The People Behind Fake Abortion Clinics Also Push Shame-Based Sex Ed—But Parents Are Fighting Back

Crisis pregnancy centers are faith-based organizations known for driving women away from getting abortions. While they claim to help women with unplanned pregnancy about their choices moving forward, many of them are behind fake abortion clinics that give out misleading reproductive health information. These crisis pregnancy centers (CPC) are now found responsible for shameful sex education programs that preach abstinence over anything else. Their influence in public schools is on the rise since the Trump election, which has increased funding and support for abstinence curriculums since earlier this year.

As previously reported, however, the Trump administration's Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) started promoting abstinence-focused sex education curriculums at schools as of March 2018, with  HHS Office of Population Affairs announcing that family planning education should include a rhythm-based contraceptive option (i.e., tracking your menstrual cycle and trying to make sure you aren’t ovulating when you want to have intercourse).

With no federal mandate that requires schools to teach sex education, state departments are often left to regulate the programs while school districts choose the curriculums. This makes it easy for CPCs to come in and teach at public schools in a way that lines up with their anti-sex, abstinence-only policies. Policies that, notably, aren't found to be all that effective for preventing teen pregnancies than the more evidence-based, shame-free alternatives. 

Empowered by the government's renewed support for abstinence-pinned education, CPCs are now using scare tactics and further misleading reproductive health information to try and show students that having sex is not only dangerous, but also degrades your sense of self-worth as a person, as Huffington Post's Anna Almendrala wrote in a report for HuffPost last week. And the stories she found of different abstinence programs are shocking: 

In New York, a state that generally leans to the left, a boy chewed gum then was told to spit it out for someone else to chew next. The “experiment” was designed by the CPC curriculum to show the students what it’s like if you lose your virginity, according to HuffPost. 

A program at Deer Lakes High School in Cheswick, PA  alsogave students pamphlets warning them about “self-sex” (masturbation) and the risks of having multiple sexual partners. The also claims that masturbation could affect a teen’s future marriage because it redirected the “neurochemicals” meant for bonding a spouse toward the self. It also noted that vasopressin, a hormone released during male orgasm, would diminish if a male had too many partners. Yet the source for the vasopressin claim was a study about prairie voles, not human males — and so is kind of considered a cherry-picked bit of junk science to promote abstinence.

However, as Almendrala writes, there are some heroes fighting back against misinformation and shame: It's some bad-ass Gen X parents. 

Rachelle Dunn, a mother of a child at Deer Lakes High School, reportedly complained to the school and administration about the program (Because duh.) After hearing from her, they promised they would no longer allow the local CPC, TryLife, to present their abstinence curriculum at the high school.

Dunn is joined by numerous other parents who have complained about the CPC curriculum, banding together through social media to create the National Coalition for Advancing Sex Education. The coalition works to help parents remove the CPC programs from schools and implement comprehensive curriculums in their place. Efforts to get rid of CPCs in schools can be tracked on StopTheShaming.org, a website created by concerned parent Gina Tonello (whose daughter recorded a "chewed gum" presentation that was given to her class in December 2017).

Lisa Wade, author of "American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus," told Huffpost that the parental activism comes not necessarily from a more conservative government, but rather their own experience with sex education that actually worked. 

"My generation is the one that got the best sex education, and probably had the best reason to take sex education seriously," Wade said, about her generation — Gen X— and the sex education they were exposed to during the AIDS epidemic, when then Surgeon General C. Everett Coop declared sex education an urgent matter. He stated that the education must be more comprehensive and “include information on heterosexual and homosexual relationships," so obviously those programs started in Coop’s time were far more progressive than the CPC-endorsed curriculums taught now.

Sexual health research organization, the Guttmacher Institute, notes that those types of programs are simply way more beneficial:  "[Programs that] include information about both contraception and abstinence help young people to delay sex, and also to have healthy relationships and avoid STDs and unintended pregnancies when they do become sexually active. Many of these programs have resulted in delayed sexual debut, reduced frequency of sex and number of sexual partners, increased condom or contraceptive use, or reduced sexual risk-taking," they write. Meanwhile, they note that programs that do little but promote abstinence (also called 'sexual risk avoidance' programs by their supporters) ultimately "..systematically ignore or stigmatize many young people and do not meet their health needs." 

Parents like Tonello agreed, clearly wishing that their kids had a taste of that kind of empowering information before they graduate and head off to college — where many of them will probably begin to make their sexual debuts: “My daughter is graduating with 450 people in a couple of weeks, and they never had the kind of sex ed I had."