Alex Blaze

Sexism: Part of the Real-life Abstinence-only Curriculum

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 04, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: abstinence only education, comprehensive sex education, gender roles, misogyny, safe sex, sex education, sexism, study, Texas, wilson and wiley, women

Although I don't really see how it helps reduce teen pregnancy and transmission of STD's, many of these abstinence-only programs try to push rigid gender roles onto students in which women are empty-headed and obsessed with marriage and men simply can't control their sexual urges... no matter how aggressive they become.

Focus on the Family's No Apologies curriculum, which is used by several school districts in Texas, tells girls:


In another article, we talked about chivalry and knights and gentlemen being gentlemen. But there are two sides to every coin, so girls, we have to ask: Are you acting like the kind of lady who would attract such a knight in shining armour? Think about it. Maturity attracts maturity. Class attracts class. Ladies attract gentlemen.

Indeed, it seems like Focus on the Family is using federal money for abstinence-only education to push feudal-era gender roles on American youth.

This is part 3 of my weeklong series unpacking the new Wilson and Wiley study on what's really being taught in abstinence-only programs in Texas, the largest recipient of federal sex-ed money. Part 1 was on homophobia, and part 2 was on teaching religion in public schools.

Some of this sexism gets pretty ridiculous, and those of us far away from either Texas or the school system might not know just how bad it is on the ground.

The Religious Right, which has fought tooth and nail for decades for abstinence-only education, is a pretty sexist group of people. The main reason they oppose same-sex marriage is that it will "destroy" the institution. That only makes sense if one thinks that marriage is not a partnership between two equal, consenting adults, or a contract made between two people, but rather as a man taking up a woman as a domestic servant.

Same-sex marriage, for them, is an assault on gender roles more than anything else. It makes them feel uncomfortable to see others living even somewhat outside the binary, so they seek to expand and impose their view of right and wrong for boys and girls on everyone in public schools.

One of the most recurrent themes discussed in Wilson and Wiley's study is the idea that women long for validation through relationships while men seek validation elsewhere. As one abstinence-only program put it:

Women need "financial support" and "family commitment." Men need "domestic support" and "admiration."

Focus on the Family's curriculum goes so far as to say:

(T)he safest place for a woman to live is married to a man.

One school district created an easy-to-follow handout about how boys and girls simply will act. No room for gender or sexual diversity, just pick a column and stick with it!

Sexual Differences Between Male and Female:
"Erotic Bill" "Romantic Susie"
Inclination for Sexual IntercourseNot So Inclined to Want Intercourse
Easily ArousedNot So Easily Aroused
Visual - "Turned On" Easily by SightAuditory - "Turned On" More By What She Hears
Focuses More on Genital ActivityFocuses More on Feelings
More OftenLess Frequently
May Tend to Use "Love" to Get SexMay Tend to Use "Sex" To Get Love

These gender roles are dangerous, beyond the fact that they're overly restrictive and out-dated, because:

  1. they completely erase same-sex attraction and love;

  2. they are guidelines with which to police gender, as if high school students needed more ways to do that;

  3. they portray as abnormal any woman who enjoys sex or gets aroused;

  4. they depict men who aren't having sex, or who aren't doing everything they can to get sex, as abnormal and emasculated; and
  5. they set up a paradigm in which women are cold and asexual and must be pushed to have sex and men are always controlled by their sexual needs, normalizing sexual aggression against women.

The last point leads into the other major gender stereotype that Wilson and Wiley found in abstinence-only programs: sexual assault is boys being boys, and girls not protecting themselves enough

The danger in presenting sexual assault as the victim's fault should be obvious to anyone, but apparently the Religious Right, along with hating gays, hates any woman who doesn't conform to their standards for how she should live her life. One program used in Texas says:

Girls, taking into consideration that guys are more easily sexually turned on by sight, you need to think long and hard about the way you dress and the way you come on to guys...If a guy is breathing, then he's probably turned on...How can you tell a girl is an easy target for a guy?...By the clothes she wears...A girl who shows a lot of skin and dresses seductively fits into one of three categories: 1) She's pretty ignorant when it comes to guys, and she has no clue what she's doing. 2) She's teasing her boyfriend which is extremely cruel to the poor guy! 3) She's giving her boyfriend an open invitation saying, "Here I am. Come take me."

Even if she expressly says no, sometimes a girl actually wants to have sex. Come on, boys, you know what you're bound by nature to do!

