Dishonesty about Sex Education

Community Impact News has asked Republican incumbent Ken Mercer, Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Libertarian Mark Loewe about issues important in their District 5 State Board of Education race. District 5 covers and expansive area, including parts of San Antonio, Austin and the Hill Country and even extending all the way up to Bell County. Check out the interviews here (for Mercer), here (for Bell-Metereau) and here (for Loewe). But we wanted to highlight an especially misleading response from Mercer regarding a question about sex education:

When I talk to parents in my district, they want their kids to understand the consequences of the choices. If they choose to abstain, if they choose to become sexually active, parents want kids to know the consequences. It’s called personal responsibility. What they do not want is a comprehensive, how-to class.

The complaint I’ve heard from parents is that there is an agenda to promote a how-to class, and it’s not about how to have sex; it’s about what are the consequences of your decisions. Parents and groups I talked to consider ‘comprehensive’ a code word to teach about sex in other lifestyles. They want kids to understand the consequences of their decisions: That’s what sex ed and health books are all about.

‘Comprehensive’ has been a code word for how to have sex with the opposite or same sex people, that its more of an indoctrination to other lifestyles. That’s not what parents want.

Sigh. So much misinformation and distortion in one short answer.

The issue isn’t about teaching students “how to” have sex. The state’s sky-high teen birth rate demonstrates that Texas teens have that part figured out already. The issue is whether we should keep teens ignorant about information they need to protect themselves and make important life decisions. An in-depth report by two Texas State University health education professors last year, funded by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, shows that the vast majority of Texas students are not getting that information. In fact, the study found that more than 9 in 10 school districts teach “abstinence-only-until-marriage” or nothing at all when it comes to sex education.

Moreover, we don’t know which parents Mercer has been talking to, but polling regularly shows that a large majority of parents support comprehensive sex education. That means — and this language is clear in polling questions — they support teaching students about abstinence as well as medically accurate information on condoms and other forms of contraception. See here and here, for example. Simply put, this issue isn’t nearly as controversial as Mercer makes it out to be: most parents reject fear and ignorance as effective ways to protect their kids.

But note the way Mercer defines “comprehensive”:

“‘Comprehensive’ has been a code word for how to have sex with the opposite or same sex people, that its more of an indoctrination to other lifestyles.”

Translation: “If we can persuade parents that sex education is really about promoting homosexuality, we win!”

In fact, during the legislative session last year, far-right pressure groups criticized bills reforming sex education in Texas by falsely claiming comprehensive, responsible sex education would “promote recreational and gay sex.” Those reform bills — which would have encouraged more comprehensive sex education and required that any information presented in such classes be medically accurate — failed to pass.

We will support, once again, efforts to pass such legislation in 2011. That’s because when opponents of responsible sex education win, young people lose. Ignorance won’t protect our kids. Most parents know that, regardless of what people like Ken Mercer say.

11 thoughts on “Dishonesty about Sex Education

  1. A few things (which may be sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ format):

    What most people don’t realize is that if your faith is strong enough, it will stand up to “immoral behavior.” That means, in essence, that after comprehensive sex education class is over:

    True Christians will keep it in their pants like the Bible wants them to anyway
    Everyone will have learned how to keep themselves healthy like all parents want.

    Faith was meant to be tested; isn’t that a huge part of religious texts? If you have taught your children well, they will not only understand sexual responsibility, but they will add it to their stores of life skills. They will also know why they should choose as a mate someone who has similar sexual outlook as they do.

    Also, no matter what religious persuasion you are, the main message about sex should be that it is something that carries with it huge responsibility, and needs to be taken very seriously. If you want to have sex, you should be ready to handle the emotional trials of pregnancy, whether it leads to abortion, adoption, or raising your own child.

    In all cases, Dan is right. Ignorance won’t protect anyone.

  2. Well. I grew up down south and have lived here all of my life. I could tell you that the negative attitude towards comprehensive sex education down here is a modern day religious issue or just a political football kicked around by right wing fruitcakes. I would probably be wrong on both counts. Because I have lived in this southern society for so long, like an ethnographer, the anthropologist in me says that it goes deeper than this. It is a deep-seated southern cultural phenomenon that goes way back in time.

    In the 1800s, there were a whole bunch of crackpot books written by various Dr. Crackpots with wild theories about things sexual. These books were apparently quite available to the simple poor folks in rural areas. Girls were encouraged to avoid playing sports like basketball for fear it would damage their ovaries. Women should not ware pants because, unlike the case with men, the female crotch needs to breathe fresh air. However, it was okay to read it because it was written by a doctor, and reading can be done in silence.

