Yes, it’s come to this

Flickr/creative commons

Flickr/creative commons

As reported last night by Rachel Maddow (see video below), at the urging of an anti-abortion religious group, the School Board in Gilbert, Arizona, is tearing out pages from a high school honors biology book. It is the first action taken after a law in Arizona passed two years ago that requires all textbooks “to present childbirth and abstinence as preferred options to elective abortion.”

The offending page, which simply discusses that abortion exists as a factual matter, something that is rightly part of the national curriculum for all Advanced Placement and other students hoping to enter college equipped with a complete education and able to compete on a level playing field.

Cutting out this page, retracting information previously available to students, is stupid and exceedingly counter-intuitive (see map below), whether in a biology textbook or in the context of sex education.

In this case, Rachel Maddow comes to the rescue by securing the domain, ArizonaHonorsBiology.com, to make this page available in perpetuity. But what about the next time and the next time after that?

This is similar to what we are witnessing in the state of Texas, where access to sex education is severely limited, and where social studies and history textbooks are being censored or in some cases rewritten to falsify facts (such as wiping out all mention of slavery, that it ever existed).

What will be next? Tearing out pages that mention homosexuality? marriage or cohabitation without children? the achievements of people of color? The answer is: Yes, more page-tearing and book-burning is in our nation’s future if we don’t start paying more attention to elections, starting at the local level.

We bring attention to this especially because it demonstrates the horrible repercussions of the theocratic fundamentalism now permeating American politics and law, retarding our progression towards a fair and just society.

These are not the first or only examples of censorship within our schools, and we are poised to see more of this retrograde behavior wherever right-wing nuts can gain a foothold, from local school boards to congress and possibly the White House itself someday.

These founts of poor decision-making are operating out of fear. They don’t believe women should ever have control over their reproductive health or equality rights, and think they are “protecting children” when they are actually hobbling them.

Complete sex education is the only thing that actually protects teenagers.

Center for Disease Control, 2012

Center for Disease Control, 2012

Free access to complete sex education is a human right. To withhold it is blatant child abuse when you consider the actual facts and repercussions.

Research proves that these programs are entirely ineffective. As a matter of fact, unwanted pregnancies and STDs including HIV are more prevalent in areas in the country that limit all sex education to abstinence-only programs. So these misguided lawmakers are not just wrong in purpose but wrong in deed.

Please go the polls on Tuesday (and every Election Day) and vote these people into the dustbin of stupid history.


More on sex education here.


The Sexual Freedom Project: Birds and the Bees

Meet Ying, who doesn’t really believe in the abstinence-only approach, and tells us why. She received much of her formal sexual education in Catholic school, and shares with us some of the topics they covered. She tells us about her traditional parents and their expectations for her.  And she has some wisdom for us about bonding with and learning about our significant others.

What do you think about sex before marriage? Learning about sex from the Catholic Church? What parents should talk about with their kids? And how well your parents really know each other?

Send us your thoughts at columbia@venusplusx.org — we want to hear from you!  Make us a video, write us an essay or a poem, or create some original art — we’ll thank you with a t-shirt.

More videos.


Hmm… “Abstinence only”… Uh, I don’t really believe in that
because, I don’t know, I think that people
get really sexually frustrated so…
Like why? I don’t know. I actually went to a
Catholic school between kindergarten until twelfth grade, so…
Sex in religion, so they talk to you all about like the diseases that you can get and like,
the relationships that you should go through,
and like when you get into “walking on eggshells”
and it’s dangerous, but… I mean,I guess
they didn’t really stress out um, maybe, I don’t know, having sex with people or anything,
they just kinda talked about relationships.
They talked about um, you know, sexually transmitted diseases, what they look like, and how, yeah, how you get it,
how you prevent it. My parents um, are very very traditional,
so they don’t even talk like about, like, the birds and the bees.
They just kind of like hope that I don’t have sex before marriage so… yeah. It’s definitely about cultural taboos.
Cultural taboos really, I feel like um, you know, even today
my boyfriend gets questioned about sex by our cleaning person,
like, in the morning at Yaffa. They just like, he justasks him like how many times a day that we have sex,
or how many… like they have no idea.
And I mean it’s kind of weird and
I’m sure it’s very like they have no idea about it
because they ask about it, but it’s like
at the end of the day it’s like these people
don’t bond with each other until they get married. And how much, how healthy is that?
My parents… My mom didn’t even have sex with my father until they were married.
Like, to this day she knows nothing about him…

The Sexual Freedom Project: Let’s Talk About Sex

We are taking a second look at this video which asked a lot of basic questions. Many of you contacted us privately with your answers, and often with questions as well. So what do you think?

