It's ironic, but under Trump abstinence-only sex education is back | Jessica Valenti
Letting an abstinence-only activist make decisions about federal family planning funds risks young people’s lives, says Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti
There is something perfect about the irony of Donald Trump – a man who bragged about the size of his penis during a debate and who is currently being sued by a porn actress – advocating for abstinence-only education. But here we are, in the upside down.
Politico reports that Valerie Huber, a longtime abstinence-only activist turned Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) staffer, will be making decisions about federal family planning funds. Huber, who was suspended from her position at the Ohio Department of Health after a state ethics investigation in 2006, is founder of the National Abstinence Educators Association, which later became Ascend. (The name change was part of a broader move by the abstinence-only movement to seem more credible.)
This comes on the heels of a leaked White House memo and HHS guidelines showing the administration plans to teach teenagers “fertility awareness methods” – otherwise known as the rhythm method – in lieu of birth control. Teens can barely get their homework in on time but somehow we’re expected to believe that they’re going to prevent pregnancy by tracking their periods.
While there is no lack of outrageous acts generated by the Trump administration these days, the idea that abstinence-only education is making a comeback cannot get lost in the muck.
Nearly a decade ago, I wrote a book about abstinence-only education. The lies told by federally funded “educators” to students across the country ranged from inaccurate to astounding.
I spoke to young people who were taught they could be arrested for having premarital sex, and others who were warned birth control pills would make them infertile. Students in Montana were told condoms could give them cancer. A widely used textbook taught that Aids is be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. Another said that a girl who has had sex is no longer “fresh.”
These classes didn’t stop at inaccurate health information – they also promoted outdated gender roles, such as telling students that boys are wired for science while girls are “feelings” oriented and claiming that girls don’t like sex as much as boys so they need to be the ones to “put the brakes on” to stop intimacy. (These kinds of lessons were directly mentioned by young rape victims I spoke to while writing my book. They believed if they were assaulted it was because they didn’t do enough to stop it, or that they “tempted” their attacker.)
This was a generation of students failed by their country – young people given false and dangerous information about their health who had to un-learn everything they were taught about sex.
Under the Obama administration, we started to undo some of that damage. Teen pregnancy rates finally went down, contraceptive use was up. We cannot afford to go backwards.
The truth is that a majority of Americans want their children taught accurate and comprehensive information about sex that will make them safer – 93%, in fact, want kids taught about abstinence and contraception.
What teenagers learn about sex – or don’t learn – can quite literally impact their health and lives. They cannot afford to be lied to.
- Jessica Valenti is a Guardian US columnist