Politics & Policy

Sex Ed: Hazardous to Your Child’s Health?

The primary goal of sex education is not eradication of disease, it's social change.

Is sex-ed hazardous to your child’s health? The industry line is, argues Dr. Miriam Grossman, a psychiatrist who has worked on college campuses and seen too much pain and illness that the sexual revolution has wrought. She’s the author of the new book You’re Teaching My Child What?: A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Ed and How They Harm Your Child, and took questions earlier this week from National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Dr. Grossman, you tell a story at the start of the book about a talk you gave on a college campus. During the course of Q&A one girl announces: “I always used condoms, but I got HPV anyway, and it’s one of the high-risk types.” You explain that based on what she then provided, she was in a bad way, even facing a potential cancer risk if her infection persists. But she also announced that having “thought it over” she had “decided that the pleasure I had with my partners was worth it.” What makes a college kid say that? No concept of mortality? How do you even begin to fix this?

DR. MIRIAM GROSSMAN: Well, those are some of the big questions that I tackle in my book. Let me try to sum up 200 pages for you.

People need to understand that the primary goal of sex education is not eradication of disease, it’s social change. Groups like Planned Parenthood and SIECUS inculcate students to value openness and acceptance of nearly any consensual sexual encounter. A visit to some of the websites to which kids are sent by these organizations demonstrates that their fight is against repression and intolerance, not herpes and warts. The latter are bothersome but manageable; the former are unacceptable and must be eliminated.

#ad#Now consider a young person like the student you mention. We didn’t speak privately, but I think it’s fair to speculate about her “it was worth it” comment.

If she’s like other young people I’ve met, she’s been taught she’s a “sexual being,” from cradle to grave. Decisions about sex — when, what, and with whom — are for her to make and for others (read: adults) to respect. She’s misinformed about genital infections: She believes that all sexual activity — with a stranger or a spouse, at age 15 or 25 — carries some risk of infection. The only way to avoid the blisters, warts, and discharges, she thinks, is to abstain from sex forever.

At her freshman orientation, she learned where to obtain emergency contraception and free condoms. At the student health center she’s asked, “Do you have sex with men, women, or both?” She wants a social life, but dating is dead. There’s lots of alcohol on campus, and hook-ups are the norm. More than a few friends have been treated for genital infections.

She does not understand that sexuality is an appetite, a healthy and wonderful one, but like all appetites, only if restrained. That’s a moral message, she thinks, not a medical one. And it’s someone else’s morality.

You and I are astonished at her statement that it was “worth it,” because our priority is avoiding infection, especially viruses that may cause serious medical conditions. And we know that two people who delay sexual behavior and are monogamous never have to worry about any sexually transmitted infection. But she lives in a different world, where sexual freedom and exploration are the priority, and HPV is, more often than not, part of the package.

LOPEZ: How does biology and not just the pope and dad with a shotgun say “wait” on the matter of sex?

DR. GROSSMAN: Biology says “wait” in a number of ways. Here are two, both of them ignored by the sex-ed industry:

We learned in the mid-Nineties that the teen brain is immature, and functions differently from an adult’s. The pioneer researcher in this field is Jay Giedd, M.D., who is chief of brain imaging in child psychiatry at the NIMH. Giedd has done MRIs on over 1,800 kids; his work revealed that the brain does not reach full maturity until the third decade of life. The last area to develop is the pre-frontal cortex, or PFC, which is the brain’s center for reasoning, judgment, self evaluation, and planning. The PFC suppresses impulses and makes decisions rationally, weighing pros and cons, and considering the consequences. It’s the “thinking” brain, and in adolescents, the wiring isn’t complete.

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Then there’s the “feeling” brain: quick, short-sighted, emotion-driven, and susceptible to coercion and peer pressure. It matures earlier than the PFC. Neuropsychologists have discovered that under intense, novel, and highly stimulating conditions this part of the brain can take over. The result? Poor choices — drug use, high-speed driving, risky sexual encounters.

Most significant is that this can happen even when adolescents know and understand the dangers involved. It’s not lack of information; it’s lack of judgment. Of course, most parents don’t need MRI’s to tell them what they knew all along: Teens should be warned about even getting close to a situation that presents risks. But the premise of teaching “safe sex” is based entirely on the assumption that kids can think through complex issues, plan ahead, and consider consequences. The premise is that adolescents are completely capable of making responsible sexual decisions, and the adult’s role is to provide information and skills.

#ad#When teens are questioned about their last sexual encounter, more than half admit they did not use a condom. This will not come as a surprise to anyone who is aware of the insights this new century has brought us about adolescent brain development. Neither should we rush to increase the truckloads of free condoms delivered to our schools. Biology is saying the answer isn’t latex, the answer is time.

The teen cervix is another way biology says wait. It’s immature and vulnerable to infection due to an area called the transformation zone. The T-zone is covered by only one layer of cells, so bacteria and viruses, especially HPV, can take up residence with ease. With time, the T-zone is replaced by many layers of cells that are more difficult to penetrate. There are dramatic photographs that demonstrate the difference between a mature and an immature cervix; when I get to these slides in my talks, I have everyone’s attention! Young women come up afterwards and ask, “Why didn’t I hear this before?” These illustrations must be a part of sex ed in the 21st century.  

LOPEZ: Speaking of dads: How do fathers and two-parent families matter when it comes to sex?

DR. GROSSMAN: Teens from two-parent families are more likely to delay sexual activity. The research findings are robust: The longer a girl lives without her father in the home, the more likely she’ll engage in early sexual activity and experience a teen pregnancy. In one study, girls whose fathers lived outside the home from an early age (from before the girl turned five) were seven to eight times more likely to become pregnant during adolescence.