Who taught you about sex? Were you able to talk with your parents about it? Do parents have realistic expectations about the sexual activities of their children?

How does a person know when they’re mature enough to begin having sex? How can we ensure that young people have the relevant facts they need to make the best decisions about their sexual behaviors?What role does the Internet play in sexual education today?

Does more sexual information equate to more sexual freedom?

Let’s hear your voice. Make a video, write a poem, song, or an essay — or even create an original work of art — and express your thoughts on these topics. If we feature your contribution on the site, we will send you a free VenusPlusX t-shirt to thank you.

More videos.

The Sexual Freedom Project: Birds and the Bees

I’ve decided to offer my take on some of the media I have come across here. There are hundreds of Sexual Freedom Project videos to choose from, each with an important message. Everyone’s invited to join the cast by submitting your personal definition of or commentary on some aspect of sexual freedom.

In this video, the speaker Ying details her upbringing, and the sex education that she received in Catholic school, telling us of the limited issues that were addressed when it came to the realities of sex.

She and I share the idea that abstinence-only education creates sexual frustration. Not only that, numerous studies back up the correlation between lack of sex ed and high numbers of unwanted teenage pregnancy (in the American South in particular). Attempting to shut down the natural desire for sex is not healthy, and is considered by some a stealthy form of child abuse whenever and wherever accurate and complete sexual health information is intentionally withheld, or sometimes replaced with outright disinformation.

Ying even speaks of her parents’ relationship in which they avoided sex before marriage, detailing how this repression did no favors for their level of intimacy.

What was your sexual education like? Send us a video or essay detailing your story for a free VenusPlusX t-shirt.

More videos here

Newsflash America: Denying Teen Sex Doesn’t Make It Go Away (Part 2)

In the U.S., teens often feel that if they were to confide in their parents about having sex or thinking about it, their parents would be very disappointed.

That is one of the reasons why teens don’t seek advice or guidance from their parents when it comes to sexual matters. But what about parents who don’t talk to their children?


Two major fears that American parents have are that if they broach the subject of sex with their teen, they may give the impression that they condone it or put the idea in their head in the first place. Let’s take a closer look at this concern that most American parents have.

For one, the fact that this parent doesn’t want their teen to think they “condone” teen sex reflects how, for American parents, teen sex is something to be feared and forbidden, even though the majority of American teens make sex part of their lives by age 17 or 18. Understandably, any approach that focuses on the dangers of sex does not give teens the tools to navigate the territory of sexuality and relationships in a healthy way. The evidence is in: the U.S. has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates and the Netherlands one of the lowest in the world.

But what is there to fear?

Obviously, there are the risks of unwanted pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD/STIs) when it comes to sex, but Americans tend to forget that there is as easy, cheap, and simple way to curtail these risks substantially: CONDOMS. Using latex condoms correctly and consistently are highly effective (nearly 99%) in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV and several STD/STIs during vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse, pregnancy, Using condoms also lowers female’s risk of developing cervical cancer and can help people clear HPV infection and/or reduce their risk of re-infection.

Other methods of contraception, such as hormonal methods, are just as effective. In fact, in the Netherlands, 6 out of 10 teenage girls are on the pill at first intercourse, versus only about 1 in 5 in the U.S. If more parents and educators openly taught teens about condoms and other contraceptives, teens would increase their use of contraceptives. Only then will the rate of unintended pregnancies, STD/STIs, and abortions drastically decline, and effectively reduce the risk of teen sex by teens who are too uneducated about sexual health matters to be sexually responsible.


