"FAMILY VALUES" DO NOT INCLUDE GOOD SEXUAL HEALTH
By Randal Blackburn
You might be thinking that this title sounds a little odd. You might be thinking that your family's values certainly include the health of your children. If you are thinking that something seems "amiss", that there must be a "catch" . Well, I'm sorry to say that there isn't. I was at first dismayed, and then angry after I received the 1997 summer newsletter from SIECUS (the Sexuality Information Education Council of the United States), the organization responsible for the improvements in sexuality education curricula in our schools today. What made me so angry was an article in which they described part of a new law that Congress has already passed. It is not only extremely offensive, but is actually harmful to children. Hard to believe, isn't it? Don't take my word for it - the following is a short excerpt from the SIECUS newsletter:
"The 1996 welfare reform law received a great deal of press, but almost none of it mentioned a new program to fund highly restrictive abstinence-only education programs." "This new federal initiative will provide nearly $88 million a year for the next five years for programs that focus EXCLUSIVELY on abstinence and that ARE PROHIBITED from teaching young people about pregnancy and STD prevention methods. Programs are REQUIRED BY LAW to teach that 'a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity', and 'that sexual activity outside of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects'. "
" 'We were dismayed that most Americans did not know about this detrimental new program' said Ruth Mayer, SIECUS Director of Communications."
Can you believe this? Telling children that sexual activity outside of marriage is LIKELY to cause them harm? Is this right? Or, is it a flat-out deception of the truth geared to further their own extreme religious agenda?
So, how could a Congress so concerned about families actually do something that would put children in harms way? I don't understand it, either. So I decided to take a closer look at what was behind this legislation... and I didn't have to look very far. It comes from an organization who claims to be the moral standard that the rest of us good citizens should strive to emulate.
I'm speaking of the religious extremists working hard to lobby Congress, mostly made up of those calling themselves the "Christian Coalition". This is all a part of what the Coalition has dubbed it's "Contract With The American Family"... sound familiar? It is no coincidence that the Republic Part platform for the last couple of years bears an almost identical name. They would like to think that they are the Republican Party.
I've got news for them: This is one Christian who believes that they could not possibly be more wrong. Not just wrong - I question their sense of what is moral. I am not alone. I recently read on the NOW website (the National Organization for Women) that there are now many major religious leaders who have begun to question the use of the word "Christian" in association with the conservative political agenda and indeed, with the Republican Party. I have seen no statistic pointing to the idea that a vast majority of "Christians" are Republicans, nor that the majority necessarily agree with the push towards extreme conservatism and sexual repression.
One point I am trying to make is that the people behind making these laws for the rest of us to follow have the impression that their sense of what is "right & wrong" for America is superior. Therefore, we should all want to adopt their way of life and their way of thinking? I believe that the vast majority of North Americans feel similar to the way that I do, and that our idea of "family values" are what sets the community standards.
An example of what I mean is that I, for one, believe things that are immoral are things like murder, lying, cheating, fraud, stealing, forced or coerced (non-consensual) sexual behavior, assaulting others, bigotry, intolerance of lifestyles other than your own, endangering our environment for profit, and so on. Whether or not 2 unmarried consenting individuals privately enjoy the loving touch, the pleasurable caressing, or the intense feelings of making love simply does not fit the definition of immorality for most of us. Nor do we worry that teaching children about sex, about preventing unwanted pregnancy, or about preventing sexually transmitted diseases will cause them harm. We do, however, share concern over what withholding that information from children will do to their self-esteem, their health, and indeed, their very lives.
At the heart of the matter is the idea that ANY sexual behavior other than between a man and a woman who have been joined in holy matrimony is abnormal, harmful, and is responsible for the sad state of affairs our country is in today. In reality, it is that very attitude that most of us remember from our own childhood, recalling how the very last people we wanted to talk with about sex was our parents! It is only because most of us have come to realize the flaws and harm in this way of thinking and because we have brought sex and sexuality out into the open, that we can talk openly and honestly about sexual issues.
