The Harms of
Comprehensive Sexuality Education
This section will identify some of the harmful elements found in many CSE programs by examining several excerpts from one of a series of CSE manuals called, You, Your Life, Your Dreams. This series was originally created for use in English-speaking Africa and is now being distributed in three languages and four different versions in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean and was produced by Family Care International (FCI) in conjunction with UNFPA Jamaica, and the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago.
The You, Your Life, Your Dreams manual,1 written for adolescents (defined by the World Health Organization as youth from the ages of 10 to192) in the Caribbean region, reflects the core ideologies of sexual rights activists.
The manual states that its purpose is to ensure the sexual and reproductive health of youth as they transition to adulthood by, among other things, preventing (1) unwanted pregnancy, (2) coercive or abusive sexual activity, and (3) sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS.
Unfortunately, while these goals are laudable, the manual is riddled with inaccurate and even dangerous information that ultimately will produce the very consequences it intends to eradicate.
A message in the foreword of the manual from Edwin W. Carrington, Secretary General of CARICOM, recognizes that the sensitive nature of the issues requires the “careful use of the materials by stakeholders within the context of legal frameworks of our societies and also their own cultural and religious environments.” Yet the manual, intended to be read by youth, addresses issues such as homosexuality, masturbation, and abortion in a less than “careful” manner and contains graphic drawings of nude adolescents and male and female genitals, including drawings that instruct youth how to put on a condom.3 The manual also instructs children on how to engage in a number of extremely high-risk sexual activities in order to obtain sexual pleasure.
Like many CSE programs, this Caribbean Island version has many good elements, such as teaching self-esteem, fostering respect for girls and women and discouraging drug use; however, it also contains a number of “cockroaches in the ice-cream,” which, when pointed out, make it clear that this and similar CSE programs are not only unacceptable, they are inexcusable.
Here are some of the common elements found in most CSE programs illustrated by specific excerpts from You, Your Life, Your Dreams:
CSE Programs Promote Harm Reduction as the Primary Approach Instead of Harm Elimination.
You, Your Life, Your Dreams is typical of most CSE programs in that it primarily takes a “harm-reduction” approach instead of a “harm-elimination” approach. This is a dangerous approach indeed, especially in countries with HIV/AIDS epidemics.
The United Nations has called upon all governments to implement comprehensive sexuality education programs as a means to help achieve the “zero new HIV infections” goal. Yet most of the CSE programs created by or supported by UN agencies take a harm reduction approach rather than seeking to completely eliminate harm (i.e., HIV infections).
Examples of Harm-Reduction vs. Harm-Elimination Approaches:
|Harm Reduction||Harm Elimination|
|Encourage condom use for prostitutes as primary way for prostitutes to protect themselves from HIV and other STD infections.||Establish voluntary rescue/recovery programs to support prostitutes in finding a less dangerous way to making a living.|
|Encourage youth to use contraceptives when having sex and provide government-funded HIV counseling and treatment as well as abortions if contraception fails.||Encourage youth to abstain from any sexual relations outside of marriage so they can avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancies and STI infections and remain HIV/AIDS free.|
|Encourage youth to experiment sexually to find out if they are homosexual. If they identify as such, tell them it is genetic and cannot be changed and encourage them to “come out” and be proud, but to use condoms when engaging in anal sex.||Help youth understand that same-sex attraction is not genetic and can sometimes be changed. Provide statistics on the number of people who have changed as well as statistics regarding the much higher risks for contracting HIV when having anal sex. Provide counseling and treatment for those who wish to overcome their same-sex attraction and sexual behavior.|
|Teach youth to make sure they are emotionally ready and feel mature enough and find a trusted partner before they have sex.||Teach youth that maturity means delaying instant gratification now (sex before marriage) so they can have something much better later (an HIV/AIDS-free, stable marriage and family). Provide youth with statistics on measurable indicators of well-being such as HIV rates, abuse, wealth, education levels, etc., for youth who engage in premarital sex compared to those who wait for marriage.|
|Change cultural norms and laws regarding sex and gender to destigmatize high-risk sexual behaviors so you can more openly discuss how to make such behaviors “safer.”||Discourage and stigmatize all high-risk sexual behaviors.|
Since it is highly unlikely that all youth will decide to abstain from sex outside of marriage, some elements of the harm-reduction approach such as condom education and distribution for those who choose not to abstain may be necessary as a secondary strategy.