    Back in the 1970s, I visited some friends of mine in the archaeology lab at a museum, and they actually had a copy of one of these old books. They had been reading it out loud, and were rolling with laughter in the aisles between the ancient pottery shelves. It was outlandish and bizarre content that we know is not true today. They read it to me, and I too started laughing. Then, in a few minutes, it began to dawn on me—memories from childhood. My mother, who was born in 1910, had actually seen and believed all of this bizarre nonsense. It was part of her being and who she was as a person.

    Basically, it was a wonder that I was ever born. My mother hated sex. In her later years, she came clean about that. She told me, and this is an exact quote, “I just don’t know how a loving God could create something so awful and nasty.” I think that was the bottom line for her generation, as well as a couple of generations before and after her. It was something women were supposed to give into because they had husbands, but it was wrong to want it or enjoy it. It was a duty like cleaning the ashes out of the coal grate every morning. You never talked about it in mixed company (men and women together).

    Now, I want you to stop and understand that carefully to get a real feel for it. Imagine 20 people today sitting around in tuxedos and evening gowns in the lobby of a really fancy hotel. The conversation begins, “I say Freddie. Which do you think smells worse, the taco fart or the ribeye steak fart? Freddie says, “Well, I’m not sure. Marilyn, what do you think? She says, “Well, Joe had a taco tonight, and Bill had steak. Let’s get them to pass some gas, and we will all have fun voting on which smells worse.” Now seriously, you would probably never see that today, and many would find it socially horrifying. This is what you have to understand. Talking about sex down south traditionally falls into the exact same category for the same reason. It is considered to be nasty and unspeakable. Whether God created sex and called it good is irrelevant. The traditional southern ciizen feels that the Lord made a terrible mistake in creating sex—one the traditional men and women of the south intend to correct in whatever practical way they can.

    Keeping sex silent and living in denial of its existence is one way of doing that. Certainly, if adults cannot even talk about it in mixed company, the idea of talking to children about it in a public school is—quite frankly—scandalous and just about the worst idea anyone ever had. How could any loving adult paint the eyes and ears of a sweet, innocent child with information about that awful S-word and those ugly looking and sometimes odoriferous private parts. Why not just sew your child into the carcass of a rotting deer in July?

    Because I have been a bit graphic, I think you see my point. Sex is a traditionally forbidden subject in the South. The fact that God made sex and made it to feel good is irrelevant. The southern man and woman knows that it is bad and that talking about it is even worse. Given this traditional southern view of sex, three truly horrifying things happened in the 1960s: 1) the invention of effective contraceptives made it possible to have sex without pregnancy, 2) people started talking about sex and how God did not have such a bad idea after all, and 3) [the very worst of all] younger people began to feel comfortable talking about sex, even in mixed company.

    As you know, the South is a place where time-honored traditions [all of the things that make life worth living: whipping your black boy, beating your wife, sex denial, etc. ) have been under siege since 1861. Silence on sex is one of those great traditions. It goes much deeper than the Religious Right. And naturally, like so many other southern traditions that are under siege, the Religious Right sees it as 10,000 pounds of habanero salt that can be rubbed gingerly into age-old southern wounds to rouse the rabble and raise money.

  3. Mr. Mercer says: “‘Comprehensive’ has been a code word for how to have sex with the opposite or same sex people, that its more of an indoctrination to other lifestyles.”

    First of all, Mr. Education, when using the contraction for “it is,” one needs to use an apostrophe. Fortunately, they are available free of charge.

    Charles’ comments are fascinating. I had always figured that controversies about sex education and homosexuality were fanned by the right wing as distractions. You know, to keep people from noticing that the very wealthy are getting wealthier by destroying the middle class completely. I can fully understand the obscenely wealthy wanting the rest of us to not notice that and these wedge issues have been very effective for them.

    The targets of the right’s most purple hatred over homosexuality are heterosexuals who happen to be progressives, rather than right-wing icons like that nice Mr. Roy Cohn, who persisted until his death (from AIDS) in claiming he was not homosexual, but a heterosexual who enjoyed sex with other men.

  4. LonestarJR.

    I did not know that Roy Cohn was gay, but I have taken note of some of his activities over the years. I just heard the WorldNetDaily crowd say, “Roy who?” If you had attended a public school and a nifty college like I did, you would know who Roy Cohn was? Roy was one of the chief legal assistants to Joseph McCarthy back in the “spy under every bed” days of the McCarthy hearings. I wonder if the Verona papers vindicated Roy? Struggling to hold back my laughter.

  5. @ David Bigwood: Bingo, I think I’ve made a connection between your comment and the Bible’s own teaching: “Be fruitful and multiply.” So, by not teaching about contraception and instead abstinence-only (which clearly doesn’t work), the Christian Wrong are making sure that that one particular commandment is being heeded.

    Yes, I’m also one who knew Roy Cohn was gay; knew it ever since it was discussed on Sixty Minutes about 25 years ago – at about the time of Mr. Cohn’s death if I’ve got my dates & events correct.