I truly question their claim that they are only trying to "protect" children, or that they only "have the best interest of the children at heart". If this is really true, why would they choose to focus on just this one thing? I would say that gang violence and school safety is a much, much greater concern for most American parents than the issue they are pressing, and yet I have not seen even a tiny bit of legislation coming from the "Christian Coalition" to combat gang violence. Wouldn't that be a much stronger indicator of their concern for children?
If you don't think that sex-education programs and positive attitudes about sex really make a difference, consider this: two countries, as an example, that have extremely positive attitudes about sexuality and very aggressive sex-education programs are the Netherlands (Holland) and Japan. The teen pregnancy rate in the United States is NINE (9) times higher than in Japan or the Netherlands (nine times!).¹
Being a parent whose child can openly ask me any question, where we can talk about any topic without embarrassment or worry, and where he or she knows there are no secrets in our home, and that nothing is withheld from them, is much more important to me than what my next door neighbors do in their bedroom. I know the "Right" will say "it isn't about what their neighbors do in their bedroom... it is about what children are being taught in school". They say "telling kids to wear condoms or to get on the pill means we are approving of their activity." They just don't get it. Sex is not something new... it is not something abnormal or unnatural... it is simply the way our bodies were designed to work. With incredible complexity we are just now coming to understand, our bodies instinctively "know" what to do, with every single part having a role to play in life and every part working exactly as it should (for the lucky majority of us). The message from Nature is simple: we have always been sexual beings, just as intended, from the day we are born to the day that we die, and there is nothing abnormal, disgusting, sick or sinful about it. Not unless we make it that way.
Because I wanted to be fair about this and to try and understand their point of view, I searched through the articles available on their website and in the books they publish and I began to read what they had to say about adolescent sexual activity. I wanted to hear their arguments and to listen to their reasoning, hoping to understand. What I came to understand is that this is a movement that is not simply trying to get their viewpoint before the public. Rather, they are a small, wealthy, powerful group of people with a very narrow point of view who want more than to just be heard... much more. In fact, to use their own words, coming from their Contract With The American Family, "this is the first word, not the last word".
I have also been wondering just who is the Christian Coalition? I mean, who are the members? What are the demographics? If they are, as they claim, speaking for "most" Americans, are their profiles like mine? Like yours? As I looked into this it became quite obvious that this morally superior group of people are primarily made up of upper and middle class, moderate to very wealthy, white males and their wives. I have yet to locate a poverty-stricken couple, or more than a handful of minority or immigrant couples, or many single mothers in their organization. This is an elite group of people operating under the mistaken impression that they are speaking on behalf of the rest of us Americans and simply encouraging Congress to pay attention to their (our) preferred point of view... their (our) family values.
One thing I find interesting is that while they claim to be about "family values", it seems that those values are only about married-couple heterosexual families... not all kinds of families, as in the real world. Single mothers, homosexuals and immigrant or mixed-race families need not apply... they simply do not fit the mold of their so-called "family values". Nor do those who believe in a religion other than Christianity, or in no particular religion at all. While they are claiming moral superiority over the rest of us, they are not at all hesitant to twist statistics, or even the Bible, to fit their viewpoint, or to buy the loyalty of key Congressmen with their campaign dollars, or to deceive the public by burying legislation like they did in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. It doesn't seem to bother them that their agenda is presented under the guise of "doing what's right", and uses catch-phrases like "family values" to mask their goals in rhetoric that appeals to and uses people's desire for a better society. They don't seem to be bothered that their type of thinking spurs bigotry and intolerance of those different from themselves, or that extremist, like those involved in the militia movement and those drawn to domestic terrorism (the Uni-bomber, Timothy McVay, and abortion clinic bombers) are also drawn to their movement.
In reading through their abstinence material, I noticed that there was a definite pattern in what they were teaching. Three ideas seem to come out in nearly every example they gave or story they told: 1). That young ladies MUST RESIST, must suppress all those natural feelings, desires, fantasies and cravings their bodies produce (this, alone, is so contrary to life's intent that it is not worthy of an argument). 2). That young girls have a responsibility, a duty, to their future husbands to save their virginity (or "themselves") for them. You know, I'm not even a woman and I find the concept that their virginity belongs to the man (that it is his right to have) extremely offensive. I cannot begin to imagine how that would make women feel. And 3). that ANY sexual activity outside the narrow context of a male-female marriage IS, repeat IS, psychologically and physically harmful.