However, anything less than establishing “harm elimination” as the primary strategy in African countries with generalized epidemics will cause more AIDS-related deaths. Family Watch has produced two policy briefs4 showing how the rights-based, harm-reduction, destigmatization approach to AIDS prevention that is being promoted through CSE is also being promoted by UN agencies as the primary AIDS prevention strategy.
The harm reduction approach to HIV prevention promoted by UN bureaucrats and developed countries is simply not good enough, as too many lives are at stake. A bold, new harm elimination approach is needed if we are truly serious about eradicating AIDS.
CSE Programs Undermine Parental Authority
Excerpts from the You, Your Life, Your Dreams manual (Emphasis added):
“Our feelings about our family and our relationships with our parents may also change. Our parents may give us more responsibilities, which is a sign that they trust and rely on us. But they might also become stricter—keeping us from our friends and trying to make decisions for us about our schooling or our future.” (Page 2)
“Often we may feel like questioning our parents’ beliefs and reasons for doing things, and this is very healthy! We may want to try new things for ourselves, and, at times, to take risks.” (Page 13)
“Even the people we know and love can also mislead us about sex and sexuality. Many parents don’t want to talk about sex with their children, sometimes because they are afraid to see us as sexual beings, and because they lack the information, and it can be hard to learn much from them.” (Page 80)
CSE Programs Encourage Youth to Take Risks
“Taking risks is not necessarily bad, but it is important that we take calculated risks that we can handle. To do this, we must have enough information to evaluate the risk, try to anticipate the consequences of our decisions, and trust in our own capacities to respond responsibly.” (Page 3)
It is widely known by neuroscientists and confirmed by published scientific research that the “wiring” of the developing adolescent brain is incomplete and that functions such as self-control, judgment and emotions are undeveloped. This is why it is not uncommon for teens to sometimes make rash decisions or act on impulses. Therefore, it can be difficult for teens to “anticipate the consequences” of their decisions, especially when they are in an emotional situation or they are sexually aroused. To encourage adolescents to “take calculated risks” and “trust in [their] own capacities” with regard to their sexual feelings or behavior is irresponsible.5
CSE Programs Promote Condoms as “Safe” Without Disclosing Failure Rates
“If used correctly and consistently, latex condoms provide very good protection against pregnancy and STIs, including HIV and AIDS. Latex condoms keep bacteria and viruses in the vagina, anus, or mouth from coming in contact with the penis, and they prevent sperm, bacteria, and viruses in semen from entering the other person’s body.” (Page 104)
“Many people who use latex condoms say they make sex more enjoyable for both partners because both can relax more when they are not worried about the possibility of pregnancy or getting an STI. Some men also say that using a latex condom helps them to avoid ejaculating or ‘coming’ too soon and thus giving more pleasure to their partners.” (Page 107)
“If you are sexually active, make sure to use latex condoms to protect yourself against pregnancy and STIs. You should also seek help from a family planning clinic or a health worker. There are contraceptive methods that adolescents can use to avoid becoming pregnant.” (Page 121)
“[A]nal sex increases risk for anal cancer as a result of infection with human papilloma virus (HPV). Therefore the use of a latex condom during anal intercourse is very important.” (Page 84)
Statements such as these imply that condoms are infallible.”Such statements give youth a false sense of security by failing to disclose the fact that condoms have high failure rates, especially when used by adolescents.6 Condoms can be effective when they are used correctly and consistently, and if they don’t break or leak, but teens, due to their immaturity, are much less likely than adults to use condoms correctly and consistently. In addition, there is absolutely no mention of the fact that condoms do not protect against HPV, which is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. A very high percentage of cervical cancer, up to 99 percent with some strains, is caused by HPV. HPV may also play a role in cancers of the anus,vulva,vagina, penis, as well asoropharyngeal cancer.7
CSE Programs Encourage Youth to Wait Until They “Feel Ready” to Have Sex
“Since only abstinence is 100% effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies and HIV and STI infections, the ABC approach proposes that young people practice sexual abstinence until they are fully informed and prepared to engage in sexual activity. This means delaying having sex until you are emotionally ready and that you and your partner know the risks and responsibilities involved and how to protect yourselves.” (Page 91)
While the You, Your Life, Your Dreams manual does mention abstinence as an option, the dangerous language is classic of the Planned Parenthood sexual ideology, which appears in many manuals the Planned Parenthood organization has influenced. Anyone who has worked with teenagers knows that teens often believe they are invincible and think they are emotionally ready for sex when nothing could be further from the truth.