LOPEZ: Why does every book that talks about the dangers of teen sex always bring up Alfred Kinsey? Why? Wasn’t he just an odd man whom we all need to move on from?

DR. GROSSMAN: Kinsey was more than odd, he was a bona fide mental case. We can’t move on until we grasp the calamitous consequences of his work and begin to address them.

Let me say first that Judith Reisman, Ph.D., provided the ground-breaking discoveries about Kinsey; she has devoted her life to exposing his personal pathology, scientific fraud, and crimes. I very much regret that, due to a technical glitch in the production of my book, recognition of Dr. Reisman’s scholarly work was inadvertently removed.

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In the 1940s and 1950s, Kinsey was the master architect of a radical new model of human sexuality — a model based on his conviction that traditional morality is irrelevant and harmful. Arguing that abstinence and monogamy are unnatural for “the human animal,” Kinsey embarked on a crusade to rid society of all sexual taboos.

We now know, thanks to Dr. Reisman, that Kinsey had a severe emotional disturbance and was consumed by a debilitating obsession with sex. His needs were perverse and self-destructive. Reisman was the first to publicize the sordid details of his miserable life; they were also documented in James Jones’s 1999 biography.

Kinsey set out to prove to the world, and probably himself, that there wasn’t anything wrong with him, and lo and behold his interviews with thousands of volunteers revealed, he claimed, that most average Americans were practicing a variety of forbidden sexual activities. He concluded that if a behavior is common, it must be natural — even healthy.

#ad#Kinsey’s findings were immediately questioned by colleagues, but the popular press accepted his conclusions. His theories took root, and after his death, his disciples continued his crusade. Their radicalism cannot be overstated: Some of Kinsey’s followers even endorsed acts of pedophilia and incest.

Those same Kinsey activists played a role in the development of the nation’s first modern sex-ed organization, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. It was in SIECUS that Kinsey’s anything-goes ideology was institutionalized, and it remains so.

LOPEZ: How is the approach of Planned Parenthood, SIECUS, and Advocates for Youth “dogmatic, reductionist, and out-of-date”?

DR. GROSSMAN: I’ll begin with the out-of-date part. There are a staggering number of critical items that are omitted from sex ed, among them:

‐ Oral sex is associated with throat cancer. There is compelling evidence that HPV causes cancer of the tongue and tonsils the same way it does in the cervix.

‐ Chlamydia may cause fertility problems even if it is detected and treated in a timely manner. Sex-ed material reassures girls that if they follow guidelines, get tested once or twice a year, and take antibiotics when necessary, they’ll be cured. But that’s not always the case.

‐ Intimate behavior causes the release of hormones that promote feelings of trust and attachment. This appears to be particularly true in girls and women.

Dogmatic?

The strict adherence to the notion of “safer sex,” the idea that condoms provide good enough protection, is also dogmatic, reductionistic, and out of date. This approach to preventing infection is decades old, and the facts just don’t seem to matter.

#page#

How much protection do condoms provide? The answer is more complicated than you think. While there is no doubt that proper use of condoms prevents some infections to some degree, and terms such as “highly effective” and “significant” are commonly used, condom effectiveness in preventing infection varies a good deal, depending on the bug. A recent study declared that condoms provided “moderate protection” against contracting herpes. What would you consider “moderate” protection against an incurable infection that can cause significant physical and emotional suffering? 80 percent? 60 percent? Think lower: It’s a 30 percent reduction with 100 percent condom use. Sex educators have an obligation to share these numbers with their students. I know of a case of suicide in a young man, a university student, where herpes played a real part in his depression and hopelessness. And yet a 30 percent decrease in the chances of transmission is considered “protection”? Not in my book.

So telling kids that condoms provide protection is simplistic, and hanging on to this notion of safer sex, and “all teens need is information and skills” in spite of what we know now, is dogmatic.

We need to bring sex ed into the 21st century, that’s what the book is about. A new vision, based on what’s seen under a microscope and on brain scans, not the dusty theories of Kinsey and Gloria Steinem. Our kids deserve better.

#ad#LOPEZ: They can’t really be teaching young kids about “being tortured, bound, tickled or having hot wax poured on your body.” Surely if this were true there would be congressional hearings on the matter.

DR.GROSSMAN: See for yourself. Go to siecus.org, under “tell us who you are,” choose “a young person,” under “Where can I find more information about sexuality?”, click on the recommended site www.gURL.com, under “find out” click on “fast facts,” then pick “S&M.”

Yes, congressional hearings are long past due.

LOPEZ: Is it really as bad as you say it is? “Madness.” A “plague” that is being “whitewashed”?

DR.GROSSMAN: Consider that SIECUS’s pamphlet “Talk About Sex” was written “especially for teens.” “Everyone has their own way of expressing their sexuality,” kids learn from this booklet; “sexuality has been and will be a part of you for your entire life.” Eight pages about “sexual rights” follow.

“At every point in your life, you can choose if and how to express your sexuality.” Later, readers are advised, “It is up to you to determine how much risk you are willing to take.” And: “Many teens choose to be sexually active and many choose not to. You have the right to decide exactly what behaviors, if any, you are comfortable participating in.”

Imagine if a nutritionist taught your child: “There are many types of diets. A diet low in saturated fats, carbohydrates, and sugars helps prevent obesity and cardiac disease. Some kids try to keep a healthy diet, others don’t. You have the right to decide what to eat.”

I don’t think this approach would be well-received. Yet this is what passes as sex education in our country.

I’m certain the young woman with HPV understood the benefits of self-discipline in many areas: sports, academics, drugs and alcohol. Why was she never told that sexuality is one more area — a major one — where her self-discipline will be well rewarded?

It’s because in spite of their claims, the primary objective of SIECUS and its cohorts is to protect your child’s freedom of sexual expression, not her health. And when sexual freedom reigns, sexual health suffers.

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