The problem with sex (ed)

America, we have a problem.  A crisis really.  No.  It’s not climate change, gun violence, a rise in hate crimes, or Russian interference in our elections.

talk about sex

Although those are hard to ignore, and it is impossible to overstate their critical nature.  No… our problem is sex, and the way we talk, or don’t talk, about it.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has announced a frightening trend; cases of common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the United States have reached an all-time high, with cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis rising for the fifth consecutive year, totaling 2.4 million infections in 2018 alone.

Multiple factors contribute to this, but among the biggest is ignorance.  We are failing to educate children in safer sex practices such as condom use, and the result is that nearly half of new sexually transmitted infections, including the HIV virus which leads to AIDS, are occurring in young people ages 15 to 24.  And Christian churches are to blame.  Abstinence-only sex education DOES NOT WORK.

The fear-based, shaming tactics surrounding sex promoted by the major Christian denominations are backfiring.  Rather than “saving sex for marriage” (presumably between one man and one woman only), “young people feel they need to hide everything when it comes to their sexual health,” according to Bukky Ogunrinola, a sophomore at Howard University and a representative of Advocates for Youth, which fights for sexual health, rights, and justice.

When you consider, thoughtful reader, that only 17 states in the US require schools to teach medically accurate sex ed, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization focused on sexual and reproductive health, we are setting-up our young people to get sick and die.  Since the 1980's, studies have demonstrated that abstinence-only programs do not prevent teen pregnancy and STIs, and do not impact risky sexual behavior, such as having multiple sex partners or failing to wear a condom.  According to Guttmacher, there is “considerable scientific evidence accumulated over the past 20 years has found that [abstinence-only] programs are not effective.”

Sex education (sex ed) was first implemented in public schools in the United States in the 1970's, and support for the programs only grew when the HIV/AIDS crisis hit, which was, not surprisingly, when the first Federal abstinence-only program was enacted — under the Reagan administration (1980-87).  Since 1996, Congress has allocated more than $2 billion dollars to abstinence-only sex education programs, according to the advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS).

“These programs, at their core, set young people up to fail,” according to Logan Levkoff, a sexuality, relationships, and parenting educator.  “It is impossible to become a sexually healthy person if you’re being lied to or shamed.”

Although Federal funding for abstinence-only sex ed had declined from its all-time high under George W. Bush’s born again Christian administration during the Obama years, guess what thoughtful reader? — funding has surged again under the Trump administration!

The Christians, and especially the Catholics with their maniacal insistence on forbidding condom use by telling carefully crafted lies like "condoms are secretly made with many microscopic holes, through which the AIDS virus can pass” (Cardinal Alfonso Lopez de Trujillo, the Vatican’s former president of the Pontifical Council for the Family), have realized they have a marketing problem for their bullshit, so they’ve rebranded “abstinence-only” programs as “sexual risk avoidance” programs.


Everyone can get behind the idea of teaching youth to avoid risky sexual behavior, but in truth these programs are just a new wrapper on the same ol’ flat-earth, anti-science, head in the sand, contrary to human nature, idea that we can solve a human problem by avoiding that which makes us human — something religion is known for.  And, the rebranding makes it even more difficult for sexual health advocates to impress upon youth and the public at large the danger of these types of programs.

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