CSE Programs Promote Masturbation as Healthy and Normal
“Masturbation is the act of touching oneself in a sexually stimulating way, and it is another way that people sometimes express their sexual feelings. . . . Both men and women can satisfy their sexual feelings and experience sexual pleasure through masturbation.”
“Most people masturbate sometime or other during their lives. Some people start masturbating when they are children and continue to do so all their lives. Some start during puberty; others start when they are adults. Other people never masturbate, and others feel that having sexual fantasies and masturbating conflicts with their religious or moral beliefs.” (Page 85)
“Breasts are very sensitive to touch for many women. Touching and caressing your breasts is very pleasurable and can be sexually exciting. It is important that you learn how and when to obtain pleasure fondling your breasts.” (Page 26)
[From a section containing myths about the vagina.] “It is obscene to touch the vagina. Not true! Your vagina is a part of your body, and as such, you are free to touch it in private.” (Page 27)
“Masturbation is only considered a problem when it is excessive, when a person cannot function or get through daily tasks without masturbating.” (Page 86)
“Experts in human sexuality consider masturbation one normal way for people to get to know their bodies and feelings, and to express their sexuality without risking pregnancy or STIs, including HIV and AIDS. Nothing bad will happen to your body, even if you masturbate a lot. Your genitals might get sore from rubbing them too much. On rare occasions, a boy may contract non-specific urethritis (NSU), which is an inflammation of the urethra from excessive rubbing.” (Page 86)
“Safer sex means sexual practices that greatly reduce your chances of getting STIs, including HIV, or getting pregnant. If you want totally safe sex—100% sure safe sex—then the best choices for you are masturbation, abstaining from rubbing genitals or sexual intercourse, and using sex toys. If you read Chapter 9, then you know masturbation is totally safe. . . Sex toys or sex aids (the most popular ones being vibrators) are devices which are made to enhance sexual pleasure. They are used mainly on the genitals or around the genitals. You can use a sex toy by yourself or as a couple . . .” (Page 104)
Masturbation is a highly controversial subject, and for educators to be promoting this and the use of sex toys to children (most likely without parental consent) is highly inappropriate. Some experts who treat adolescents with serious sexual addictions believe that encouraging children to masturbate can be considered child abuse because of its addictive nature. Since regular masturbation can and often does lead to other more serious sexual addictions, encouraging children to masturbate is highly irresponsible.
CSE Programs Encourage Acceptance and Exploration of Diverse Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities
[From a section entitled “Are you a Sexually Healthy Individual?”] “YOU ARE if you: . . . Affirm your own sexual orientation and respect the sexual orientation of others.” (Page 81)
“Adolescence is a time when many people become more aware of their sexual identity and sexual orientation. Sexual identity is the way in which a person identifies himself or herself as male, female or some combination of the two.” (Page 82)
“Some people feel romantically and sexually attracted to people of the same sex. This is called homosexuality. Some men feel attracted to men and are called ‘gays,’ and some women feel attracted to women and are called ‘lesbians.’ Furthermore some people are attracted to both men and women, and are called bisexuals.” (Page 82)
“At some point in their lives, most people have sexual feelings, thoughts, dreams, and attractions to someone of the same sex. Two close friends (either two boys or two girls) might have a crush on each other. They like being together and at times feel physically attracted to each other. Some people find these feelings confusing or upsetting, but they are normal and it is also part of discovering and developing our sexual identity.” (Page 82)
Encouraging children to adopt a sexual orientation at a young age and thereby define themselves by their sexual feelings might cause them to permanently label themselves as homosexuals when, in reality, they might be struggling from unwanted same-sex attraction that can be treated. While some youth may experience sexual attraction to someone of the same sex, this does not mean they will experience same-sex attraction permanently.
The manual encourages youth to explore their sexuality to determine if they are homosexual, but there is no mention of the many well-documented negative physical and emotional consequences of homosexual behavior.8 If youth are encouraged to explore and adopt a homosexual identity they should also be provided the research showing the many negative outcomes that are associated with the homosexual lifestyle.
