LGBT Health Awareness Week Part 3: Abstinence Til Marriage = Abstinence Til Forever
Feminists talk a lot about abstinence-only education programs – and with good reason. Time and time again, studies and personal anecdotes and just about every piece of data ever has shown that abstinence-only programs DO NOT DO what they intend to do. They don’t succeed in their direct mission (keeping teens from having sex outside of wedlock, keeping down teen pregnancies, keeping down teen STD rates). They also don’t succeed at their subversive mission (turning teens into carbon copies of the moralizing fundamentalists who create the programs). A ban on abstinence-only sex ed courses in public schools is LONG overdue. And feminists have been instrumental in many of the attempts to overturn the programs.
But over the course of the past several years, as we’ve fought for change in the way schools teach sex ed, we’ve fallen into a clever rhetorical trap set by the conservative evangelicals who tout abstinence ed. In fighting to prove that the program doesn’t work, we’ve virtually ignored one of its most fatal flaws: abstinence til marriage is a tenet that only works if it’s possible for you to get married. And right now, as Sady Doyle put it over at Salon:
“there is an entire population of people, some of them high school students, who cannot actually get married unless they happen to be in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, or Washington, DC; something tells me the programs aren’t precisely built with those students in mind.”
This problem isn’t mentioned very frequently in discussions about the failure of abstinence ed. Even in Sady’s article it’s a small part of her overarching argument. And that gap in discourse directly benefits the conservative agenda. The less frequently conservative America is required to defend its anti-queer agenda, the better for them. It is the responsibility of those who understand and acknowledge the variances of sexuality in our society to stand up for the needs of all students. Even if abstinence-only ed worked for straight students, it would still be wrong. Because it would then be an exclusive club, one that would deny (and therefore invalidate) the lives of countless LGBTQ students – something that would greatly benefit conservative America.
Even if abstinence-only education reduced the rate of teen pregnancies to zero, it still wouldn’t be valid. Because any system of health education that denies the identities of any percentage of the student body is an unworkable system. For years, conservative arguments against homosexuality have relied on a series of lies about the health risks of queer lifestyles: Being gay gives you AIDS! Being trans means you have a mental illness! Queer teens are more likely to commit suicide! A sex education system that does not acknowledge LGBTQ students will help to validate these myths by withholding information about sexual health from queer teens.
Conservatives want to erase LGBTQ health issues from discourse on education. It’s our job, as LGBTQ individuals and allies, as feminists, to see that that erasure doesn’t happen.
I know that we’re technically at the close of LGBT Health Awareness Week, but this is a topic I want to continue discussing. (I seem to be starting up a lot of series, don’t I?) Over the course of the next weeks, I’m going to try to get my hands on as many sex ed curriculums as I can. I want to know how this issue is being discussed, if it’s being discussed at all. I’ll update as I learn more, starting with a post tomorrow about an interesting document from the CDC that shows what a long way we still have to go to promote sexual health for all orientations and to dismiss the cultural myths surrounding health and LGBTQ identities.