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Sex Ed: What’s the Best Approach?
Moreover, this exercise does not provide room for students to discuss the possibility that in some relationships sexual behavior may take other forms or progress in different orders and as such misses a critical opportunity to help teens explore responsible sexual decision making. Instead, Worth the Wait provides students with illogical analogies and over-simplified advice. To underscore the need for such an absolute rule, the teacher is instructed to read the following story aloud: They say that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will leap out right away to escape the danger; but if you put the frog in a kettle that is filled with water that is cool and pleasant, and then you gradually heat the kettle until it starts boiling, the frog will not become aware of the threat until it is too late. The frog's survival instincts are geared towards detecting sudden changes. First, you start kissing and then hands start roaming and then, oops! Sex just kind of happens! Young people need to know that at any point in a relationship, and at any point during sexual activity, they have the right and the ability to set their own sexual boundaries and that it is their responsibility to do so. Distorting Information Worth the Wait's information on STDs and contraceptive options is more accurate and current than many other abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula. Nonetheless, its discussion of the topic includes potentially misleading information and emphasizes failure rates in an apparent attempt to undermine teens' confidence in these methods. In fact, the teacher background section is taken almost verbatim from a CDC publication entitled, T racking the Hidden Epidemics Worth the Wait's discussion of this subject is thorough and includes important, and often omitted, information about the possibility of transmitting STDs through oral and anal sex. While the information is more complete and accurate than expected, the curriculum does include some information that may give students a false impression of the prevalence and health consequences of certain STDs. For example, on the student handout describing syphilis, the number of new cases per year is listed as 70,, when in fact there were only 7, cases reported in While BV has been shown to be related to sexual activity, it is not necessarily sexually transmitted. In fact, BV can develop without the occurrence of sexual contact, and is also linked to douching. While it is true that untreated Chlamydia and gonorrhea can result in PID, the student handout omits this important distinction and as such misses the opportunity to stress the value of getting tested for STDs. In fact, testing is only addressed once in the curriculum. This information is essential to a lifetime of maintaining sexual health. Consistent with its overall theme of abstinence until marriage, Worth the Wait discusses the consequence of STDs as they relate to finding a future spouse. An obvious example would be if you become infected with an STD like herpes. Later in life, when you do get married, you could pass on this STD to your new spouse. On the other hand, you may date someone who treats you respectfully and politely. This type of dating experience will lead you towards finding a spouse who will hopefully treat you in the same manner. It will also teach you how important it is to treat others respectfully and will probably serve as a reminder to you that you need to treat those around you with respect. Worth the Wait, Section By limiting the scope of this discussion to marriage, the curriculum once again ignores those students who will never marry, including young people who are gay and lesbian. Moreover, this statement is yet another example of portraying individuals who become sexually active before marriage as disrespectful and unworthy. Such attempts to pass off conservative social values and messages of shame as public health facts undermine what could be a very useful lesson on STDs. Contraceptive Options—Emphasizing failure rates and discouraging use Unlike most abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, Worth the Wait offers an in-depth examination of a variety of contraceptive options. The curriculum details how each method works and discusses its proper use in a PowerPoint presentation. While the information provided is accurate and important, the curriculum's emphasis on failure rates and misuse by teens may ultimately discourage young people from using contraception. Unlike many abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula, Worth the Wait acknowledges that condoms can reduce the risk of HIV and stresses the importance of correct and consistent condom use. This explanation is potentially very misleading to students. To fully understand condom effectiveness, students must understand the difference between method failure and user failure. Method failure refers to failure that results from a defect in the product. Method failure of the male condom is very rare and is estimated to occur in only three percent of couples using condoms consistently and correctly during the first year of use. In truth, condom failure is usually caused by errors in use, most often the failure of couples to use a condom during every act of sexual intercourse. It is, therefore, important to look at the data on typical use or user failure. User failure is calculated by looking at couples who use condoms as their primary method of birth control over the course of a year. About 14 of these couples will experience an unintended pregnancy during the first year. To put this in perspective, it helps to look at other contraceptive methods. As you can figure out, if condoms frequently fail in preventing pregnancy, they can also frequently fail in preventing STDs!!! Research shows that when used consistently and correctly latex condoms are highly effective in preventing pregnancy and reducing the risk of STDs. The author seems to assume that if adolescents believe that condoms and other contraceptive methods are ineffective, they will abstain from sexual activity. There is no reason to think that this is true. Such inaccurate information may instead discourage teens from using these important prevention methods when they do become sexually active, thereby putting them at increased risk for unintended pregnancy and STDs, including HIV. Promoting Biases According to the Guidelines, one of the main goals of sexuality education is to provide an opportunity for young people to question, explore, and assess their own and their community's attitudes about sexuality. This can help young people understand their family's values, develop their own values, and improve critical-thinking skills. Rather than providing this important opportunity, however, Worth the Wait promotes specific viewpoints about gender, marriage, sexual orientation, and pregnancy options. Gender—Fostering myths and stereotypes An entire lesson is devoted to identifying differences between men and women. The teacher is instructed to read aloud from several pages of information documenting gender differences in behavior, emotional development, conflict management, brain size, intellectual capacity, and communication skills. Males will often have their first intercourse experience with a woman to whom he feels no particular attachment while females tend to have their first sexual experience with a man they love and may want to marry. In so doing, the curriculum places all of the responsibility for refusing sexual activity on the shoulders of young women. The curriculum justifies the discussion on gender differences by repeatedly stating that these differences have been documented in research studies and by admitting that there are individual exceptions to these rules. Nonetheless, students are not challenged to question the nature, validity, or origin of these gender stereotypes, or to explore how such stereotypes may affect sexual relationships. Such a presentation is detrimental to all young people by limiting their options, influencing their behavior, and coloring their expectations for future relationships. Instead, students need to learn that both men and women are sexual beings and are equally responsible for making decisions regarding sexual activity and relationships. The Marriage Mandate—Promoting one lifestyle The creators of Worth the Wait have received money from two of the federal government's dedicated funding streams for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, and other schools and organizations that receive these funds use the curriculum. In this lesson, students complete handouts in which they describe the perfect spouse and conditions for an ideal marriage. The curriculum furthers this dichotomy between happy and responsible married people and their less worthy peers in a discussion about cohabitation: Often you will hear reasons such as we want to make sure we are compatible, or we want to make sure it will work out. Cohabitation or living together, however, doesn't improve one's chances for a successful marriage. More importantly, however, opposition to cohabitation is clearly not a universally held value as 11 million Americans reported living with a partner outside of matrimony in Divorce and Family Structure—Depicting non-traditional families as troubled The curriculum also paints a very negative picture of divorce. For example, a PowerPoint slide describes ill effects of divorce: For Better or Worse:
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