One idea they have that surprised me is that were it not for "peer-pressure" and the current sex-education programs in schools, kids would not be interested or tempted to have sex. Yeah, right. I have to wonder if these people were ever adolescents themselves. One book on abstinence programs said that the author was struck by the fact that on the interview tapes he listened to "young teenage girls unselfconsciously recounting their loss of virginity, Junior high boys speculating on the relative merits of various birth control techniques". Now, the author thought that this was just terrible, and went on babbling, eventually coming to a conclusion that today's earlier onset of puberty (see documentation), combined with the delay in marriage has "challenged today's young people with an unprecedented number of years in which they are expected to keep their youthful hormones in check". I certainly agree with his last statement, but where we differ is that he proposes ways to increase that expectation, while I claim it is completely unreasonable for us to keep up this pretense. They are very concerned about "peer pressure" , but I don't think they are concerned about what the pressure they, themselves, add to the conflicts going on inside their child's head as they struggle through puberty. I guess the author would have preferred that these young girls be ashamed of losing their virginity and the boys be ignorant about preventing pregnancy.
A large part of the push from the conservative forces is that they seem to have this fantasy idea of exactly what childhood should be like for every child in America (I'm reminded of these each time I hear them telling young girls interested in exploring their own sexuality that they "should be playing with their dolls at this age, not thinking about sexual things". ) They believe that children today should have exactly the same type of childhood they think they remember... while the rest of us look toward the future, choosing to focus on how to make things better for the generations that follow (such as more ease in handling sexual matters). No two generations have ever before had a childhood exactly like their parent's before them. They forget that when they were children, they wanted what was possible in that new era... not what their parents before them experienced.
Sure, the world of today has problems.... drugs, crime, violence, gangs, bigotry, etc. But we are addressing those problems, and though it may not feel like it at times, we are making progress. However, because they don't see "instant" results (considering, say, the last 50 or 60 years compared to mankind), they become obsessed with re-visiting the past and saving the rest of us from eternal damnation. They think that times were so much "better" back then... but I think that they are overlooking that during the period they would have our children re-visit there were 4 major worldwide conflicts, racism was rampant, we had many enemies, that blacks had to use separate drinking fountains and sit in the back of the bus. They forget that back then girls were educated, but were then expected to remain at home to take care of the children and to keep a nice home for her husband, right down to having supper served to him every night. Equality between men and women, between boys and girls, was barely more than a concept, and, most pertinent to the discussion at hand, sex was something to be kept hidden away from children... it was something "good people" just did not discuss! (especially not in front of the k-I-d-s).
One thing that gives me at least a little encouragement is that our society, our entire world, is moving forward at an incredibly rapid pace. The wheels of change are in motion and now that our overall attitude about sex is becoming more positive where children are concerned, I truly believe that today's children and teens are not about to give up this new freedom from sexual suppression. I hope they can hang in there and that as few children as possible are exposed to the extreme right-wing organization that is giving real Christianity a black eye. I pray that as few kids as possible are exposed to sexually transmitted diseases or experience an unwanted pregnancy simply because they were denied access to information that could have prevented a pregnancy or protected them from a life-threatening disease.
One way to look at life today is to view us as a single population (gee, what a concept! - thanks in no small part to the Internet) in the same way a scientist views an experiment:
First he plans out the experiment and states his objective and his theories on what will result. Next he puts the experiment into motion and begins to make observations. As the experiment takes on a "life of it's own", it takes shape and begins to produce tangible results.
As it progresses, he notices that what is actually happening in the experiment does not exactly fit his original theories and objective. He realizes that whether he likes it or not, it keeps moving forward, never looking at the past, and he cannot alter it's direction without destroying the integrity of the project. It just keeps moving forward, paying no heed to the wishes or expectations of the scientists or the stated objective. You just can't stop nature - it plods steadily onward, leaving the scientists and others behind in it's wake.
So... he isn't getting the results expected and he doesn't exactly like the results he's getting... what does he do? Does he scrap the entire project? Does he try to reverse it? Does he go back and start the project all over again, leaving the first project to it's own fate (and only partially complete)? Or, does he do the logical thing, which is to accept the natural progress (knowing it really can't be stopped), continue to record the events and results, and begin to re-shape and re-think the original expectations?
