Elizabeth Smart says abstinence-only education made her feel like a chewed-up piece of gum

Elizabeth SmartJust when I thought couldn’t get any more outraged about abstinence-only education, Elizabeth Smart brings up another of its terrible side-effects. Speaking at forum on human trafficking recently, Smart, who was kidnapped when she was 14 and raped and held for nine months by her captor, explained that she could understand why a human trafficking victim may not try to escape.

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”

Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

The chewed-up piece of gum is a common trope of abstinence-only education. Sometimes there’s some variation on the gum lesson: Maybe instead of being a piece of gum, you’re a passed-around peppermint patty or a piece of with the student’s ripped off arm hairs or a rose missing its petals. But the message is the same: You’re used up and no longer have any worth and no one will love you anymore. 

As Lori wrote last week, sex education–and the messages we get about sexuality early on in life–are connected to so many of the feminist issues we write about: “Reproductive health, fighting sexual assault, building consent culture, battling gender essentialism.” And this is yet another example: Abstinence-only education contributes to the shame many rape survivors feel.

As Jessica argues in The Purity Myth, we are teaching young women “that their only real worth is their virginity and ability to remain ‘pure.'” This is one of the things that happens when they believe it.

H/T @wentrogue

Image via.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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