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Vaginas Are Sperm Depositories and Other Scary Things About the State of New York’s Sex Ed Curricula

8:04 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Zero Tolerance for Clowns

(Photo: Mike Licht,

Written by Martha Kempner for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Along with many others children, teens, and adults, this week I went back to school, too. I started teaching Introduction to Human Sexuality at a local college, something I haven’t done in about six years. In an effort to gauge what my students had already learned and what they wanted to know, I gave them an anonymous questionnaire which, in part, asked them to describe their sexuality education up until this point. At least five of them said that they’d had the “standard” or “usual” high school sex education. Unfortunately, this wasn’t particularly enlightening to me because as a new report from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) highlights: when it comes to sex ed there is no such thing as standard; every district or even every classroom is different.

A survey of school systems across New York was conducted by NYCLU to determine what, if anything, they were teaching students about sex. Schools in the state are not required to teach comprehensive sexuality education, and while they are required to teach about HIV and certain other health topics, most of the lessons do not address sexuality or relationships. Schools do have to teach about alcohol, drugs, and tobacco; the prevention and detection of certain cancers; child development and parenting skills; and interpersonal violence. They do not, according to the new report, Birds, Bees, and Bias, How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York Students, have to teach about “healthy relationship skills, STI and pregnancy prevention, puberty, [and] anatomy” or “other core aspects of effective, comprehensive sex education.” In 2005, the Department of Education issued state standards for health education, which included many topics related to sexual health. However, these standards are voluntary, and school districts do not have to comply with them. The authors also mention the National Sex Education Standards, which were released early this year by a number of national organizations. These set minimum content requirements for concepts in sex education but are also not binding. The report concludes:

“The current legal and policy climate permits schools in New York to decide what, if any, sex education they will teach beyond the mandated HIV education. As a result, whether New York’s teens graduate from high school with the information and skills crucial to making lifelong healthy and informed decisions about sex and relationships rests in the hands of each individual school district, principal and health education teacher, with little guidance and even less oversight.”

To determine what students are learning, NYCLU sent questionnaires to a sample of school districts across the state making sure to include small, medium, and large districts. New York City was excluded in part for efficiency purposes. Since the surveys were sent out, however, the city passed a sex education mandate that went into during the 2011-2012 school year. NYCLU says: “We look forward to reviewing New York City data and instruction at a future date.” In total, 108 school districts were included, representing 542,955 students or nearly half of all students enrolled in districts outside New York City. In addition, the authors reviewed the most commonly used textbooks in the state.

The study found major gaps in the education young people should have been receiving, as well as numerous factual errors and biases in the information they were actually given.

Outdated HIV Information

As the only sexuality-related topic that is mandated, HIV is one of the subjects most likely to be covered by school districts in the state.  In fact, 93 percent of districts surveyed provided information on this topic. Unfortunately, many of them used outdated information on “prognosis, drug therapies, prevention and transmission.” Some of the outdated and inaccurate information includes districts telling kids:

  • “Once you have AIDS you will live from 6 months to 3 years.”
  • “[HIV] kills an individual.”

One district mentions AZT, the earliest antiretroviral drug, which was introduced in 1987, but does not discuss any of the newer available therapies. Another provides students with a handout that gives an illustrated timeline of what happens when you become infected with HIV. The timeline explains that one goes from being asymptomatic to having HIV symptoms within 12 years (without mentioning available drug therapies), that the individual then goes from HIV symptoms to AIDS and opportunistic infections within two years, and from there they go to a tombstone that says RIP within two more years.

Anything with a tombstone is clearly trying to instill fear in young people, which is bad enough, but this illustration is troubling in other ways as well. It misses many opportunities to talk about how people are now managing to stay healthy longer with HIV, and it misses all opportunities to mention how to prevent the spread of HIV. In fact, the person in the timeline gets tested for HIV and finds out he’s positive before going into the stage where he is asymptomatic which is described as “feeling healthy but still spreading HIV.”

Young people should know that HIV is preventable through both abstinence and the use of condoms and that it is possible to have it without spreading it.

Incomplete Information about Anatomy
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Virgin Diaries: TLC’s Latest Cringe-Worthy Program on Sex

11:35 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check


Written by Martha Kempner for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

TLC’s early forays into reality television included entries like A Baby Story, A Wedding Story, and A Dating Story.  These half-hour shows introduced viewers to a couple about to embark on a big moment (or in the case of the dating show a pretty minor moment except for the cameras) through a series of earnest interviews and clips of preparatory events like wedding dress fittings and baby showers.  Though some of these scenes seemed staged or at least exaggerated for television, for the most part the shows read as real and the people were likable enough to make you (or at least me) root for them during their ceremonies or c-sections.