I believe the answer is obvious. Does this mean that we can't affect change at all? Of course not. We CAN provide solutions to problems and help guide our world on it's way. But it is silly to think we are capable of stopping the huge experiment called "life" or completely reversing even one part of it. Life moves forward, like it or not, regardless of what scientists expect and regardless of what a particular religion says it should be.
It seems to me that we need to accept what "Nature" (or God, if you prefer) has dictated life to be. That includes accepting the indisputable fact that children are sexual beings from infancy through very old age (or death). It is not as though we teach toddlers to be curious about their bodies, to have pleasurable sensations... no, that much is purely instinctive -- it is "built-in" to each of us. One thought that struck me while writing this is that when toddlers touch their genitals (and obviously derive pleasure), we tend to say: "Oh, they just don't know any better yet". Do you think that maybe they know something we've all forgotten? That this IS the way we are made... it is normal... it is natural! Now wouldn't it be more sensible if we, instead of teaching that it just isn't "proper", begin to teach them about an appropriate time and place for touching, and about respecting the sensitivities of others around us?
As I am drawing this article to a close, I am thinking, primarily, of the future... a future that is being threatened right now by a very powerful (though relatively small) force. We are facing the prospect of even more legislation that supports and funds only a single, narrow point of view -- a point of view that puts the nation's children at risk, real risk. A point of view that is harmful in and of itself. While organized religion and teaching about having faith is fine, no single religion or faction should be declared by the government to be superior to others. That is exactly what this legislation already passed as law does - and that is wrong. I have religious values that I would put up against the "Christian Coalition" any day, but I certainly don't expect the government to give me money to teach them to others, or declare that mine should be enacted as law that affects everyone in the country.
So, why does the "Christian Coalition", or the "Religious Right" think theirs should be? Beats the heck out of me! What about the millions of people who are not part of their religion? This legislation would affect their children also.
Unless something is done to stop them, we will all soon be living under rules, laws and attitudes that religious conservatives establish because they believe their values are superior to those held by everyone else. A small, narrow-minded and very vocal segment of people in this country are setting the agenda for the rest of us. They say, of course, that they are just protecting "family values" - a cry that few people want to challenge. Also, that they are acting on behalf of the majority of the people in this country - something that will have a ring of truth to it if we do not stand up and tell our Congress that they do not.
They want to return children's rights to being secondary to parental rights (as though parents have a natural "right" to control -- not guide -- but control, the lives of their children into adulthood). It is hard for me to understand how anyone so concerned about children could possibly put their parental rights or religious political agenda ahead of the health, happiness, safety and very lives of their children. Except that it's not just their children they are putting at risk. They have put OUR children at risk for their own political gain, and we should not stand for it.
I am speaking about the topic that started this article, the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Somehow, this mixed-up band of people have convinced our Congress to fund their singular viewpoint on sex education, and to teach it to your children (not just theirs), even though it specifically withholds information that could save a child's life or prevent a sexually transmitted disease, or prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Not just withholds that information, specifically prohibits by law the providing of that information. When I think of someone withholding factual information from someone, I equate it with deception and lying. It may be an appropriate reaction, considering that this part of the legislation was kept from the American public... were we deceived? ...was our Congress deceived?
What can we do about it? The answer is simple -- WE FIGHT BACK!
But this is not going to be easy, as the "Christian Coalition" is very, very powerful. Their strength comes from two things: wealth - they have money, and nerve - they are willing to stand up and demand to be heard (makes me think of the old cliché "Money Talks" -- how true!)
Unless the rest of us are willing to do the same thing, we can look forward to a single religion-oriented political system obsessed with "sin", repression and punishment for all who do not conform to their beliefs. If you think I am over-stating the situation, just ask people like the boy in Milwaukee charged with sexual assault of a child when he stepped forward to take responsibility and provide for getting his 15-year old girlfriend pregnant (no one wanted him prosecuted except a single, fanatical prosecutor who wanted to send a message about teenage sex). Or ask the dozens of people in Wenatchie, Washington, or the girl near Seatle charged with the crime of fornication when she got pregnant at 16 (no boys are charged there, only girls, and it is still happening there), or maybe you should ask the 5 year old boy in Washington, DC who was charged with sexual harassment for kissing a girl on the playground. I kid you not, people - more of this is exactly what we are headed for. The 1996 funding of their viewpoint is just one more notch in their belt.
