Approval of New Abstinence-Only Program is Dangerous to Girls’ Health

By Laura Kacere
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Little attention was paid to the quietly-approved addition of 3 new programs to the Department of Health and Human Services list of “evidence-based”  teen pregnancy prevention programs, a list that the current Administration has used to tout its commitment to science in public health. That is until RH Reality Check drew attention to one particular program and challenged the frightening silence around its approval.

The Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education program is anything but science-based and has very little support from peer-reviewed research literature. Even for abstinence-only education programs, this one stands out as being particularly extreme and dangerous. It includes nothing about anatomy, sexually transmitted infections, or sexual behavior; rather, virginity pledges are required, planning for one’s wedding is a major part of class time, and a commitment to abstinence until marriage (after which of course heterosexual sex  is the only valid form) is its goal. “Sex is like fire,” page 22 of the Student Manual states. “Inside the appropriate boundary of marriage, sex is a great thing! Outside of marriage, sex can be dangerous.”

The curriculum not only excludes LGBT youth, it ostracizes sex outside of a heterosexual norm, further stigmatizing LGBT youth in their communities and practically promoting homophobia.  It also reinforces stereotypical gender roles, and uses fear tactics and shame against young people who are sexually active as well as those who have experienced sexual assault.

And as we see so often in American victim-blaming culture, the onus is placed on women to maintain their sexual purity as a signifier of femininity and integrity: “girls need to be careful with what they wear, because males are looking! The girl might be thinking fashion, while the boy is thinking sex. For this reason, girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 46)

Abstinence-only education is not only ineffective (studies show that teen pregnancy rates are higher in states that teach abstinence-only curricula), it is dangerous to young women’s health and detrimental to their bodily autonomy, self-worth, and empowerment as women.

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