'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Abstinence-based Bullshit 

Bush plans to spend more than twice as much public money on abstinence-based sex education programs in 2005 than was spent in 2001 -- a total of $170 million. Given the history of the Bush administation, given its Rovian character in which politics drives all policy decisions, we can assume that Bush's advocacy and massive funding of abstinence-based programs is more about placating the religious right than educating the nation's youth. This crass motive leads one to fear that the actual information provided by these programs is biased towards the interests of the fundamentalist Christians.

Recently California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman initiated a study of the curricula of the major abstinence-based programs funded by our tax dollars. The study concluded that "over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula, used by over two thirds of [grantees of the largest federal abstinence initiative] in 2003, contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health." The report finds that abstinence-only curricula contain false information about the effectiveness of contraceptives and about the risks of abortion, that they blur religion and science, and that they present sexual stereotypes as scientific fact.

Waxman's report, publicly available as a PDF on his website, is relatively short, and I encourage you to read the whole thing if you are at all interested in these sorts of issues. Here are a few excerpts...

On the effectiveness of contraceptives:

One curriculum draws an analogy between the HIV virus and a penny and compares it to a sperm cell ("Speedy the Sperm"), which on the same scale would be almost 19 feet long. The curriculum asks, "If the condom has a failure rate of 14% in preventing ‘Speedy’ from getting through to create a new life, what happens if this guy (penny) gets through? You have a death: your own.

Another curriculum inaccurately attacks a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that demonstrated that condoms are effective in preventing HIV transmission. In the study, there was not a single case of HIV transmission between HIV-positive individuals and their HIV-negative partners using condoms consistently, despite a total of 15,000 acts of intercourse. The curriculum states: "This study has been criticized by three different university groups as being seriously flawed in at least six areas, and therefore the results are questionable and not statistically significant." In fact, the "university groups" referred to in the curriculum appear to refer to individuals who sent letters to the editor to the journal in which the study appeared. The central finding that consistent condom use resulted in zero HIV transmission was statistically significant and has not been challenged.

On the basic facts of human sexuality:

Another curriculum presents misleading information about the risk of pregnancy from sexual activity other than intercourse. The curriculum erroneously states that touching another person’s genitals "can result in pregnancy." In fact, the source cited for this contention specifically states that "remaining a virgin all but eliminates the possibility of becoming pregnant."

Blurring the line between religion and science:

One curriculum that describes fetuses as "babies" describes the blastocyst, technically a ball of 107 to 256 cells at the beginning of uterine implantation, as "snuggling" into the uterus:
After conception, the tiny baby moves down the fallopian tube toward the mother’s uterus. About the sixth to tenth day after conception, when the baby is no bigger than this dot (.), baby snuggles into the soft nest in the lining of the mother’s uterus.
Another teaches: "At 43 days, electrical brain wave patterns can be recorded, evidence that mental activity is taking place. This new life may be thought of as a thinking person." The curriculum cites a source which does not in fact call a 43-day-old fetus a "thinking person."

Presenting sexual stereotypes as scientific fact:

Several curricula teach that girls care less about achievement and their futures than do boys. One curriculum instructs: "Women gauge their happiness and judge their success by their relationships. Men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments."

This curriculum also teaches:
Men tend to be more tuned in to what is happening today and what needs to be done for a secure future. When women began to enter the work force at an equal pace with men, companies noticed that women were not as concerned about preparing for retirement. This stems from the priority men and women place on the past, present, and future.
Another curriculum lists "Financial Support" as one of the "5 Major Needs of Women," and "Domestic Support" as one of the "5 Major Needs of Men."

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