But in the post-Paris Hilton age of the Kardashians, such sweet fare must seem tired and dull to viewers or at least schedulers. So, the network is now home to a new brand of reality television. It’s current line-up includes weekly check-ins with 19 Kids and Counting (featuring Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their quiverfull of children which is scheduled to reach 20 early next year); Toddlers in Tiaras (an inside look at the pint-size pageant circuit focusing on toothless moms and their heavily made up 4-year-olds); and Sister Wives (a peek at the lives of a polygamist and his multiple families). And of course, we can’t forget the recently cancelled Kate + 8, the show that started out being about a loving couple raising two six-year-olds and six two-year-olds and ended up being about Kate Gosselin’s 15-minutes of fame. There’s also the freak-of-the-week shows such as Extreme Couponing, My Strange Addiction, and the now-casting Strange Sex.

While we are meant to care about these “real” families who put their stories out there for us each week, I think these shows share a little bit in common with the circus freak shows of yesteryear. We can’t help but look. Seeing preschoolers in $4,000 dresses and blue eye-shadow makes us cringe, but we look. The heartfelt discussions between two blond women “married” to the same man make us cringe, but we look. Michelle Duggar telling us in her baby-girl voice that all children are a gift from God even if this latest pregnancy is super risky for both her and Dugger-number-20 makes us cringe, but we look.  And in looking, we can’t help but feel a little superior to the main characters.  As my husband reminded me last night; the purpose of nearly all reality television is to congratulate the viewer on being smarter than the subjects. Read the rest of this entry →

Stacey Campfield’s Tennessee Gag Order on Gays

7:33 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kathleen Reeves for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Last week, Tennessee’s State Senate passed out of committee SB49, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stacey Campfield, proposed this bill without luck for six years when he was a member of the House. Presumably too idiotic for state legislators in the past, the bill is now on the floor!

While the bill would technically outlaw discussion of homosexuality in the classroom before the ninth grade, its practical effects are unclear, for many reasons. First, Tennesee’s current guidelines on sexuality education, referred to (tellingly) as the “family life curriculum,” are vague and poorly-enforced. Family life education is overseen by Local Education Agencies, which often receive insufficient guidance from the state. As a result, sexuality education in Tennessee (such as it exists) is shrouded in darkness: it’s unclear what children and teenagers are learning, what and who their sources of knowledge are, and how effective this “curriculum” is.

One clear element of the state’s policy on sex ed is the mandatory promotion of abstinence. Every course on sexual health must “include presentations encouraging abstinence from sexual intercourse during the teen and pre-teen years,” according to the SIECUS report cited above. So Stacey Campfield’s insistence on banning gay talk seems redundant. … Read more

Sex Shaming and the Rhythm Method

6:44 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

According to the latest research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the proponents of abstinence-only can count one success in altering teenage sexual behavior.  No, they didn’t lower the rate of teenagers having sex, which the CDC indicates has stayed steady at around 4 in 10 teenagers (with 18 year-olds having sex at double the rate of those ages 15 to 17, despite media panics about younger teenagers having sex). Ab-only fans weren’t able to convince teenagers to marry younger.  Nor did they convince them that condoms are scary items that you should never touch unless you want to get cancer and rabies; most teenagers use condoms the first time they have sex. 

But despite all these failures, abstinence-only proponents have had one success.  The CDC also found that the percentage of teenage girls who use the rhythm method as birth control (at least some of the time) jumped from 11 percent in 2002 to 17 percent in 2008.  It’s high enough of a jump that it might explain why the teenage pregnancy rate is still as high as it is. 

Why blame abstinence-only proponents for this?  Don’t they just blithely tell young women to “just say no” and leave it at that?  Well, yes and no.  No one is under the impression that abstinence-only texts or speakers generally push the rhythm method, so much as they push the wedding ring as the cure for all your ills.  How you’re expected to control your fertility within marriage is rarely discussed at all in these programs.  Still, the rhythm method is associated with the prudish strand of Christian moralizing that also drives the abstinence-only movement, and so the more popular that kind of thinking, the more likely the rhythm method will be seen as a legitimate practice by teenagers. 

Additionally, we have to understand that periodic use of the rhythm method usually means telling yourself that you’re in an infertile period so that you can have sex without condoms, and not just abstaining during certain times, which is where the Catholic church tends to focus, due to the obsession with finding excuses to tell people to keep it in their pants.  Why would a young woman take the risk of guessing when she’s not fertile in order to skip the condoms?  Two reasons come to mind: Shame about sexuality and pressure from a male partner.  Let’s take these one at a time, and look at how abstinence-only increases the likelihood of both. 