Another program presents it as a narrative:

The Why kNOw? curriculum, for instance, includes a story about a young couple named Stephanie and Drew who are trying to remain abstinent until marriage. In this material, which is used in 21 Texas districts, students are told that Stephanie is too affectionate and wears tight clothing. Drew "likes her a lot, but lately keeping his hands off her has been a real job!" Stephanie has clearly communicated to Drew that she does not want to have sex - "her actions, however, are not matching her words."

One has to wonder just who thought it would be a good idea, though, to include all these sexist stereotypes in abstinence-only education. It obviously doesn't help reduce teen pregnancy rates - 94% of Texas schools use abstinence-only education and yet the state has the third-highest rate of teen pregnancy and is recognized by the CDC as having elevated levels of sexually risky behavior.

I imagine it has to do with the fact that, for the Religious Right, opposing same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception, women in the workplace, comprehensive sex ed, and opposing alternative families are all part of the same package: forcing people to live by their rigid rules (that they rarely follow themselves) based on an over-simplified and negative view of human sexuality. Gender roles and homophobia are as much a part of the life they want to impose on everyone as condomless sex and forced pregnancy are. So why shouldn't they be taught all together?

Read more on real abstinence-only programs:

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Alex, thank you for bringing this to our attention. Excellent work!

Austin Crowder | March 4, 2009 11:29 AM

I've really enjoyed this series, Alex, and I think I have an idea of how to easily turn this into action.

I've done research on Mission:America's tirade against GSA programs and sex-ed curriculums. Their primary tactic involves letter-writing and, not surprisingly, taking a kid out of school for any sex ed or, more myopically, any lesson concerning same-sex relationships. Why not steal a page from their playbook?

Parents, if your students go to these Texas school systems, send a letter to their principal informing them that your child will _not_ take part in a stereotyping, abstinence-only curriculum. It is not conducive to family values and, more importantly, the values of America to force students into specific gender roles -- unless you're some pinko commie, of course!

In fact, I wonder how many other issues can be resolved by stealing pages from the Religious Right's playbook. After all, it's obvious that they've got advocacy strategy down to a science...

>> Same-sex marriage, for them, is an assault on gender roles more than anything else. It makes them feel uncomfortable to see others living even somewhat outside the binary, so they seek to expand and impose their view of right and wrong for boys and girls on everyone in public schools.

Excellent point, and one I've rarely seen outside of the feminist blogs. (Not that we don't have our share of feminists around here; I mean the blogs that focus just on feminist issues.)

I'm glad you all like the series! 3 more posts to go!

A. J. Lopp | March 4, 2009 3:33 PM

I know, Alex, that it is rude to jump ahead in class, but the pattern is getting pretty obvious: Abstinence-only is a tactical sub-set of the same ol' traditional Puritan morality, and the worldview it occupies, that hasn't changed since medieval Europe.

Three more installments, eh? Are they about the intrinsic sinfulness of sexual pleasure, creationism, and the infallibility of the Pope?

Haha, thanks for jumping, AJ! Actually I think they've changed a lot since Medieval times (if I read my Chaucer correctly in college, they were pretty slutty and open about it back then....), and even two comments in the last post in this series showed that Texas's educational system has changed with regards to religion (Rob Barton's and then Nick's, one from a couple decades ago and the other more recent).

This is an interesting study, though, and if you do want to jump ahead of the whole class, go read the original! :)

When it comes to College we say:
Study Hard
Use self Control

When it comes to Athletes we say:
Practice, Practice, Practice
No pain, No gain
Use self Control

When it comes to drugs we say:
Just say no
Choose friends wisely
Use self control

BUT when it comes to sex:
For over 30 yrs we have taught it is “safe” and acceptable for kids to entrust their futures and lives to a piece of latex. Contraception programs have never been proven effective in lowering the rate of STD’s. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) 19 million people contract STD’s every year. Almost half are between the ages of 15 – 24. These are life changing STD’s. When you look at what the CDC says on how STD’s can be prevented they state: “The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual contact”. I have always heard people say they regret not waiting, but I have never heard anyone say they have regretted waiting for sex. When I have talked to students about relationships they say that one of the most valuable pieces of information they received is knowing they can say no! Why don’t they know this is a choice?

Wow, whoever wrote that No Apologies curriculum must have done really poorly on the SATs.

If maturity attracts maturity,
and class attracts class,
then ladies attract....
a. ladies
b. gentlemen

Looks like they got the answer wrong!

We should go back to the idea of teaching masturbation as an alternative to sex, if they're going to practice abstinence. Minimal chance of STDs (I'd never generalize by saying "never") and release of all those pent up teenage hormones.

Granted, it's pretty well established that teenage boys masturbate prolifically. Now if we can just remove the stigma for the girls.