We MUST STAND UP AND SPEAK OUT! We must go that extra step (even if it is the one and only time in your life) to make sure as many people know about this as possible. Please also tell your children about this, and tell your friends and neighbors. Everyone must especially let our Congressional Representatives know that we strongly oppose what was done and that we are demanding that it be reversed! That $440 million must be returned to the general budget for health and sex education for everyone.
CALL FOR ACTION:
Please call or write your Congressional Representatives right away --- and keep on calling and writing until your voice is heard.
We must also "put our own money where our mouth is" and make an extra effort to raise funds to fight back. Money for organizations such as SIECUS and other groups providing free or low-cost sexual health-related services. Contacting the ACLU is another way of supporting a movement to have this bad legislation repealed, as they are, more than likely, the organization with the resources it takes to fight back and get the job done. This is just too important of an issue to sit back on and let others speak for us (especially when the "others" claiming to speak for us hold extremist and far right-wing ideals).
A FINAL WORD (or two):
Last, I would encourage you to think about what you would want for your children in the future. For me, personally, it is easy:
I know that I would want my children to be, above all else, happy, healthy and for them to know they are loved and wanted - unconditionally. Beyond that, I want them to love life, to feel good about sex and their bodies (and to be comfortable with sexual intimacy and pleasure). I want them to know diversity and to know about the entire world around them.
I would also want them to be honest, hardworking and responsible people. They should respect the feelings and beliefs of those around them, and I would want for them to care about those less fortunate than themselves, and to care about animals and the environment. I want them to know integrity and to be understanding and tolerant of those who believe differently or who are different from themselves.
These things are so much more important than whether or not 2 consensual sexual partners have been given the approval by the "church" or by "society" to behave as they wish in private. Who has consenting sex with who is easily dwarfed by REAL "family values", such as those I named above.
On a more pleasant note, there are many wonderful things happening in our world as we turn a corner into a new Century. The religious conservatives would have us believe that teen sex, teen pregnancy, promiscuity and sexual disease is at an "all time high", or that it has reached "epidemic proportions". This kind of rhetoric makes for sensational headlines and topics for daytime talk shows, and the public easily falls right into the trap... because we are concerned about our children. The facts, however, tell the true tale: teenagers are about as sexually active as in previous decades (the difference is that this is no longer a "hidden" fact). Unwanted teen pregnancy is actually down somewhat from previous decades - an indication that more open attitudes about sex, organized sex education, and fact-based information about sex, contraception and STD's are finally beginning to impact our society. Don't get me wrong, though, I do not want to lessen the need to more effectively deal with these problems - quite the contrary -- we now have an opportunity, largely because of the Internet and technology, to make these issues nothing more than world history.
The religious conservatives have been preaching gloom and doom for our society for the last 20 - 30 years (longer than that, really), especially during the repressive regime of the 1980's. But true to Nature, the world has proven them wrong again and again. Time is telling a different story - I recently read a wonderful (but very long) article about this very topic in the July 1997 issue of WIRED(c) magazine called: "The Long Boom: A History of the Future: 1980 - 2020. It is very uplifting and encouraging, and I believe, based on realistic predictions of what is to come in the next several years.
We are, however, still battling harmful influences and behavior in our society, like violence, drugs, std's, fraud, and government corruption, but how could anyone equate sexual openness and sexuality, in general, with these problems? I feel very sorry for those who do make that association. For me, personally, I can't think of a more exciting time to be a kid. So much is happening and changing right before our very eyes! ... and I am not alone -- most people would agree, I believe.
I would like to thank you for your attention, and for your time. I can only hope that I've informed you of something you did not realize, and that I've touched a "nerve" in you that makes you angry enough to actually do something this time. Your help is desperately needed, with the lives and sexual health of our children... and their children... being at stake.
