On Tuesday night PBS premiered The Education of Shelby Knox, a documentary about teens in Lubbock, Texas, trying to bring effective sex education into their schools. Lubbock just happens to have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STD transmission in the nation, in addition to a school district policy that prohibits any form of sex education other than abstinence-only-until-marriage. You can imagine the resistance these kids were up against. And while many of the scenes in this movie had me laughing out loud, the reality of the situation is pretty frightening. On its face, abstinence-only-until-marriage education seems like it could be a good idea. But when you look closer at the government’s eight-point definition (the required standard for all federally-funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs) you start to feel like the government is more interested in legislating morality than it is in protecting kids. Here’s just two of the eight points required of these programs:”teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity.””has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity.”Right. In just two out of eight points the government has schools defining the “standard of human sexual activity” which completely ostracizes LGBTQ youth not to mention imposes marriage as the norm for everyone. Moreover, the insistence that abstinence must exclusively be taught denies the reality that some teens are sexually active and need information to stay healthy and avoid pregnancy.Yesterday I was in Washington, D.C., attending a workshop called “Sex Ed 101” put on by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The workshop went over the basics of contraception and STDs, and I was pretty stunned to realize how much I didn’t know. Here I am, a woman working in reproductive rights, and even I don’t have a complete handle on all of this information. I can’t even begin to imagine how uninformed teens in this country are and the risks these kids are taking because they don’t have the proper education.So go on Lubbock, continue to keep your teens in the dark. Scratch your head and wonder why the education you offer isn’t able to combat the rates of teen pregnancy and STD transmission in your community. At least you can pat yourself on the back for providing an education that’s “morally correct.”Rachel Hart is the Public Education Associate at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
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