Sexual shaming can dramatically increase the likelihood that an individual will look for excuses and rationalizations for not using contraception.  If you’re ashamed of having sex, every instance of buying a condom can be fraught with fear and shame—fear of being caught, shame of having to admit that you’re having sex, shame at what the cashier thinks of you.  In turn, this makes it easier for you to say, “We don’t need a condom this time; I don’t think I’m in a fertile period.”  The prevalence of abstinence-only programs only means that your average teenager is receiving a much bigger pile of shaming and fear-mongering about sex.  If the only message you’re allowed to receive about sex in school is one of shame, it becomes easier to imagine that every adult around you is judging and shaming you for sex, and thus, more important to you to minimize the amount of time you spend revealing this fact by doing things like buying condoms.

If you know much about sex education, or even if you’ve just been out in the world enough to know much about how people have sex, you probably know that condom negotiation in heterosexual encounters is often a responsibility that falls on female shoulders more than male ones.  Which is a nice way of saying that women are far more likely to have to demand condoms in the face of male resistance than the other way around.  This makes sense—between biological realities and sexist indoctrination, men are far less likely to be considering the risks of sex when in the mood to get to the pleasure part. 

This can make condom negotiation extremely hard, especially on younger women, who often don’t have enough experience to develop the tools to stand up for themselves. Abstinence-only can make this worse. The programs push extremely sexist views about gender roles, and put a special emphasis on how men only like women who are submissive and people-pleasing.  When you teach young women that no one will love them if they’re too self-assured, what do you think she’s going to feel when a young man is pressuring her to go condom-less?  In many cases, she’ll feel fear that demanding a condom will make the young man not like her anymore, and generally speaking, when you’re just about to have sex is not when you’re at your least vulnerable to wanting to be liked.  In many cases, it’s just going to be easier to say you’re probably not in a fertile  period. 

Why can’t we trust that teenage girls using the rhythm method are simply experts in their own fertility?  It’s possible a few are, but let’s face it.  To use the method effectively requires more than counting the days in your cycle.  You also have to take your temperature and measure mucus levels—all the sort of things that few teenage girls are unlikely to do.  Merely counting days is ineffective in women who have regular periods.  For teenage girls, who often have irregular periods, it’s basically a waste of time. In addition, the rhythm method offers no protection against STDs. 

Abstinence-only is still kicking after being snuck into the health care reform bill after the Obama administration defunded it through other channels.  But its impact is softened every time right-thinking politicians strike a blow against it.  Hopefully the next time the CDC takes this study, there will be more comprehensive sex education, and we’ll see improvements in contraceptive use amongst teenagers.

(VIDEO) California’s Sex Education Program: Ongoing Struggles Behind the Success Story

7:16 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Phyllida Burlingame for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

California’s sex education policies are the envy of most other states. California is alone in having never accepted Title V federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funds, and state laws require that sex education in schools and state-funded community programs be comprehensive and bias-free. California’s laws have served as models for other states and the federal Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act legislation. Recently, the Guttmacher Institute praised California as being way out front in preventing unintended pregnancy among teens, in part because of the state’s embrace of comprehensive sex education.

California’s sex education law requires that instruction:

  • Be medically accurate, science-based and age-appropriate
  • Include thorough information about condoms and contraception, as well as information about how, when and why to delay sexual activity
  • Be free of bias based on gender, sexual orientation, and race or ethnicity
  • Be accessible to English learner students and students with disabilities
  • Teach skills for making healthy decisions

California’s policies have undeniably made a positive impact on sex education in the state. But, unfortunately, sex education advocates can’t dust off our hands and move on. Many California public schools are still providing abstinence-only-until marriage programs, in spite of policies that forbid them.

In the six years since the sex education law was enacted, I’ve talked with countless parents complaining that outside agencies are coming into their schools to teach students about purity, condom ineffectiveness, and how their lives will be ruined if they engage in sex outside of marriage. How is this possible? 

The gap between policy and practice in California reflects an ongoing challenge: implementation. In California, we have over 1,000 school districts and only one person at the California Department of Education who works on sex education. While the state does evaluate school districts for compliance with the law, its capacity is extremely limited: this year, only three districts have been reviewed. Without a powerful enforcement mechanism, school districts feel that they can ignore—or creatively misinterpret—the law with impunity.

Advocates for comprehensive sex education therefore can’t sit back and expect all school districts to implement the law on their own, or for the California Department of Education to force them to do it. To ensure that the instruction called for by law is actually presented to students, we need to keep working at the state level and in our communities.

