Let's Talk About Sex II

In a continued analysis of the report on the Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs commissioned by Rep. Waxman, I wanted to take a look at how the curricula of these programs are particularly damaging to the girls who are subjected to them, as promised.

Just to be clear, there are inherent problems specific to boys, too, and I don’t want to make light of those by not delving into as much detail on those issues. The girls who go through these programs, however, are not only at the mercy of the emotional upheaval that can be caused by the ridiculous notions proffered by these curricula, but their long-term health may be even more greatly compromised.

While both sexes are equally at risk from the misinformation about protection and sexually transmitted diseases purveyed by abstinence-only educators, girls are also at increased risk from cervical cancer:
A critical fact for girls and women to know about cervical cancer is that routine Pap smears can prevent most occurrences of the disease. Women should have Pap smears annually once they are sexually active or, at the latest, starting at age 18. Yet few of the curricula reviewed mention the importance of this intervention.
By itself, such an omission would be unconscionable. Early detection of cervical cancer is critical, and the recommendation for annual Pap smears should be an integral part of any sex education program. However, that is not the only information undermining girls’ understanding of cervical cancer prevention. Additionally, they are told that cervical cancer can be a consequence of premarital sex:
[T]he teaching manual of one curriculum explicitly states: “It is critical that students understand that if they choose to be sexually active, they are at risk” for cervical cancer. Another curriculum asks, “What is the leading medical complication from HPV? Cervical cancer.” Neither of these curricula mentions that human papilloma virus (HPV), though associated with most cases of cervical cancer, rarely leads to the disease, nor that cervical cancer is highly preventable when women get regular Pap smears.
Additionally, the use of condoms has been shown to reduce to risk of cervical cancer, which is, of course, excluded from the curricula.

When I went through sex ed in junior high school, and then the reprise in high school health class, I remember very distinctly learning about the necessity of Pap smears. I also remember being shown how to do a proper breast exam, and it was during a routine breast exam that I recently found a lump in my breast. It turned out to be nothing more than a benign tumor, but had it been worse, my early detection of it could very well have meant the difference between life and death. This was the gift given to me by my sex education classes. Are the girls going through abstinence-only programs being given the same?

The President and his supporters like to talk about a “culture of life,” but these programs are structured in favor of the lives of the unborn rather than the lives of the already-living. Reducing teenage pregnancies and abortions is a worthy goal, but undermining the health and well-being of teenagers by instilling intimidation about sex is absolutely not the way to accomplish it. Kids who are armed with knowledge about sex and are well-prepared for the practicalities (e.g. access to birth control) will reduce teenage pregnancies and abortions by virtue of putting good information into practice.

On the other hand, those who are left with bad information are just as likely to engage in sexuality activity. When they do it, however, they are at increased risk. And they will do it. Fostering ignorance does not delay a loss of innocence. Instead, it ensures that when students who pass through these programs eventually do have sex, their naïveté about the realities of human sexuality will leave them more vulnerable to the very things these curricula are trying to avoid.

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