Second, many experts agree that talking honestly and comprehensively to teens about sexuality does not increase the likelihood of sexual activity: it actually delays the onset of sex, reduce the frequency of sex, and lower the number of sexual partners among teens. Addressing sexuality frequently and with regard to different aspects, such as relationships, helps young people make more empowered and responsible choices about sex and their sexuality. Furthermore, when parents are able to provide guidance, teens will be less likely to rely on unrealistic and unhealthy media portrayals, such as porn, to help them understand how they should behave sexually.


For more detailed information, check out Schalet’s book “Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sexthat holistically compares American and Dutch teen sexual health outcomes based on the drastically different approaches to teen sexuality in the U.S. and the Netherlands.

Parents or teens can use her book or this post and “Newsflash America: Denying Teen Sex Doesn’t Make It Go Away (Part 1)” as conversation starters to move your family’s ideas forward in a healthy and safe way.

Image source:Wikimedia
Image source:Wikimedia – Another Point of View. User: Lamilli






Newsflash America: Denying Teen Sex Doesn’t Make It Go Away (Part 1)

Also in Spanish


Amy Schalet, author of “Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex” (University of Chicago Press, November 2011), states that denial is the real problem for American parents when it comes to teen sex.

. . . But talking to teens about sex does curtail unwanted teenage pregnancy

Amy Schalet, an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst originally from the Netherlands, urges American parents to stop denying that teens have premarital sex or participate in other sexual activities. Once parents accept that teens have sex, and teenage sexual development is normal, then parents and children will be able to have open relationships. Also, teens will see their parents as available resources when they start exploring their sexuality and develop sexual morals. “Adolescents,” according to Schalet in an interview, “still need their parents as support, to help sort out what are healthy relationships, to take precautions against the risks of sex, and deal with experiences of first love.”

But most parents do want to talk and be resources for their children. However, only expressing concerns and warning against the dangers of sex are not the way to foster trust and openness in any relationship, making it difficult for teens to confide in them. Therefore, a culture of “sneaking around” is established where teens hide their sexual activities from their parents, which never ends well for either teens or their parents.

Americans view teen sexuality as merely a storm of hormones, generating the expectation that teens can’t actually have sex in the context of loving relationships. Schalet says that this can lead to the psychic burden of being split between being a “good” child and a sexual being: a phenomenon that does not happen as readily in the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands, Dutch families, the educational system, and the health care system go through the process of “normalizing” teenage sexual development: young people are encouraged to “self-regulate,” or refrain from sex before they are ready. But Dutch and Americans have severely different ideas to when teens are ready to have sex.

Most Dutch parents agree that teens are not ready for sex before the age 16 and that sex should occur in steady relationships in which both teens are in love and use precautions. Moreover, Dutch parents don’t want teenage sex to be a secret: they want to stay connected with their teens and be able to exercise influence and provide support, which includes providing teens with contraceptives.

For example, Dutch parents allow their older teens to have sleepovers with their partners, knowing full well that sex might occur. The conditions for the sleepover are generally that (again) the teens are in a steady relationship, are in love, and the parents have met or are familiar the partner (showing how Dutch parents, like their American counterparts, do not particularly want their teens to have “one night stands” or “hook ups,” for these pose greater threats to sexual health through STD/STIs transmission). On the other hand, Americans believe teens will never be ready for sex and expect youth to abstain from sex until marriage.

But why are parents in America so reluctant to speak with their children about sex when the Dutch aren’t?

Find out in “Newsflash America: Denying Teen Sex Doesn’t Make It Go Away PART 2 coming soon!

Tags: Teen sex, The Netherlands, Parents, teenage pregnancy, teenage sexual development, sexually transmitted diseases, abstinence


Caption: The Dutch acknowledge that children grow up to become sexual beings way before marriage. Therefore, parents and educators do all they can to help prepare teens to be sexually responsible and healthy when they are ready and decide to become sexually active.

Creative Commons Image by: FaceMePLS


High School Students Need Someone to Talk to About Sex Without Shame

(También en Español)

News of Note: High School Students Need Someone to Talk to About Sex Without Shame

The other day, as a reward for finishing their state tests, I was letting my students talk quietly in groups and do word games. I sat next to three of my ninth graders (three girls and a boy) and quickly joined in on their discussion.