While we still have our work cut out for us, California sex education advocates have made significant progress in leveraging the law to move school districts away from abstinence-only programs, through a combination of administrative advocacy, community organizing, and coalition building.

Getting State Agencies To Step Up

State agencies can seem like an impenetrable bureaucratic thicket, but finding a way through the thicket can be invaluable, since these agencies have extensive reach into local school districts and communities. They also play a key role in interpreting legislation and deciding how to incorporate it into their administrative processes, such as adopting state-approved textbooks, developing state standards for what students should learn, or establishing the criteria for grant programs.

If left to their own devices, most state agencies adopt a weak response to implementing comprehensive sex education. They see it as too controversial.  This is where the advocacy community can play a critical role. In California, we established relationships with key players, both public and private, and identified opportunities for strategic intervention. This approach has borne fruit in many ways:

  • California’s state superintendent sent a letter to all school districts specifying that abstinence-only education was not permitted in California public schools, and the Department of Education posted extensive information about the law on its website;


  • The California School Boards Association (CSBA) issued a more clear and robust model sex education policy for local school districts to adopt;


  • We successfully intervened in California’s adoption of standards for health education, insisting that the standards reflect the requirements of the sex education law and include clear messages regarding sexual orientation and condoms and contraception.


  • Since charter schools represent a growing segment of public schools in California, we partnered with the California Charter Schools Association to issue a statement in support of comprehensive sex education and educate their membership about California’s policies.


Taken together, these actions solidify and strengthen California’s embrace of comprehensive sex education. They also provide tools for local activists to use.

Engaging the Community

Many school districts simply won’t implement comprehensive sex education without being pressured by an organized group of parents, students and community members.

A case in point: As recently as 2008 here in the progressive Bay Area, the Fremont school district was using an agency that received federal Community Based Abstinence Education funds. The curriculum criticized unmarried couples who “mate” and have children, provided inaccurate information about condom effectiveness, and included anti-abortion bias.

The ACLU of Northern California and Bay Area Communities for Health Education (BACHE, a parent-founded organization that mobilizes other parents around sex education) began organizing local community members and launched an effort to replace the abstinence-only provider with comprehensive sex education. Using the law as leverage and relying on tools such as the CSBA model policy and the letter from the state Department of Education, Fremont parents, students, teachers and community members spoke at school board meetings, gained a majority on the district’s sex education oversight committee, and presented the district with a concrete list of problems and proposed solutions.

The Fremont school district had long been in the sway of a small group of ardent abstinence-only supporters, but faced with overwhelming community opposition to the abstinence-only-until-marriage program and the reality that it was breaking the law, the district changed course and adopted comprehensive sex education in both middle and high schools. The ACLU and BACHE are now teaming up on a similar effort in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco. Watch a video featuring Renee Walker, the parent founder of BACHE, talking about the value of community-based work.

Organizing local communities is labor-intensive, but the rewards are great. School districts often hide behind perceived community opposition as a reason not to improve their sex education instruction. “This is a conservative community,” district officials will say. “People here won’t support teaching anything other than abstinence.” That argument is quickly deflated when they’re faced with a mobilized, representative cross-section of the community arguing persuasively about why they support comprehensive sex education and demanding accountability from their local schools.

Organizing also increases the chances that change will be sustainable over time, since the community is both invested in the outcome and still on site to monitor the situation and make sure no back-sliding occurs. Also, once community members connect with each other in support of comprehensive sex education, they can also turn their energy in support of other important causes. The Fremont group, for example, after having achieved their sex education victory over a year ago, have now re-energized to push the district to recognize Harvey Milk Day, recently adopted by the state to honor the gay rights leader.

The fact that community members in Fremont who organized in support of sex education are now fighting to recognize an LGBTQ civil rights day demonstrates a key truth about sex education: it stands at the intersection of many issues and can serve as a bridge between them.

In its most narrow conception, sex education advocacy is about implementing programs that prevent teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. But when approached from a reproductive justice perspective that recognizes all the factors that can negatively affect young people’s health—including racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, immigration status, and language barriers—the goal of sex education advocacy expands from preventing unintended  pregnancy and disease to promoting a holistic vision of well-being for young people. By connecting with parents’ deeply held desire for healthy children and healthy communities, this approach has the potential to bring together a much wider cross-section of the community, and to engage them on a wider range of issues.

Making Connections Across Communities

Back in 2002, when we were contemplating sex education legislation, the ACLU of Northern California and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California brought together educators, researchers, policy advocates and community-based organizations to discuss problems with the sex education then being taught in schools, and to strategize policy solutions.