CSE Programs Promote Abortion as Safe and Without Consequences
“Many girls faced with an unwanted pregnancy seek illegal abortions, which are dangerous. Each year across the Caribbean, many girls die or damage their reproductive organs having unsafe, illegal abortions.” (Page 116)
“Abortion can also be induced (deliberately caused) through a medical procedure. When performed by trained medical personnel under hygienic conditions, abortion is a very safe medical procedure, one that is even safer than childbirth. However, in most Caribbean countries, abortion is not legal except under rare circumstances such as rape or incest, when the woman’s life is endangered by the pregnancy, or when the fetus is very abnormal and will not survive after delivery.” (Page 120)
The implication of these excerpts is that only illegal abortions are unsafe. The manual enumerates many, many complications of pregnancy, yet states only that abortions performed by trained medical personnel are “very safe,” without mentioning any of the many potential, even lethal complications of abortion, with the single exception of “strong emotional strain.” Family Watch International has produced a Policy Brief documenting the multiple physical, emotional, mental, and reproductive complications arising from abortion.9
CSE Programs Teach Children and Youth They Are Sexual From Birth
“We are sexual beings from the time we are born. . . Every person is a sexual being from birth until death.” (Page 79)
CSE Programs Encourage Anal and Oral Sex
“Anal sex is the stimulation of the anus during sexual activity. It can be done in several ways: manually, orally (anilingus), or by anal intercourse that is the insertion of a man’s penis into his partner’s rectum. Anal sex is often thought of as an activity in which men who have sex with men engage, but it is also practiced by heterosexual couples. It can be pleasurable but it can also be a source of discomfort. Some people have strong negative attitudes toward anal sex, whether it takes place between homosexual or heterosexual couples.” (Page 84)
“Oral sex or oral-genital sex means both mouth contact with the vagina, which is called cunnilingus, and mouth contact with the penis, which is called fellatio. Either form of oral sex can be done with one partner stimulating the other individually or both partners doing it simultaneously. The latter is called ‘69’ because the position of the couple in simultaneous stimulation resembles this number.” (Page 84)
The Surgeon General under U.S. President Reagan said, “Condoms provide some protection, but anal intercourse is simply too dangerous to practice.” Again, youth have the right to medically accurate information.
CSE Programs Promote Sexual Pleasure as a Right and an Important Component of Sexual Health
“Being sexually healthy means that we can express our sexuality in a way that is pleasurable and fulfilling both for ourselves and our partner, without putting either of us at risk.” (Page 95)
There is always a risk when adolescents engage in any kind of sexual activity. To imply otherwise is misleading and inaccurate.
CSE Programs Promote a Right to Sexuality Education
“Our sexual and reproductive rights include having access to this information and to appropriate health services . . . ” (Page 95)
CSE Programs Encourage “Peer to Peer” Sexuality Education
“Although the main focus of the manual is peer education among youth, it could also serve as an important resource for adults who seek to help youth to grapple with the myriad and often conflicting perspectives relating to their personal development.” (Foreword)
Note: The next two common components to sexuality education were not found in You, Your Life, Your Dreams, however, they can be found in many other CSE programs.
1 The You, Your Life, Your Dreams manual is available here: http://www.familycareintl.org/en/resources/ publications/14.
2 WHO defines “adolescents” as individuals in the 10-19 years age group and “youth” as the 15-24 year age group. These two overlapping age groups are combined in the group “young people” covering the age range 10-24 years. See http://www.searo.who.int/EN/Section13/Section1245_4980.htm.
3 Age-appropriate instruction on condom usage can be an important part of sex education provided it includes 1) parental consent; 2) information on the risks of using condoms; and 3) scientific data regarding failure rates of condoms.
4 “The International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights: A Troublesome Paradox for Containing the HIV/AIDS Epidemic,” available: http://www.familywatchinternational.org/fwi/documents/fwiPolicyBrief
onInternationalGuidelinesonHIV_AIDSandHumanRightsFinal.pdf, and “Wrongheaded United Nations HIV/AIDS Prevention Policies vs. Evidence-Based Approaches,” available: http://www.familywatchinternational.org/fwi/ documents/fwipolicybrief_Failed_UN_AIDS_Policy.pdf.
5 See Adolescent Brain Development http://www.actforyouth.net/documents/may02factsheetadolbraindev.pdf.
6 See Ranjit N, Bankole A, Darroch JE, Singh S. Contraceptive failure in the first two years of use: differences across socioeconomic subgroups. Fam Plann Persp 33(1):19–27. 2001. The two-year condom failure rate resulting in pregnancy for youth under 18 was 25.8 percent.