They were talking about teenage pregnancy, noticing the high number of girls in the school who were currently pregnant. The tone of the conversation started playful, but the students were asking some very serious questions.  The sole male student in our group directed the following question to me:

“Yo, Miss– who do you think is more responsible for getting pregnant—the boy or the girl?”

Before I could answer the girls quickly interjected their own opinions. It was the boy’s responsibility, because he was the one who needed to use a condom.  It was the girl’s responsibility because she shouldn’t be letting a boy go that far.  It was the parents’ responsibility because they should be monitoring their kids.

Reeling the conversation back in, I answered, “First of all, I think it’s everyone’s responsibility because the consequences affect each person.  But I think that’s the wrong question.  My question is: why are teenagers getting pregnant, in the first place?  And I think the honest answer is that you guys just don’t receive a good sex education in school.”

To my surprise, the kids enthusiastically agreed. Many were quick to point out that they had had no sex education in their public schools.  And they were even quicker to insist that they needed it.

What followed was a barrage of basic sex-ed questions on topics from prophylactics to periods to pregnancy, some of which astonished me in their naïveté.  For example, one of my students asked if using condoms was even “worth it” because “a lot of times they don’t work.”  Astonished to find that several of my students were nodding in agreement, it dawned on me that this is a direct consequence of the misinformation spread with abstinence-only sex education.

Why are so many kids clueless about sex? Our society doesn’t embrace sex as a human right or something we are all entitled to experience. I do not understand how something as inherent, necessary, and enjoyable as sex could be so stigmatized and avoided. Regardless of why the taboos that follow sex persist, we must wake to the inevitability of sex. If kids and teens are not taught honest and useful information about sex, birth control, pregnancy, etc, more unwanted children will continue to be conceived and another generation of the sexually repressed will guide our future.

Follow up: Adolescent Sexual Health: To Improve or Not to Improve? That is the Question…

También en español After initially postponing the decision to adopt either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sex education curriculum, the Natchez-Adams School Board in Jackson, Mississippi chooses “both.”

The Board voted to adopt the abstinence-only program, but also voted to require all 12 modules of the “Rise to Your Dreams” curriculum . . . the same curriculum mandatory in abstinence-plus. We wanted to know why.

For one, Board Member David Troutman thought that the topics covered in abstinence-plus were too explicit for sixth graders, believing incorrectly that middle-schoolers don’t have sex until high school. Second, Board President Wayne Barnett believes that the abstinence-only plan allowed for local flexibility, wrongly thinking that their local people know more about the subject of youth sexual health, disregarding years of scientific research and data about what sex education curriculum works. Finally, sometimes it is just easier to choose abstinence-only over other forms of sex education in communities that are more hostile to teen sexuality and anything other than abstinence in the classroom, which is merely an excuse for cowardice and reluctance to stand up and fight for the sexual rights of youth. As Mississippi is full of communities like this, the mixture appears to serve as “middle ground” between the two.

But why was Natchez-Adams’ School Board pressured into making a decision?

In 2011, Governor Haley Barbour signed the House Bill 999, a law that requires all Mississippi school districts to teach either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus. Both curriculums are approved by the state Department of Education (DE), even though they both have drastically different implications for the sexual health of youth as discussed previously. All districts had until June 30 to decide which curriculum to adopt for the 2012-2013 school year.

This law was implemented in response to the fact that Mississippi has the highest teen birth rate in the nation and one of the highest AIDS statistics. In fact, the teen birth rate in Quitman County alone far exceeds the national average. In 2009, teen childbearing cost taxpayers $155,000,000. Sounds shocking? Not really, considering that Mississippi did not require sex education to be taught in schools until House Bill 999. Before this law, only a fraction of teens received formal sex education, with these programs varying widely in approach and accuracy. It’s no wonder why Mississippi is in this atrocious state.



