Abstinence-Only Education: Now Comparing Non-Virginal Vaginas To Backwash

Brad Seng, an anti-abortion activist who teaches abstinence-only education in Colorado public schools, has an interesting way of engaging his students: backwash. He asks them to chew a mouthful of food, spit it into a cup of water, and offer it to other students. When students predictably refuse to sip each others’ backwash, he explains that having sex with someone who’s had premarital sex. But he says that he’s in not being judgemental…or pushing a sexist agenda.

As Slate’s Amanda Marcotte points out, Seng’s demonstration is a pretty thinly-veiled symbol for a dirty vagina, but the group he works for—Real Choices Pregnancy Care Center—isn’t all that bashful about directing their shame towards women, specifically. Under a litany of warnings about various Sexually Trasmitted Infections, their website includes a special warning for girls:

A review of these infections shows that women frequently have more to lose when engaging in casual sex than men do. The consequences of being infected with a sexually transmitted infection are oftentimes greater for women than men. Though certainly not an infection, unexpected pregnancy also demands more physically from a woman than from a man.

So it’s not entirely surprising that parents aren’t stoked on their kids learning about sex from these people at school.

But Seng denies that he’s sending negative messages about sex. He told Boulder’s Daily Camera:

One of the first things I say is that it’s not that sex is bad or is a dirty activity to be engaging in. That’s not it at all. It’s about encouraging young people to make healthy lifestyle decisions. Our method is grounded in truth and non-judgmental.

And, he says, he isn’t trying to tell girls that they’re dirty:

It’s a way to show them that, if they decide to be sexually active outside of a long-term committed relationship, they’re putting themselves at risk.

Real Choices is one of 33 organizations approved to teach sex-ed in Boulder’s public schools to supplement the curriculum, which takes a comprehensive approach—i.e. one that includes information about contraception and abstinence.

Parents worry that groups like Real Choices are violating the separation of church and state—because while they’ve stripped their curriculum of religious language, their primary messages are rooted in Christian morals (not fact—in fact, a 2004 report details several scientific inaccuracies of many abstinence-only programs, demonstrating the lack of critical information they provide). But parents should also worry about how these programs specifically target young girls.


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    • CW

      When a person sleeps with someone who is not a virgin (male or female), they are essentially sleeping with all that person’s past sexual partners and all of those partners’ partners and so on ad infinitum. The backwash analogy therefore is very apt. Contrary to your blog post, it works equally for males as well as for females. Women *ARE* at a higher risk of contracting an STD after sleeping with an infected man then men are after sleeping with an infected woman. So they do have “more to lose” from engaging in casual sex. However, that is not a sexist statement because it is based on a scientific fact (the relative ease of transmission of STD’s).

      • Briana Rognlin

        Teaching about how STDs work is very different to me from teaching girls that they’re dirty for having sex, which is what the analogy implies. And regardless of who’s at more risk for transmission, the fact is BOTH partners are responsible for safe sex–and I think that’s the most important message for kids to learn, above whatever values a sex-ed teacher may or may not have.

      • Lo

        The analogy likens a human being to a comestible. It’s nothing new in abstinence ed — the message is that once you have sex outside marriage, you’re tainted (give or take conversion). It’s not teaching people to be careful in their sexual choices; it’s saying that any non-marital choice is disgusting.

    • Luna

      Fact: The vagina is a self cleaning organ.