Now called the California Sex Education Roundtable, and additionally convened by California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, this group promotes networking, cross-fertilization of ideas, and collaborative action. For example, the Public Health Institute, a research organization, conducted a survey of California parents’ support for comprehensive sex education, the results of which were widely used by other Roundtable members in their local efforts. California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice have created toolkits for working on sex education with the Latina/o and Asian communities, respectively, and have brought  the voices of communities of color into statewide administrative and legislative advocacy efforts.

By developing a network that informs work at both the state and local levels and includes the perspectives of members from a range of disciplines and contexts, the Sex Education Roundtable has played a key role in furthering sex education implementation in California.

In It to Win It

Before implementation comes into play, of course, a policy must be enacted. Many states are still struggling to achieve this goal.  But it’s worth remembering that policy change, while incredibly important, is only the first step.  Ahead lies the long road to policy implementation, which is challenging, creative and rewarding.  With a long-term commitment and creative advocacy rooted in the community, progress becomes not just necessary, but attainable.


Ten Better Things To Do With $30,000 Than Hire Bristol Palin to Speak

6:52 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Patrick Malone of SIECUS for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Articles this week across the internet reveal that half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, is now available for speaking events such as “conferences, fundraisers, special events and holidays, as well as women’s, youth, abstinence and ‘pro-life’ programs” for the low, low price of $30,000 a pop. 

Bristol is famous, of course, for becoming pregnant and having a baby as a teenager. 

Initially, when Bristol Palin’s pregnancy came into the spotlight during the 2008 presidential campaign, we shied away from commenting on it.  Even though it was extraordinarily tempting to point out the ridiculous hypocrisy and blatant cognitive dissonance that came from her mother’s position on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs even when faced with a pregnant adolescent, we respected the young Ms. Palin’s privacy and her personal choices.  I did not and do not blame Ms. Palin for her pregnancy any more than I hold at fault the myriad other teenage girls who become unintentionally pregnant because they are failed by schools, parents, educators, and policy makers.

However, Ms. Palin’s free pass has just expired for a couple reasons.  First, she is now nearly 20 years old.  She was born in the same year as actresses Kristin Stewart and Emma Watson of Twilight and Harry Potter fame, respectively, both of whom are the daily subject of news stories and coverage.  In other words, Bristol Palin is an adult and therefore should be treated as such. 

Second, I understand that being an adult does not necessarily make you fair game for criticism if you choose to live your life in a private manner.  However, Bristol has chosen to enter the realm of politics, and she has chosen to do so for profit.  As soon as anyone decides to take their personal story and turn it into a career speaking on an issue of national importance, I think we have the right and, dare I say it, the obligation to question the motives and qualifications of that person.  Bristol Palin wants to talk to you about abstinence-until-marriage, and man oh man, does she want you to pay to hear what she has to say.  So is she worth the $30,000?

Clearly, the answer is an unqualified and unmitigated “no.”  There is no reason to think that listening to Bristol Palin’s story is going to inform, educate, enrich, or stimulate you in any way.  But, if you happen to have $30,000 lying around and simply insist on spending it, let me suggest ten things you could do with that money that would be more productive than hiring Ms. Palin.

10)  Hire Max Siegel to speak – Max is a courageous young man and compelling speaker who was failed by abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and contracted HIV when he was 17.  Listening to his story will give your audience a real understanding of the true costs of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and the damage they can cause to young people’s lives.  Plus, Max is a really nice guy and could probably use the $30,000 a lot more than Bristol.

9)  Hire an entry level staffer – Because of the bad economy, there are literally thousands of recent college graduates who are dedicated to the cause of sexual health and rights who are unable to find work and support themselves.  For $30,000, you could hire one of these promising young people.  Not only would you get a lot more than an hour’s speech or a day of work out of them, you’d be giving an opportunity to the next generation of advocates to learn and grow.

8)  Donate to a state organization – Many state organizations that support sexual health and rights and comprehensive sex education are also feeling the pinch of hard economic times.  State governments are cutting their prevention budgets left and right.  Thirty thousand dollars could go a long way toward helping many organizations keep their doors open and continue their important on-the-ground work.  Don’t know where to find them?  Visit to find organizations that support comprehensive sex education in your state.

7)  Invest in your community – like state organizations, most local organizations and groups are struggling to make ends meet.  After-school programs and community groups can do a lot to give young people goals and focus and to curb teen pregnancy and other negative outcomes.  Similarly, a donation of $30,000 to your local Planned Parenthood would help insure that young women facing an unintended pregnancy would have the same opportunity to make choices that Bristol Palin did.