Tupelo County School District

Houston County School District

Lee Country School District

Natchez-Adams County School District

Corinth County School District

Leflore County School District

Neshoba County School District

Starkville Country School District

Amory County School District

Greenwood County School District

Hattiesburg County School District

Oxford County School District (Initial Abstinence-only decision reversed)

West Point County School District (Unofficial)

Ocean Springs County School District

Jackson County School District

Pascagoula County School District

George County School District

Moss Point County School District

Table: A list of some of the County School Districts and their decisions regarding House Bill 999. (Not a full list)

Although an obvious disadvantage to students who will be subjected to abstinence-only curriculum, let’s hope that the Department of Education will notice the huge disparities between the sexual health of students who were placed in abstinence-only versus abstinence-plus. Maybe then they will enforce universal abstinence-plus sex education for all public schools in Mississippi, as this bill should have mandated. And as time goes on, maybe they will upgrade to comprehensive sex education, cultivating positive sexual behavior and decision-making of Mississippians in ways they could not have even fathomed before.

Creative Commons Image by: Ken Lund

Adolescent Sexual Health: To Improve or Not to Improve? That is the Question…

(También en Español)

The Natchez-Adams School Board in Jackson, Mississippi, is currently deciding whether to adopt abstinence-only or abstinence-plus curriculum. This decision for Mississippi schools, to implement either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus curriculum, is the same as deciding whether or not to improve adolescent sexual health.

Hopefully, Natchez-Adams School Board’s decision will foster homes full of sexually health youth instead of homes crowded with unintended pregnancies and STD/STIs.

The former, abstinence-only education, will be laden with religious ideologies, teach students about the importance of abstinence as the expected standard, and only mention contraceptives in terms of failure rates that are wrong and unscientific. The latter will teach the benefits of abstinence, but also will give comprehensive information about condoms, contraception, and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and diseases. When you put the two side by side, it seems like a clear-cut decision: abstinence-only curriculum will only further diminish the sexual health of adolescents, while abstinence-plus curriculum has the potential to improve sexual health outcomes. Yet, other schools boards in Jackson and George counties recently adopted abstinence-only models.

But why would any school board adopt such an obviously flawed sex education program?

For one, American society has an extensive history of supporting abstinence-only-until-marriage  (AOUM) programming. This is the result of many factors, such as negative stereotypes associated with adolescent sexuality, an incorrect belief that teaching teens about sex is encouraging them to have premarital sex, AIDS fear, homophobia, heterosexism, sexism, and religious doctrine that dictates premarital sex is a sin.

Second, the American government has bolstered this attitude by providing financial support for schools that teach abstinence-only: the federal government has spent $1.5 billion funding AOUM programs over the last 15 years. This abundance of federal funds lead directly to the proliferation of these unsound programs across America, and why some school boards today still choose abstinence-only education in their schools, despite research proving their ineffectiveness to postpone teenage sexual activities.

In fact, there is overwhelming research that has found multiple issues with AOUM education: censoring vital health care information, jeopardizing adolescent sexual health, stigmatizing the LGBTQ community, purporting harmful gender stereotypes and one religious perspective, and withholding information teens need to make healthy and responsible life decisions. Yet, schools still adopt these programs despite this astounding evidence because they can take advantage of this federal funding.

Sexuality is a part of everyone’s life, no matter what race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or age a person is. Everyone has the basic human right to access comprehensive sexuality information that is not bias, is scientifically correct, and applicable to their sexuality. Let’s hope that the Natchez-Adams School Board recognizes this and accounts for these proven sexual health benefits of comprehensive sex education when making their final decision on June 30, and students of this district get the comprehensive sex information they need and deserve.

UPDATE: After initially postponing the decision to adopt either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sex education curriculum, the Natchez-Adams School Board in Jackson, Mississippi chooses “both.” Check next week for a follow up post explaining why the school board was forced to find this middle ground.

Proclamation of Masturbation: Joycelyn Elders Gives Masturbation Thumbs Up (Part I)

(También en Español)

previous Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders

In 1994, then Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, MD, proclaimed, “With regard to masturbation, I think that it is something that is a part of human sexuality and a part of something that should perhaps be taught.”

Masturbation being taught in schools? This statement is not one of shock, confusion, and contempt (or even a question) in countries where comprehensive sex education thrives, such as in the Netherlands, but in the United States, it sparked a nation-wide controversy that resulted in the termination of Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.