At the end of this article is a short list of the materials I used when writing this... sort of an "abbreviated" bibliography. If you like what you have read here, and want to know more about pro-sexuality attitudes, you may wish to visit a new website currently under construction at http://www.allaboutsex.org. If you think I am wrong about having a more accepting society on sexual issues, children, and the extreme right, I can only say "thank you" for listening to one person's point of view and for considering an alternative to your own way of thinking.
You might be interested in reading someone else's take on "family values"..."Susie Bright's Essay: Adult Children of Family Values"
MATERIALS USED WHILE WRITING THIS ARTICLE
SIECUS "Developments" Newsletter : Volume 5, Issue 2, Summer 1997 ----- http://www.siecus.org (SIECUS is the Sexuality Information Education Council of the United States, formed in 1964 to create sex education curricula) 130 West 42nd Street * Suite 350 * New York, NY 10036-7802 * 212-819-9770 * Email: SIECUS@siecus.org
"Going All The Way" by Sharon Thompson -- Hill & Wang, NY - 1995 - Library of Congress Card # 95-8011 Softcover, 340 pp (full title: "Going All The Way: Teenage Girl's Tales of Sex, Romance, and Pregnancy") Available at http://www.amazon.com Outstanding study of real teen females and their thoughts & feelings in the 1990's -- Those who have fought for more acceptance of female sexuality should read this and cheer! Well researched and documented - a completely serious book - (my website, http://www.allaboutsex.com, has much more about this book if you are interested).
"The Re-Packaged Bigotry of the Christian Coalition" by Sandy Alexander, N.O.W. intern, Article on N.O.W. Website (National Organization for Women) - http://www.now.org
Statistics on AIDS & Other STD's - Statistical Information found on Medline: July 1997 * http://www.medscape.com SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (1997; 46(28):638-640)
¹ "Pregnant On Purpose" - Article in the August 1997 issue of TEEN Magazine by Alison Bell - p107 Providing good statistical data on sexuality and teen pregnancy, citing the Alan Guttmacher Institute (NY) as it's source.
Study from the Univ of Chicago - July 1997 - CBS "This Morning" Show by Medical Correspondent: Dr. Bernadine Healey -"Researchers now saying that puberty actually begins much, much earlier than previously thought.... "
"Contract With The American Family" from the Christian Coalition website - 1996 - http://cc.org/cc/leg/contract.html"
"The Long BOOM: A History of the Future 1980 - 2020" - Article - WIRED Magazine, July 1997 - Peter Schwartz, Peter Leyden "We're facing 25 years of prosperity, freedom, and a better environment for the whole world... You got a problem with that?"
Liberated Christians Newsletter : Spring 1997 - contact - firstname.lastname@example.org, or write: Liberated Christians, P.O. Box 32835, Phoenix, AZ 85064-2835 * http://www.libchris.org * (Outstanding Newsletter, Excellent, Open & Positive Group) Note: This group is NOT, repeat NOT in any way associated with the religious right or "Christian Coalition"
"Sexual Revolution And Counter-Revolution" Abstract by Money J - Psychohormonal Research Unit, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Md. - http://www.medscape.com (request through their search engine)
"Take Action: 'Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act' " - Author not listed - N.O.W. Website - 1996 - 1997 U.S. Senate Bill S. 984 - 1996 http://www.now.org/issues/right/paract.html "Although innocuous sounding, S. 984 actually has wide-spread, disrupting consequences if allowed to pass..."
"My Secret Garden" by Nancy Friday -- Pocket Books - 1973 - Library of Congress Card # 72-96815 Paperback, 336 pp Still available at nearly any bookstore in the USA ! (Ground-breaking book, especially for 1973! )
"Choose The Best" by Bruce Cook - RAPHA - 1997 - Paperback, 128 pp (full title: "Help your teens... Choose The Best ...abstinence until marriage) (I am not endorsing or recommending this book)
"All About Sex" - Website (my own - still under construction - stay tuned) http://www.allaboutsex.org "Discussion" website about sex, sex-education and all kinds of sexual issues and topics. Presenting many points of view - mostly positive - about sexuality, past, present and future.
You may also contact me through my personal email address: Blckburn@allaboutsex.org
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