I belong to a list serve for facilitators of the comprehensive, inclusive sexuality education curriculum that my church denomination (the United Church of Christ) and the Unitarian Universalist Assoc. have collaborated on to produce and endorse as what we want to teach people about faith and sexuality. In fact, there are two curricula: one can be used in a secular fashion, and is called Our Whole Lives, and the other is a companion manual called Sexuality and Our Faith.
This week, on the list serve, there has been the longest thread I've ever seen regarding a policy about audio visual materials and the restriction of their use due to some really bad press years ago when a piece of material from a different curriculum was taken out of context by someone in the media and all kinds of damage was done to the program.
I'm in total support of the current cautious policy because I don't want intolerant people to have the power to damage the good work we are doing. However, the more I thought about it, the more fired up I got that I even have to worry about that. Here's what burns me up: We, as progressive faith commuities in our country (which is founded supposedly on the idea of separation of church and state) have to be very careful what we say we are teaching/appear to be teaching our youth (the youth in our faith communities and with the permission of their parents) because of the current political (supposedly secular) climate in our country. Even though there is ample evidence that abstinence only education does not work to lower teen pregnancy and disease rates, even though we know for a fact that what works is to tell kids to wait AND teach them how to be safe, our government continues ONLY to fund abstinence only education.
To me, this is immoral. To withhold information from young people about keeping healthy sexually is akin to telling them not that the only way to prevent lung cancer is not to smoke. It's not true, and it leaves out a bunch of facts. I'm the first one to agree that the only 100% effective way to keep from getting pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted disease is to be completely sexually abstinent, period. Not just until marriage (or until you're 30, as some funding states--what, do you magically become immune to disease and unwanted pregnancy at 30?! News to me....) because, unless your spouse (or over-29-year-old partner) has also been completely sexually abstinent until marriage (or age 30), you will be having sex essentially with everyone they've ever had any kind of intercourse with--oral, vaginal, or anal--or any engaged in any other risky sexual behavior with. There are people who think this (complete absitnence) is ideal, and while I respect their right to have their values and opinions, my concern is for dealing effectively with what is, not legislating morals.
I think many would agree it would be great if teens didn't drink or do drugs, either. But "Just Say No" was ineffective in the '80's for drug use and it's ineffective now regarding teen sexual health. To bring my faith into it, Jesus was not a "just say no" kind of guy. He educated people with parables, gave them different ways to look at things, had discussions with them, asked them hard questions, and showed compassion for each and every person in their human imperfection, whether it was a prostitute, a leper, or a tax collector.
What I pray for and strive for is compassion for people where they are--whether they are teens who are sexually active or people who think they shouldn't be. And then I want to go the next step and offer those teens the information they need to keep healthy and safe, to discern what their values are and what decisions they want to make, and to decide where their faith comes into those decisions. To do anything less would be unethical and immoral.
I'm not asking for everyone to agree with me--I'm simply saying we need to advocate to at least get medically and scientifically accurate information to kids. They will still make their own choices--some healthy, some not so much--but at least they'll have accurate information. Kind of like when you go to a fast food restaurant and they have the fat grams and calories posted. You might still get french fries instead of the fruit cup, but at least you have the option. Without it, your ignorance is what impairs your health.
I'll conclude with a quote I'm sure many of you have seen, and attributed to Andy McIntyre: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."