Why is the Obama administration endorsing a virginity pledge-based abstinence-only program?

Recently, the Obama administration quietly updated its list of “evidence-based programs” that “met the effectiveness criteria” for preventing teenage pregnancy and are therefore endorsed by the Department of Health and Human Services. This list includes the Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education program. Which is weird because, like basically all abstinence-only programs ever, it doesn’t work.

According to RH Reality Check, a 2007 study found that the program “had little or no impact on sexual abstinence or activity.” But that makes it sound like Heritage is just ineffective but harmless. In fact, while it “contains little or no information about puberty, anatomy, sexually transmitted diseases, or sexual behavior,” it does teach kids some stuff. Here’s a sample:

“Males and females are aroused at different levels of intimacy. Males are more sight orientated whereas females are more touch orientated.” The implications of this difference are explained further: “This is why girls need to be careful with what they wear, because males are looking! The girl might be thinking fashion, while the boy is thinking sex. For this reason, girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts. ” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 46)

“Sex is like fire. Inside the appropriate boundary of marriage, sex is a great thing! Outside of marriage, sex can be dangerous.” (Heritage Keeper, Student Manual, p. 22)

“Cohabitation (when two people live together before marriage) is not like marriage! [Heritage Keepers, p. 30] When couples live together outside of marriage, the relationships are weaker, more violent, less [equal], and more likely to lead to divorce.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 26)

“One reason may be that when people bond closely through sexual activity, then break up and bond with someone else, and then someone else, it may become increasingly difficult to maintain a lasting bond.” (Heritage Keepers, Teacher Manual, p. 56)

Young women are asked to envision their wedding day: “Everything is just as you have seen it in a million daydreams…” When the bride takes her father’s arm: “Your true love stands at the front. This is the man who you have waited for (remained abstinent for) and who has waited for you…This man wants to be strong and courageous for you, to cherish and protect you…You are ready to trust him with all that you have and all that you are, because you have waited (sexually) you have it all to give.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 49)

As the youth advocates at RH Reality Check write, “The Obama Administration’s endorsement of this abstinence-only-until marriage program runs in direct contradiction to its stated commitment to the health and well-being of young people and, quite possibly, its promise to uphold science and evidence.” But, of course, we already know what HHS thinks about science.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/loveeveryone/ Daniel

    Teaching kids about puberty, anatomy, sexually transmitted diseases, or sexual behavior is good, I agree. This post however, quotes things Hertiage Keepers manuel as if they are evil but a lot of what they say is true. Some of what they say is extreme but people need to stop disregarding the good from each side just because of the parts they disagree with.

    The truth in the paragraphs:

    1) Modesty is a great thing and it shows respect for the body. Not everyone has to agree with that but it is not bad to believe in. I’m not sure I agree with their full wording but modesty is good.

    2) Sex can be dangerous! This seems like an allusion to STD/STIs. This is a fine analogy.

    3) All of that is exactly right except maybe the violence part. Read this NY times article, not written by a religious nut. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/the-downside-of-cohabiting-before-marriage.html?ref=weddings

    4) That’s absolutely true and scientifically proven. Study Oxytocin.

    5) That’s true also, although worded strange and kind of dramatically. Remaining a virgin out of respect and love for your future spouse is a gift and even if people don’t agree with it they should not be condescending toward the view.

    Love Everyone. Let us respect the viewpoints of others and the truth that they contain.

    • http://feministing.com/members/pspicer/ Ella

      I agree with this to a point. The problem is they are taking true things and over-dramatizing/spinning/leaving out counter arguments. For example, point 3 is absolutely true, including the violence part (I wrote a thesis on a very similar subject). However, the reason isn’t because Sex Before Marriage Is Wrong; the reason is because couples that live together tend to be younger, less well educated, lower SES, etc., and a whole lot of other confounding variables. Couples that do not cohabit before marriage are often more religious (surprise!) and more religious people in general tend to get divorced less frequently, with one large reason for that being that divorce is considered sinful in a lot of major religions.

      Also, sex can be dangerous! It can lead to STIs, bladder infections, perhaps injuries depending on how athletic you get…but that is true of all sex, including sex in a marriage.

      What bothers me is that the White House is funding people who are misleading young people into a program that has proven to not be efficacious because it aligns with the program leaders’ personal religious beliefs.

  • http://feministing.com/members/margosoriginals/ Margo

    This turns my stomach. I am going to see President Obama speak in Columbus on Saturday… I wish I could ask him why he would endorse such a harmful bill. Maybe he’s trying to make himself seem more conservative in this election? It makes me angry that this can be taught in schools- I’d rather them teach nothing at all, if all they want to do is define sexuality for young people in terms of their religious dogma, instead of evidence and facts.

  • http://feministing.com/members/robbieloveslife/ Robert

    “this abstinence-only-until marriage program runs in direct contradiction to its stated commitment to the health and well-being of young people”

    Obama may be wrong on this but I believe he has good intentions. He may be a democrat but he is still a Christian no matter what the GOP says about him. While I disagree with many Christians’ views on sex education their intentions are good. Their reasoning is less premarital sex equals less diseases and less fatherless kids. That actually makes sense. The problem with that reasoning is young people are going to have sex anyways so we might as well educate them.

  • http://feministing.com/members/gabriel7/ Darcy G.

    Those quotes make me feel sick.

  • http://feministing.com/members/thesecretcervix/ Susie

    Advertisement on this page: “Homosexual sex acts taught in school? Just say NO! Sign the petition”

    Oh dear.