Queer Shaming by Religious based Abstinence Only Education

Secular Woman’s second article in the LGBTQ week Series

By Karin Weiss, read her blog Abstinence Only Recovery

I’ve been out as bisexual since 9th grade (14 years old). I was lucky that most people in my high school were accepting of it. There were only a few very seriously religious teens at my school, but, unfortunately, the curriculum of my abstinence only sex ed class was not so accepting.

First let’s talk about one of the extremely religious teens. I had a friend we’ll call Joe. When I was in 10th grade and he was in 11th we became very good friends. He liked to watch Star Wars and go hiking and read books. We started crushing on each other and decided we wanted to date. Then I told him that I was bisexual. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I knew he was religious but it never occurred to me that one of my friends would be anti-LGBT. He was hurt by the fact. He wanted me to be straight because he couldn’t date someone with homosexual tendencies. He wanted me to go to church with him, and since I was a teenager with raging hormones I agreed.

Just before we started dating I had been realizing that I was an atheist. I was raised without religion and it just never occurred to me to put a name on it.

I got to know him and his family and saw that he got along really well with his parents. Now, he is currently in school to be a physician. His family looks like the American Dream, but I know from conversations with them that they believe that the human body has the ability to live for 900 years if the person lives Biblically. They believe that people can choose to be gay, straight, trans, or bisexual. Once Joe said “I’ve thought about dating guys and I find the thought disgusting, so I have decided to be straight”.

It took me 7 months to stop trying to be straight and stop trying to believe in Joe’s religion. I broke up with him when I realized that it was wrong for me to try to change who I was to be in a romantic relationship.

I think that a big part of why I put up with that relationship and denial of my identity was that my school used a curriculum of abstinence-only sex education which ignored or shamed LGBT students and taught religious views on sex as scientific and psychological fact. We were taught that even our “normal” sexual impulses were disgusting and evil, so if someone was LGBT they were even worse in the eyes of our health class. We were taught that sex is a tool for procreation within a marriage and that any other sexual activity would “destroy your reputation”, give you a disease, or make a girl pregnant with an unwanted child. LGBT sex was not mentioned, but it was implied that it was wrong because it did not produce a child and the partners could not be married.

I remember being in that class and thinking that I would wait until marriage to have sex whether I ended up with a man or a woman. Since it was a public school the instructors couldn’t tell us that sex before marriage would send us to hell, but they did make it sound like our lives would be a living hell of disease, depression, and bullying. Only after I graduated did I understand that the class was based on religious opinions about sex and completely devoid of real scientific information. In high school I still believed that if a teacher told me something was based on real science it was true. I didn’t have the presence of mind to research the information my teachers told me because I never doubted it.

I’m in college now and I’m still recovering from the shame about sex and being bisexual that I was taught by that class. Abstinence only education is horrible for LGBT students and straight cisgender students. It led me to deny my own identity for the sake of a relationship and it caused me much shame and pain in my sex and dating life later on.

Comprehensive Sex Education Can Prevent Sexual Asssault

Third article for Secular Woman's Sexual Assault Awareness Month series

by Laurel Reed, follow her on twitter

As we enter into Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it is painfully clear that the youth of America are more unaware than ever. And we adults can directly blame ourselves for their ignorance. Sex education classes in the United States (where they’re available) are woefully inadequate. Only 18 states require sex education to be medically accurate. And, thanks to the overbearing presence of religion, most sex educators’ hands are tied when it comes to updating or presenting new material. We all remember the “Don’t Say Gay” bills that circulated through various mid-western state legislatures. If students and teachers can’t even say the word “gay”, how are they supposed to educate themselves and other people about different sexual identities?

Open dialogue about different sexual and gender identities is just the beginning of what American students are missing. According to a Guttmacher report, “half of students in grades 7-12 report needing more information about what to do in the event of rape or sexual assault”. So not only are students not educated on how to respond to a rape, they are also not told what rape is, what sexual assault is, and what consent is. This horrifying reality came to light during the recent Steubenville rape trial when one bystander stated, “I didn’t know it was rape- it wasn’t violent”. 

I believe that sex education should be about so much more than basic human anatomy or when and where is the best time to lose one’s virginity. As we see all around us, human sexuality is complex and always evolving. Due to lackluster education or bashful parents at home, or both, American teenagers are forced to make sense of their sexuality by themselves. This nation is so polarized by the issues of abortion, contraception, and condoms that we have forgotten that sex education should be about more than those topics. Parents are so busy thinking that their child would never assault or rape someone that they don’t bother to tell them that rape is wrong and that it is important to always get consent.