6)  Donate to the One Voice: Reproductive Health and Population Summit – Every year, SIECUS, Advocates for Youth and the Sierra Club host a summit for young people across the country to teach them about sex education, environmental justice, and sustainable development.  This program is the first step in training many of the leaders of tomorrow.  A donation of $30,000 would allow us to bring at least 50 more young people each year to participate in the summit.

5)  Bring 30 teen mothers to Congress – $30,000 would cover the airfare and hotel to bring 30 teen mothers who do not have the luxury of belonging to a millionaire family (as Bristol Palin talks about in this bizarre PSA) to speak to representatives in Congress about the support and education that they really need.

4)  Pay for the first year of college or job training for 3 teen mothers – $30,000 doesn’t pay for what is used to in terms of an education, but it could still buy a year of college or job training for at least three teen mothers.  This kind of sponsorship could help teen mothers gain access to some of the opportunities that are out of reach for them.

3)  Update sex education curricula and provide teacher training – Teachers need training and curricula need updating.  Everyone knows this, but sometimes the challenge to fund all of it can seem too daunting to even begin.  But $30,000 could make a huge difference in one school, or one school district.  And you know what they say about a journey of a thousand miles…

2)  Donate to SIECUS – Sorry, but obviously I have to put this one in. 

1)  Anything – Seriously.  Buy 30,000 copies of the Washington Post and throw them away.  Buy 30,000 McDonald’s McDoubles © and feed them to pigeons.  Literally, almost everything you do with $30,000 would be more valuable than hiring Bristol Palin for a speaking engagement.

There is no question that Ms. Palin has the right to go about making a living however she pleases.  There is also no question that there are so many other valuable programs, projects and organizations that could use $30,000 that it would be perverse to spend the money paying her speaking fee.  I ask only that you think about true needs before you open your checkbook.  There is too much else that needs to be done for us to waste our scarce resources on such frivolity.


(VIDEO) Kill the Ab-Only Sex-Ed Zombie!

6:39 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jen Heitel Yakush for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Last summer, the $50 million-a-year federal Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage grant program died a quiet death. Despite vocal protestations from the extreme right wing, which wanted to continue funneling money to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and speakers across the country, Congress correctly decided not to renew funding due, in large part, to the overwhelming evidence that these programs are ineffective and entail serious ethical concerns.

Now, however, like a shambling, mindless zombie, the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program is going through a grotesque rebirth and is included in the healthcare reform bill that was recently signed by President Obama. How this program could go from being left on the scrap heap like so much garbage to being included in the most ambitious and progressive social legislation in decades should baffle anyone who believes in putting science- and evidence-based decision making ahead of cheap political gimmicks.

To understand fully why it is so ridiculous that the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program was included in healthcare reform, it helpful to understand why it was eliminated in the first place.

Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs don’t work – Numerous studies, including one conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found no evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs increased rates of sexual abstinence. In addition, students in the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the study had a similar number of sexual partners as their peers not in the programs, as well as a similar age of first sex. Scientific evidence simply does not support an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach.

Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs contain harmful information – Aside from simply not achieving their stated goals, these programs are generally rife with misinformation, gender stereotypes, and outdated materials.  The programs also use fear and shame to promote abstinence-until-marriage, in some cases comparing young people who have had sex to petal-less flowers, dirty sneakers, glasses of spit, and presents opened before Christmas morning.

Title V and other federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding is a colossal waste of taxpayer money –  Despite the fact that no study in a professional peer-reviewed journal has found these programs to be broadly effective, between 1996 and federal Fiscal Year 2009, Congress funneled over $1.5 billion dollars (through both federal and state matching funds) to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs through several funding streams including the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program.

The Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program was on its way out anyway – At the time that the program was allowed to expire at the end of June 2009, nearly half the states had opted out of the program for reasons ranging from the fiscal burden it created to serious ethical concerns about foisting a failed programs onto young people.

For all of these reasons, the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage was allowed to lapse and take its place in the musty crypts of failed federal legislation.

So, what has changed so drastically in the past nine months that warrants reviving the program?

Well… nothing. Congress had it right last year when they pulled the plug, and the programs, right-wing extremists, and their agenda remain the same.  Unfortunately, the programs were reinserted in health reform for unknown–but clearly political–reasons only.

Still, this should not, and cannot, be the end of the fight to defeat funding for these programs. Congress will always have the opportunity and ability to cut funding for the program, and they should exercise that ability as soon as possible. It is ironic that at a time when so many Democratic representatives were willing to risk their political careers to support healthcare reform, that they did not remove a program that is ineffective, inefficient, and unpopular.  Similarly, states that had opted out the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage previously should remain out of the program, and any other state that cares about its young people having a healthy and safe future should join them.

