In high school I was subject to one of those frightful abstinence education programs that go something like this: “IF YOU HAVE SEX YOU WILL DIE. THEN YOU WILL BURN IN HELL FOR ETENITY.” Informative. Inspiring. Clever. Scare kids to death and they will keep it in their pants. Or not. The evidence is increasingly suggesting that these campaigns are more harmful than effective.
I remember watching this video of Pam Stenzel in Year 9 and feeling certain that I was infected and would die of some awful STI, despite the fact that I was a virgin. After watching the video, we were all offered little cards to sign a virginity pledge and then keep in our wallet. I took a card, but for some reason, I did not sign it.
Initially, Stenzel impressed me. She came across real tough and no nonsense and I respect women like that. So, many of us believed her when she said: ““If you have sex outside a permanent marriage relationship, you will pay…No one has ever had sex outside of that context and not paid.”
We heard gut wrenching stories about abortions gone horribly wrong. Then we found out her story of being given up for adoption by her raped teenage mother and spared abortion which she describes as the “death penalty”.
We heard Stenzel criticise a mother that put her daughter on the pill when she found out she was sexually active. She stated: “This girl could end up sterile or dead.” She discouraged condom use: “Students, condoms aren’t safe. Never have been, never will be.”
She sarcastically comments on the plight of the teenage girl who got used, but honestly believed the guy loved her. One positive thing my Christian Living teacher spoke to our class about was the heartbreak he experienced as a Year 7 boy “in love” with a girl. They barely even spoke, let alone touched, but the girl made it clear the feeling was not reciprocal. The devastation was overwhelming for his young heart. He told us: “The thing about puppy love, is that it’s real to the puppy.”
This struck a chord with me as being one of the few truths that teacher came out with. Stenzel really lacks empathy for the puppy love crazed teenager. She mocks something that is so real and special to young people. Sure, it can go awfully wrong, but hurting and shaming the emotionally vulnerable young teens is not the way to go about dealing with this problem. Stenzel manipulates her audiences using fear, distortion of facts, shame and lies.
A more thorough critique of Stenzel’s program, complete with quotes, can be found here
Don’t get me wrong, I know teen sex is a problem. A report by the Children by Choice Association stated that 78% of (Australian) Year 12 students have experienced some form of sexual activity. It also reported that students are having sex with more partners. Despite this, teen pregnancy rates are falling but still a significant portion (5%) of sexually active Australian students reported that they had experienced sex that resulted in pregnancy. Condoms are being used by the majority (69%). However, STI rates are rising at an alarming rate, despite increased awareness programs and condom use.
The report emphasises the role of sex ed: “Lack of sexuality education in schools in most states of Australia contributes to this recent rise in STI rates, and should be remedied immediately. A national sexuality education curriculum could also help address the relatively high rate of teenage pregnancy and abortion in Australia.”
Abstinence education alone has proven to be ineffective. Teens will have sex. This is a fact and the educators have to work with that. This video makes clear the failure of abstinence education: When Texas implemented abstinence only education, it had one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the USA.
Thank god Australia doesn’t have such a strong Christian right. The poor sex education I’ve received is only because I was at a private Christian school. I hope we continue to improve our public school programs and implement a national sexuality education curriculum as mentioned above, so that students don’t miss out because their parents forced them to go to a Christian school.