Unfortunately, for some teenagers, it doesn’t matter what they learn in a sex education class – they may have already been sexually assaulted. It’s important to these teenagers’ recovery that their assault is addressed and validated – either in a class at school, or by their parents or guardians. A person who has been sexually assaulted may combat many other resulting issues for a long time after the incident, such as sleep disorders, self-harm, depression, and flashbacks. It is vitally important to the health and well-being of our teenagers and us that we not only improve our current sex education classes, but also improve our response to sexual assault victims. We must always remind them that assault is not their fault, let them know that there are resources available to them, and that we are supportive of them.

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, each of us should strive to remember that just because our teenagers’ sexuality or our own sexuality might make us uncomfortable, doesn’t mean we should hide information from our youth or teach them that their sexuality is something to be ashamed of. I believe one of the most integral solutions to every problem is open and honest communication. What better forum to encourage such communication than in a comprehensive, inclusive, and nonjudgmental sex education class?

Elsa’s SMART ride

Changing the culture is key.

I’ve been an atheist since my teen years and my non-belief forced me to truly evaluate and create my own sense of morality and values to live by. One of the values most important to me is the right of all people to engage in sexual expression in a healthy way, free from the shame religious belief has brought. Judeo-christian attitudes about sex and sexuality have worked to create a culture where women and men are shamed by their bodies and their desires, especially if they identify as LGBT. These toxic values pervade our culture and have resulted in misinformation in the classroom (abstinence only sex education) and hateful legislation (DOMA).

While these things may not seem to be directly related to HIV/AIDs I believe they are. People who are HIV positive feel shame and experience stigma in large part because they have a disease that is commonly communicated via sexual activity. And, we continue to have new cases of HIV/AIDs because, even when people have access to condoms, they don’t always use them due to the cultural shaming (and misinformation) around sex they have experienced their whole lives.

I believe the way to change this is to have more information- not less, to have more services, and more dialog on HIV/AIDs. Changing the culture is key, and one of the most effective ways to do that is through education (and treatment and support programs for those living with HIV/AIDs).

That’s why I’m riding in the SMART ride this year. The SMART ride is a 165 mile ride for HIV/AIDs in South Florida and they give 100% of all their donations to Floridian charities that do prevention and services work around HIV/AIDs. Florida, in particular, is in need of these services as we are one of the states with largest population infected with HIV/AIDs.

As a rider, my goal is to raise at least $1,250. I can’t do it without my friends, my family, and all of you in the secular community. So often religious people believe that if you don’t believe in god then you don’t have morals anymore. Together we can show them how wrong they are. Donate to rider 508 to help eliminate HIV/AIDs and show the world that secular women and men care!

Elsa Roberts- Vice Chair of Outreach, Secular Woman

Her•Story: Joan Dunlop

Women’s power is in our collective force, and the depth of our conviction and the choices we make as a result…. And the decision to have children or not to have children is deeply embedded in that….

When John D. Rockefeller III hired Joan Dunlop in the early 1970s to be his staff assistant on matters related to population issues and sex education, he told her, “There’s something wrong with the population field. It’s not working.” And so Joan, with no background in population issues and no academic training, entered a field with a prevailing approach that she described as “there’s this rising birth rate and the way to attack it is technology, through the women as a vehicle. And women’s lives, and why women have children, or what the rationale for it [may be], or what they felt, or [what] were their concerns, never came into it at all, ever.”

By 1984 when Joan was recruited to be the President of the International Women’s Health Coalition she was ready to shepherd a worldwide movement to put women’s reproductive lives and health at the center of the discussion of population issues. In 1992 she convened a meeting in London of women’s reproductive advocates to plan how they could have the greatest impact on the 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. Their work ultimately led to the 1993 Women’s Declaration on Population Policies, a statement agreed to by over 100 women’s organizations.

With the Women’s Declaration as an organizing principle, the IHWC and its allies worked to change the focus of population policy in the lead up to the Cairo conference. Joan had no hesitation in taking on the Vatican. As she said, “I was raised in the Church of England, okay? And I kept saying to my colleagues, ‘Look my favorite period was Tudor history. Let’s go back to sacking the monasteries. Let’s start there.”

The adoption of the Programme of Action of the Cairo Conference was the apex of Joan’s career. The Programme called for “advancing gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women,” prenatal care, education, including sex education, for women and girls, and, where legal, safe abortions. She continued to lead the IWHC’s efforts through one more conference before she retired, the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing where delegates agreed that women have the right to say no to sex.

Cancer took Joan’s life on June 29, 2012.

Secular Woman shares the belief system from which Joan drew her power. As she said, “[O]ne of the reasons we were successful against the Vatican …. [was we] were dealing with a belief system, just as they were, and the belief system was feminism.”

– Mary Bellamy, Secular Woman member

All quotes, except from the UN ICPD Programme of Action, are from the “Population and Reproductive Health Oral History Project,” Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, interview of Joan Dunlop by Rebecca Sharpless, April 14-15, 2004.