We are, of course, pleased that the final healthcare bill includes the Personal Responsibility Education program, which would provide $75 million for a state grant program for more comprehensive approaches to sex education.  However, spending $75 million to promote comprehensive sex education and $50 million for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs is like spending $75 million on improving the nutritional quality of school lunches, and then $50 million poisoning them.

We call on all parents, young people, educators, advocates, and policy makers to stand up against this perversion of the spirit of the health care reform bill.  Programs that put young people’s health and lives at risk by denying them important information about contraception and condoms had no place in legislation dedicated to making Americans healthier. We applaud the months of effort that went into crafting this historic piece of legislation, but Congress should be just as troubled as we are that this health care reform package has been tarnished by reintroducing federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. We have the best opportunity in a generation to improve the future health of all Americans, and abstinence-only-until-marriage programs should have no place in that future.

Who Put Failed Ab-Only Programs Back in Health Care Reform? And Why?

7:02 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by James Wagoner for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This article was originally published by Advocates for Youth on AmplifyYourVoice.

Lost in the shuffle of analysis of the new health care reform legislation is the fact that Democrats included over $250 million for failed Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. The funds had been inserted in the health care reform legislation by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) during Senate Finance Committee consideration of the bill last summer and, somehow, quietly survived the process of revisions that went on last fall.

Never mind that these programs place the health and lives of young people at risk by denying them medically accurate information about condoms and birth control. Never mind that an exhaustive eight-year evaluation by Mathematica published in April, 2007 showed that these programs have “no impact on teen behavior.”

Never mind that 22 states had rejected Title V funding in the past because they did not want to spend precious matching funds on programs that don’t work. Never mind that Speaker Pelosi condemned these programs at the Netroots conference in 2008. Bottom line is they are back, and Democrats seem none to eager to own up to who threw young people under the bus!

Here are some of the things we are hearing. Even though a number of prominent Democrats including Cong. Henry Waxman (D-CA) had contacted leadership and demanded that the ab-only programs be pulled from the bill, we’ve been told that leadership was focused on the "bigger issues" and never reached consideration of the ab-only piece.

Boy, does that ever smack of the “dog ate my homework” excuse. There was no rationale for keeping this amendment in the bill. Hatch is a Republican who opposes health care reform so there was no political need to placate the author of the measure. Taking Title V out of the bill would have saved a quarter billion dollars over five years and Democrats were desperate for savings so they could show that the bill would reduce the federal deficit.

Finally, we’ve been hearing that the recent publication of the Jemmott study showed that abstinence-only programs really work. One small problem with that line of thinking. Jemmott’s program would not qualify for Title V funding since it doesn’t  follow the rigid, ideological eight-point definition—a point made by the authors themselves!  So there is still no evidence those programs work; in fact quite the contrary.

The bottom line is that staff could have removed the funding in no time unless someone insisted on keeping it in the bill. So, a significant question comes to mind. Was the Title V funding part of the Stupak deal? Was it one more reproductive and sexual health “chit” traded away for conservative Democratic votes? If so, we have a right to know. Transparency is critical in determining how our legislative agenda is faring on Capitol Hill. We were sold out, and we have a right to know the rationale of those who did it.  

We usually think of advocacy campaigns in terms of having an effect on legislative outcomes. After the bill passes, we typically move on. I think the egregious nature of including failed and dangerous abstinence-only-until-marriage funding in the health care bill merits a follow-up campaign during which we hold the Democrats accountable for sacrificing the health and well-being of young people. Stay tuned!

When Teenagers Seek Abortion Care the Myths Are Exposed

6:50 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

It was a seemingly small story, one of those reproductive rights-related stories that crops up in the news, attracts some amount of attention, and then fades away as other stories crowd it out. But I want to look a little more closely at this story about a Seattle mother who is furious that her 15-year-old daughter got a legal abortion with the school health center’s help without telling her mother. To be completely clear, this was 100 percent within the law. Washington state understands that parental notification laws are an assault on the well-being of teenagers and so far has no such laws. The school health center is run not by the school but by the public health department, and students who go to the health center — including this girl — have permission to receive care due to permission slips signed by their parents.

Abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure, and there is no reason for school health centers not to refer patients to providers if those patients want it. That’s the simple fact of the matter, but unfortunately, that’s not where this story ends. What this story has revealed is that a number of pernicious anti-choice myths have taken hold in our society, and these myths are confusing people’s ability to see the plain truth of this story. Here’s some of the anti-choice myths touched on by the coverage of this story in both the conservative and mainstream news, and the reality behind these myths.

