Consider the story of “LaWanda,” a homely teenager being raised by a single mother who is pressured by her more sexually experienced boyfriend, “Calvin,” into having sex. Soon after, Calvin dumps LaWanda and takes up with another girl.
“LaWanda was torn apart by the pain of being left alone by the men in her life, first her father and now Calvin,” continues the story. “How would she ever be able to trust another man again?”
Meanwhile, teenagers with names like “Chris” and “Cindy” help each other say no to sex.
Welcome to “Sex Respect,” the most popular of the abstinence-only sexuality education curricula, where racial bias and gender stereotyping are just two ways of getting teens to “Just Say ‘No'” to sex.
The story of “LaWanda” and “Calvin” reinforces a number of negative stereotypes, according to “Sex, Lies, and Politics,” a 1997 report on abstinence-only curricula in California Public Schools by the Public Media Center and the Applied Research Center in Oakland. According to the report, these stereotypes include: “that African Americans are promiscuous; that African-American men are uncaring, unfaithful and irresponsible; and that African-American women have grown up in troubled homes, aren’t physically attractive, and need male attention for self-esteem.”
“Sex Respect” also “teaches students to fear their sexuality, reinforces gender stereotypes, and delivers misinformation on, and discourages use of, condoms and other contraceptives,” according to the report. In addition, the curriculum, “framed by a religious bias of moral absolutism . . . uses misinformation about AIDS/HIV to reinforce an anti-gay bias, and encourages those who have sexually ‘transgressed’ to embrace ‘secondary virginity.'”
Some examples from the text:
- A fear- and shame-based approach: “There is no way to have premarital sex without hurting someone,” states one lesson. Another message: “Sex before marriage … a quick way to lose at the game of life.” And what of teens who attempt to protect themselves from pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases by using contraception? “You feel guilty beforehand because now you are ‘planning’ to do something wrong for you, and you can’t pretend anymore that ‘it just happened.'”
- Inadequate and inaccurate medical information: Premarital sex is equated with increased incidence of cervical cancer. The failure rate of condoms is exaggerated. AIDS is inaccurately described as “the STD most common among homosexuals and bisexuals.” The curriculum also says, “Our nation’s laws, which are designed to protect the health of its citizens, require a blood test before couples can get their marriage license. This test will tell you if you or your intended spouse is carrying an STD.” In fact, laws vary by state and the blood test referred to is for syphilis only, not all STDs.
- Homophobic bias: Homosexuality is mentioned only in connection with a lesson on AIDS, thereby equating it with disease. AIDS is also called nature’s way of “making some kind of a comment on sexual behavior.