little ?abstinence.?

Contraception is discussed ad nauseam. ?Condoms are available at any drugstore or family planning clinic,? teens are told in one program, absurdly titled Reducing the Risk. ?They may also be available in outdoor or all-night condom vending machines. Anyone can buy condoms, regardless of age, and no prescription is needed.? Not exactly the message most parents want presented to their judgment-impaired teens. Yet, as the Heritage study shows, such messages are commonplace in ?comprehensive? sex-ed programs.

Worse, the programs often rely on role-playing games that are plainly designed to reinforce immoral behavior and break down the natural modesty that might otherwise keep many teens from engaging in pre-marital sex. In Becoming a Responsible Teen (another eye-rolling misnomer), students are given the following scenario: ?My partner and I are alone. We?ve been leading up to sex for a couple of weeks. The only thing we haven?t discussed is protection. My partner needs to persuade me to use a latex condom.?

Well, this parent has a different suggestion: Things shouldn?t even get this far, but if they do, one of the kids needs to say a firm no. When will that be taught?

Not surprisingly, some of these programs also present homosexuality as just another ?lifestyle choice? that?s above reproach. In Be Proud! Be Responsible!, teens are told, ?You can accept your bisexuality.?

In Reducing the Risk, we find this role-playing exercise: ?Tony and Dylan have been to a party and then go to Tony?s home to be alone. They start to kiss and undress each other. Dylan reaches into his jacket pocket and realizes that he doesn?t have the condom he planned to use. 

 What can Tony and Dylan do to avoid unprotected sex??

And that?s the tame stuff. From condom ?races? (seeing which team of students can be the first to successfully unroll one onto a banana or a cucumber) to graphic descriptions of how teens can perform oral sex on each other ?safely,? these programs are frequently lewd and disgusting. I lack the space (and the stomach, quite frankly) to cite every example, so I?ll refer the terminally curious to the Heritage report mentioned earlier.

The underlying message is unmistakable: Teen sex is normal, so let?s just tell the kids how to avoid pregnancy and disease. There?s a token nod or two to abstinence, but as Heritage?s Robert Rector notes, it often amounts to a sentence or two amid pages and pages of explicit, pro-condom propaganda. Teens get the impression that abstinence is some unattainable ideal -- not the only option that?s fail safe (not to mention moral).

You probably need little proof that parents want such pornography kept far from their kids, but a Zogby International poll of more than 1,000 parents of school-age children provides some: 91 percent said they want teens taught that ?sex should be linked to love, intimacy, and commitment, and that these qualities are most likely to occur in marriage.? In overwhelming numbers, they rejected the morally objectionable content and approach of ?abstinence-plus? programs.

Asked when sexual activity should begin, more than three out of every four parents said teens should wait until they?re married or close to marriage. Another 12 percent said to wait until they?ve at least finished high school. Only 7 percent said ?protected sex? in high school is OK. Yet that?s almost exclusively what these programs teach our teens.

Which means that we?re setting them up for failure. A host of social-science research shows that early sexual activity is dangerous not just because of STDs, but because it hampers the ability to form stable marriages later in life (making the additional $38 million President Bush has proposed for abstinence-only programs a sound investment).

Parents, your teens deserve an unambiguous abstinence message. If your school isn?t providing one, you need to equip yourself with reliable research, network with other parents and make a change. It?s time to subtract the ?plus? from ?abstinence-plus.?