Myth #1: Abortion isn’t healthcare. Conservative bloggers and the mother in question trotted out this myth, saying that giving the health center permission to offer medical services should implicitly mean not abortion. The implication of this is that abortion is not a medical service, a myth that was also trotted out by supporters of the Stupak amendment to the healthcare reform bill, who tried to argue that abortion can’t be considered real healthcare. But this myth doesn’t reflect the basic reality of abortion, which fits all medical and cultural criteria for health care, if you look at without the burden of anti-woman ideology. Healthcare professionals offer it, others refer it, and it’s simply one out of many medical responses to pregnancies that are both healthy and not healthy. It’s also on a continuum from pregnancy prevention services, which are generally regarded by non-misogynists as healthcare. Strictly speaking, aborting or preventing pregnancy is regarded as safer by medical professionals than continuing to term, which is very stressful on the body, particularly for teenagers whose bodies may not be done growing and developing.

As Carole Joffe notes in her book Dispatches from the Abortion Wars, this myth that abortion isn’t healthcare is perhaps one of the most damaging anti-choice myths for women getting abortions and those providing them. It isolates providers from the larger medical community, and stigmatizes a choice that is usually the best one for the woman making it, causing unnecessary pain and suffering.

Myth #2: Abortion is a dirty, naughty sex act that should be stopped because it titillates anti-choicers to no end. If anti-choicers don’t think of abortion as medical care, what do they think of it as? The coverage from conservatives makes it clear — they use the model of “illicit sexual acts” when thinking about abortion. Jill Stanek used the word "clandestine" and Lifesite dwelled on the word "secret" to describe the abortion. It’s language that conjures up pictures of lovers sneaking around to engage in forbidden affairs. If the doctor had referred the young woman to an ears, nose, and throat specialist without calling her mother, anti-choicers wouldn’t be acting like this is some kind of sex scandal. I promise anti-choicers overreacting to this: as much as the idea of vacuuming someone’s uterus out sounds titillating to them, the rest of us without their heavy sexual hang-ups mainly think it sounds like an unpleasant medical procedure, chosen by a patient who was opposed to the alternatives.

Myth #3: Women seeking abortion are too stupid to know what they’re doing, and therefore the real decision-makers can’t be the women. Various news outlets described the girl who got the abortion as “pro-life,” implying that the girl didn’t want the abortion. But it’s all implication, and there isn’t one shred of evidence to suggest the girl didn’t want an abortion. Hot Air made this explicit, suggesting that the girl was bullied and perhaps even forced into an abortion, and that the only reason a woman would submit to the procedure is that she’s “confused” and “frightened.”

Even I was surprised how no anti-choice websites I read on this topic even considered the possibility that the health center referred the girl for abortion at her request. I can’t tell if they think young women are incapable of making that request, or if they think the only reason a 15-year-old might not want a baby is that she’s stupid. I’d argue in fact that if anti-choicers can’t think of any good reasons 15 year olds might not want babies, then it’s far from proof that 15 year olds are the stupid ones here.

Myth #4: Parents own their daughters’ sexuality, and this control can be managed solely through restricting access to reproductive health care. The mother in this case was quoted as saying, “Makes me feel like my rights were completely stripped away." But the right to what, exactly? Anti-choicers promote to parents this notion that they own their daughters’ sexuality, and they can make abstaining from sex a rule that can be enforced through restricting access to birth control and abortion. Stanek made this argument clear, implying that it was access to birth control and sex education that caused the girl’s pregnancy and only by taking away both will parents gain their rightful control over teenager girls’ bodies.

It’s a long-standing hope of the patriarchy, one that explains everything female genital mutilation to abstinence-only education. It’s also completely silly. Most parents disapprove of sex for teenagers. Abstinence-only was the law of the land for a long time. And yet half of teenagers obey their hormones and not their parents.

The worst part about this myth is that it’s a PR move from anti-choicers to appeal to parents’ desires not to have pregnant teenagers, but it doesn’t actually reflect their obviously warm and fuzzy feelings towards teenagers having more babies. Those feelings only come out after the pregnancy occurs — witness the adulation for the Palin family for embracing teen motherhood for a daughter instead of college, or even witness the anti-choicers suggesting that the only reason a 15-year-old might wish to avoid teen motherhood is she’s being bullied by the school. I wouldn’t trust people who are so enthusiastic about teens giving birth for advice on how to accomplish the opposite, myself. In fact, I’d take what they tell me to do and do the opposite.