So what was the fuss about?

Joycelyn Elders has been a strong, public advocate for comprehensive health education in schools since her days as a pediatrician in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 1970s. As a chief pediatric resident, she combined a successful clinical practice with research in pediatric endocrinology, which lead her to work with juveniles with insulin-dependent diabetes. Over her tenure of 20 years, she recognized that diabetic females face a health risk if they become pregnant too young. These hazards include spontaneous abortion and possible congenital abnormalities in the infant. In order to limit these threats, Elders found it crucial to talk about the dangers of pregnancy to her patients and distribute contraceptives. The direct result of her doctor-to-patient education was that only one of her 520 juvenile diabetic patients became pregnant. This sparked Elders’ study of sexual behavior and involvement with public sector advocacy.

With these experiences and her passion to address the issue of teen pregnancy, she broke new ground by advocating for in-school clinics that included contraceptive services. Elders was successful in opening 18 school-based health clinics, with some distributing condoms, and expanding sex education throughout Arkansas. Yet, Elders’ work did not stay within state borders, because she understood that there were thousands of young adults in the United States whose sexual behavior went unmonitored and whose irresponsible, uneducated actions were contributing to the country’s notorious reputation of having the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the industrialized world. Moreover, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases was on the rise, with the scare of AIDS frightening all sexually active people. This unhealthy, apprehensive sexual climate fueled Elders commitment to comprehensive sex education and demand for bolder government involvement and an intense public education campaign.

However, a black woman cannot publicly talk about sex in America for too long without upsetting certain groups and making a few enemies. Elders’ progressive work was catching the eye of both political conservatives, who criticized her effort to increase the government’s role in the private sexual lives of U.S. citizens, and members of some religious groups, who feared that the distribution of condoms would increase sexual activity and rejected sex education in schools as sanctioning abortion.

Just as the single sperm lead to the population of this world, comprehensive sex education should be the single method of sexual health education to teach Earth’s population about sex, sexuality, and sexual health.

Elders contested these outrageous claims by stating that abstinence education does not work because, in the real world, young people will continue to have sex, and that is it the job of adults and the government to turn an irresponsible action into a responsible one. She maintained that this could be accomplished through education: sex education would help prevent unwanted pregnancy from ever occurring, counteracting the practice of abortion.

Even with her courageous and logical retorts to her critics, by the time Surgeon General Elders made her approval of masturbation known at the United Nations World AIDS Day in 1994, the political climate was against her favor. Her suggestion that masturbation was a healthy part of sexuality and should be taught in schools enraged both conservatives and moderates alike. As a result, President Clinton, who personally nominated Elders for the position of Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service only a year earlier, forced her to resigned, stating that she demonstrated values that were “contrary to the administration.” To the conservatives, Elders was warped, dangerous, and a lunatic because she was a rare public official who could actually speak lucidly, heroically, and fearlessly about what people didn’t want to hear.

But Elders’ words were exactly what the country needed to hear and to think about. Masturbation is a healthy part of human sexuality and a valid activity to help reduce risky sexual behavior, and it was about time that everyone realized sex education needed to be talked about openly and honestly for the sake of America’s youth and their sexual health.

The U.S. government was afraid to take a stand with Elders in fear of the public perceiving it as perverse and immoral. Yet in reality, in the absence of comprehensive sex education, the abundance of advertisements, television shows, movies, etc., that are laden with sexual innuendo, even some with blatant sexual references, is itself perverse and unjust to all youth.

Young people are bombarded by sexual media, but when seeking answers to their questions about their sexual health and sexuality, the resources are scarce and often completely unavailable. Some phone-text-based sex eduction sites have recently come on the scene and are a good step toward connecting youth directly with answers to their pressing questions.

Elders symbolizes knowledge, education, and truth. She was not afraid to address these issues and answer young people’s questions, which made her powerful as well as threatening and fearsome to the government, conservatives, moderates, and some religious group. And what do people typically do with what they think is threatening to them? Get rid of it. Unfortunately for Elders’ opponents, they could not get rid of her so easily, and she is now breaking new ground at the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Program in Human Sexuality with the Jocelyn Elders Chair in Sexual Health Education.