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Austin Cline

Abstinence-Only Education, or Anti-Sex?

By July 29, 2013

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Sometimes the abstinence-only movements seem to be more interested in condemning sex generally than in trying to prevent teenage pregnancies. This is not surprising because much of the support it has appears to come conservative evangelical groups that aren't exactly sex-friendly.

In the Herald Tribune, Tom Lyons wrote a couple of years ago about abstinence-only advocate Pam Stenzel, a woman who speaks at schools and has a video that is often used:

I kept getting this creepy feeling as I watched her smack it to those kids with such messages as putting a finger to her head like a gun, to say that any kind of non-marital sex was as deadly as handgun roulette. Stenzel does not know the meaning of soft sell. If someone like her ever tried to sell me a car, I'd start riding a bike to work.

What she does is relentlessly hammer home the message that the world is full of sexual diseases and that anyone who ever has sex -- except with a spouse who has never had sex with anyone else and never will -- can expect to end up with a terrible sexual disease that is either incurable or at least very nasty and destructive and gross and which will render the person sterile or otherwise undesirable for marriage and forever scarred. That, she claimed, includes having any sort of contact with genitals. When she says no sex, she means no touching below the waist.

Though she is supposed to care about teens, she frequently portrays their sometimes naive or dangerous thoughts in such a mocking and belittling tone that she seemed anything but caring. She told of a job she had where she sometimes told worried teenage girls that they were not pregnant after all. But she was at her mocking best when she told of their shocked reactions when she told them they still needed to be checked for a long list of diseases. It seemed to me she savored the enjoyment of telling those little hussies a thing or two. Fierce believer in moral consequences that she is, I wasn't entirely sure what results she was hoping for when the tests came back, either.

And though Stenzel would deny it, she also gave the impression that she really thinks sex is not just dangerous but evil. ... [S]he seemed to be so full of contempt for anyone who makes any other decision that I have to wonder if most teenagers already in a gray area wouldn't be turned off. ... She told of a mistake she made by taking her daughter to see the movie "Titanic." The love story included some passionate sex, you might recall. ... The guy you thought was a hero was really a skunk. "It was a good thing that boy dies," she said. ... She said that while there are decent guys out there, one who seeks or has sex before marriage is an untrustworthy creep and, I take it, deserves to die. And nothing as easy as choosing to freeze to death to save his lover's life is to be taken as evidence to the contrary.

Pam Stenzel sounds positively frightening. I wouldn't want anyone's children to be subjected to her diatribes. She comes off here sounding like someone's worst nightmare, not like someone trying to help young people.

March 4, 2012 at 12:53 pm
(1) Carter C. Keith says:

I am a Christian and agree with your critique of Pam Stenzel. Sex and sensuality are not evil and there is little or nothing in scripture that says it is. These people poison the church and spread their puritanical hate speech. I do believe premarital sex (and I did a lot of it) can reduce the changes of marriage and lead to perpetual dating. Or, If the milk is free,why buy the cow?

Never the less, our sexuality is a blessing from God and should be treated as such.

August 2, 2013 at 8:02 pm
(2) Tom Edgar says:

Sex is from God? Well I am well into my eighties and had three children from the only woman with whom I had a physical relationship, and I am a lifelong atheist. Copulation isn’t confined to Homo Sapiens, most animals have sex in one form or another. Even Joseph and Mary had their moment of pleasure to get Jesus regardless of the idiocy of the myth of intervention by a ghost. One able to inject sperm, I think not.

Believe it or not the fear of disease was a major consideration in my case no doubt brought about by my observations of the misadventures of others when a W W 2, and after, Merchant Mariner. I only ever had two pieces of advice from my father relating to sex. and that was as he saw me off to my first ship at age 17. “Treat all women as you would your sister and mother. & Remember two minutes of pleasure can lead to a lifetime of hell.” I think I was two hours on the train before I realised what the hell he was on about.

August 5, 2013 at 6:11 am
(3) Lucy says:

I suspect that applying abstinence to sex is the same as applying abstinence to dieting – if you can’t have something you want it more.

This is why diets involving banning foods never work – with the added issue of ‘falling off the wagon’ leading to a spiral of binging.
Sex is the same, when we label those who engage in ‘unacceptable’ sex as morally corrupt we then encourage people to see themselves in the same way, and once you’ve succumbed to temptation you might as well continue on that path.
Surely it would be much healthier to teach young people that sex is as normal is eating and that giving thought and consideration to the type of sex life you want is as healthy as doing the same with your food?

August 6, 2013 at 4:58 pm
(4) Jeanne says:

Isn’t it odd that the almighty creator of the universe who also supposedly created has so many hangups about it?

August 20, 2013 at 6:45 am
(5) Borsia says:

Of course abstinence to sex has worked so well in the past certainly it is just as likely to work today. (not)
The funniest thing about these fools is that the church has NEVR been able to keep it in their pants. What church hasn’t been the subject of scandal from the priest knocking the young girls, or boys, or even having affairs with the married women.

Usually those preaching abstinence to sex either couldn’t get laid in a prison or are just so screwed up mentally that they are borderline dysfunctional. Many are just regretting their own failed love lives and inability to make real connections in love.

But all of that aside given that abstinence to sex is never going to happen and that kids are always going to have sex it is far better to teach responsible sex and protection than BS.

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