    Mr. “Education” said: “…. parents want kids to know the consequences. It’s called personal responsibility.”
    DUH! I thought that was what Repugniks are supposed to be ALL about: responsibility. So, teaching the possible consequences of intercourse is supposed to be NOT responsible?

    These nuts make my head spin. I guess I’m the one then who is: DUH!

  6. The fact is, someone could be a heterosexual who likes having sex with men. That’s why we have higher rates of ‘ homosexual behavior” in prison than in the general population. Sex is an expression of a power relationship. It’s not just about love or lust.
    However, what Cohn and Ted Haggard in the current age are doing is a fundamental act of denial, self-loathing and hypocrisy that result in the continued oppression of individuals who are gay. Not the “gay community”, but those lone individuals distributed throughout the population in rural villages, traditional communities where to be gay is to be hated.
    Prudery as I experienced it made “sexual orientation” beside the point, because I was automatically doomed by virtue of the functional male sex organs and the hormones coursing through my veins.
    What a screwed up country.
    “Yes, Virginia, there is a bigger idiot in the world than Don McLeroy. It’s Ken Mercer.”
    The reason for the rise of prudery is that sexuality is one of the “smoking guns” (no pun intended) that indicates that we are one with the animals.
    That’s why we can’t have the teaching of evolution, because it breaks down one of the walls of ignorance that the prudes depend on to protect them from reality.
    And vicious cycles being what they are, we must have the prudery in order to promote a fiction in which we are not co-evolved with and related to the other animals.

  7. Some random unrelated thoughts:

    David, you ended your message interestingly: I heard just the other day that we humans share >97% of our genes with chimps and bonobos. It came up in a discussion on the Diane Rehm Show on June 1.

    I also heard an interesting insight today from John Waters, also in a discussion on NPR. He mentioned that people who work with Alzheimer patients and others suffering from age-related dementia have noted that their patients forget their family members and even their own names. But they never forget if they are homosexual or heterosexual. This would be supportive evidence that sexual orientation is something one is born with, not learned or acquired.

    I agree with that hypothesis because never in my life did I ever sit down and think: You know, I’m going to like boys. Yeah, boys. Boys are it for me.

    Truth be told, I’d prefer to like NOBODY. Life would be so much happier and simpler if I DIDN’T like boys!

    I wonder why Christianity in particular has such a problem with the human body and human sexuality. Or maybe sexuality in general. In Judaism, sex is considered a gift of God. A gift to be used with respect and discretion but still a gift. It is considered a special blessing to have sex with your spouse on Shabbat.

    It’s interesting to note that there is no Biblical prohibition against heterosexual premarital sex; the Bible is silent on sex between two singles of opposite gender.

    Charles, I always enjoy reading about your personal past. But although I was always a Northern Girl, I can see myself in your mother. I discovered intercourse and pregnancy when we were having our poodle bred. It was something I just kind of figured out by putting 2 and 2 together. For confirmation, I asked my mother: “Do people have to do the same thing dogs do to have babies”? She said “Yes.” I thought: “Yep. I was afraid of that.” Which led to my next thought: “Eeyewwwww. That is SO disgusting. It’s SO UNSANITARY!” Later I thought something like this: “You know, if I had to explain intercourse to somebody from Outer Space, they’d probably die laughing. You guys do WHAT??”

  8. I don’t doubt that most homosexuals are a product of genetic coding, however, all homosexual behavior cannot be attributed to homosexuality in that sense, because there are social power relations that figure in. Maybe there’s a “tendency” gene but everyone is capable to some degree to respond to a homosexual urge in the right circumstances. That’s a very threatening idea to the homophobe.
    I don’t know.
    I do know that prudery is a form of child abuse.

  9. Ken Mercer would not know the truth if it bit him in the behind. He distorts every point he makes. He has lied repeatedly, and this distortion is a lie. He is the poster child for everything that is wrong with SBOE’s far right faction. As parents, we certainly wish our children would abstain from pre-marital sex. But the reality is that most of us didn’t and our kids aren’t either. When we don’t allow them to have access to correct information under the tutalage of a responsible adult, it is really a form of child abuse. Mercer should walk down the halls of urban middle and high schools for a reality check on abstention.

  10. David said:

    “The reason for the rise of prudery is that sexuality is one of the “smoking guns” (no pun intended) that indicates that we are one with the animals.”

    One of the chief spiritual messages in Genesis 1 is that man suffers from a universal desire to be God. You know: “Get rid of that God guy. Let me be God. I’ll show you how to do the God thing right.”

    Juxtapose that with the most pitiful sight in the known universe: A man sitting on a toilet in the restroom, a collection of proteins and smelly liquids of various kinds—totally enslaved to physicality and putridity. In other words, not much of a God.