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A Review of the "Sexuality, Commitment and Family" Curriculum

Summer 2003

By Alan Singer

Teen Aid, based in Spokane, Washington, publishes some of the most widely distributed “abstinence only” curricula. The curricula is also anti-birth control, implies that abortion is murder, and frowns upon “dual career” marriages.

The basic premise of their material is: “History is showing us that young people are unable to be sexually active outside of a faithful marital situation and not suffer serious consequences. These consequences result in harm, not only to the individual, but also to families and society as a whole.”(p. 236)

Teen Aid’s high school curriculum and accompanying textbook, "Sexuality, Commitment and Family," stress the importance of open relationships between parents and teenagers, strengthening values and a teenager’s sense of self worth, empowering adolescents to resist peer pressure to become sexually active and use drugs (sex and drug use are frequently equated), the spiritual and health benefits of abstinence and secondary virginity (teens who suspend sexual activity), and the physical and emotional danger of an active sex life outside of marriage.

But despite a pretense at openness, presentations and the materials used to foster discussion are exceedingly one-sided. The “physical side” of sex is mentioned but not explained. Abstinence or sex within marriage are presented as the only forms of safe sex and effective birth control. “Dual career” marriages are discouraged (p. 108-109). Homosexuality is only mentioned in a chapter on AIDS. The possibility that there is a broad range of “normal” human sexual behavior or that families can come in many forms is never considered.

The teacher’s guide explains that the reason certain topics are excluded is to avoid giving students the wrong message about what is acceptable behavior. While there is no open religious proselytizing in their guides or texts, there is a religious undertone to the material. Instructions in the teacher’s guide for the chapter on “Reproductive Anatomy” suggest that “this information should be taught with a sense of awe. It is a miracle that any of us were formed and developed when considering all the factors which must be just right” (p. 79). The “Holy Bible” is cited as a “medical reference” (p.122) in a section on the impact of alcohol on a fetus. Abortion is defined as “an intent to kill the unborn” (p. 250). As with creationism, the abstinence curriculum makes a pretense of being scientific. Studies are cited to support the curriculum’s positions on the ineffectiveness of birth control and the criminality of abortion. Alternative studies and views are never presented.

In the guise of sensitivity and concern, Teen-Aid’s “Sexuality, Commitment and Family” is an attempt by right-wing religious groups to gain access to public school classrooms, undermine sex education programs, and instruct teenagers on the right way to behave — i.e., their way. In this curriculum, AIDS and pregnancy replace fire and brimstone as the consequences of immoral actions. A simplistic solution – “Just Say No” – is offered to one of the most complicated questions facing teenagers, parents, and teachers.

Summer 2003