Send In The (Abstinence) Clowns

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For the last few weeks, community action site Amplify Your Voice have been chronicling the extraordinary vestiges of the Bush administration's disastrous policies on sexual health and education: Derek Dye, the Abstinence Clown.

Derek Dye is supported by Elizabeth's New Life Center, a Christian-orientated organisation that received a federal grant of $800,000 in 2007. Dye appears to be a little more reticent to wear these religious overtones during his talks, preferring instead to compare pre-marital sex to juggling with machetes.

For a person whose success depends upon popularity, it was strange then that Dye ordered YouTube to remove a video of him in action, spreading the message of abstinence to a group of middle school children. To their eternal credit, Amplify Your Voice have decided to host the offending video in the face of repeated legal threats from Dye and the New Life Center. What are these people so ashamed of? Aren't they proud of their covert religious piecemeal sexual education project? Is is the machetes?

During the video, the part I found most upsetting was seeing Dye compare premarital sex to juggling machetes over a prostrate child. He says:

You know what? I can't do it... ...Because if I juggle these machetes over him, there's risk. Something could happen. I could make a mistake... ...I tried to reduce the risk a little bit, by practising. But it doesn't matter how much I practice, an accident could happen. The only way I can completely eliminate risk of something happening to him, is if I put the machetes [away] and practice abstinence.

This to me is perhaps the most revealing explanation of the logic behind abstinence-only sex education, saying in essence: "be completely intolerant of risk. Do not take responsibility for yourself". This is the most depressing message I can possibly think of teaching children. Imagine that logic played to different circumstances:

  • Never go swimming, you might drown
  • The only way to eliminate the risk of crashing is to never learn to drive
  • Don't apply for that top college, aim low and surefire
  • Don't tell her how you feel, she might reject you

What a terrible world it would be if everyone lived according to these rules.

If I had one wish, it would be to see a sexual education programme that managed to instil one simple truth into kids' heads: if you're not in control of your sexual activity, you're at risk. Programmes such as Dye's are the complete opposite of this.

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Abstinence-only programmes are the hallmark of a society that wants to see its children as completely innocent and chaste beings. That sadly just isn't true. It's ridiculous to believe that young men and women suddenly become responsible adults with the relevant working biology overnight on the cusp of their 16th birthday. And it's dangerous to behave as if that's the case. As we speak, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced that the Government plans to investigate the sexualisation of young girls. It's a winner in terms of generating press, but what does this actually mean? Does Jacqui Smith plan to send morality squads into the bedrooms of 14 yr old girls to tear down posters of Robert Pattinson?

If you want further proof of the harm that people are willing to inflict on young women to protect them from their own burning loins, look no further than attempts by religious groups to prevent uptake of the HPV vaccine, designed to protect women against cervical cancer.

Thankfully, the Obama administration is looking like it will roll back many of the harmful sexual health policies instilled by Bush. However, it's still important that you write to your government and encourage them to ditch these failed practices. You can find out how to do this at Amplify Your Voice.

As for the abstinence clowns, perhaps you can find a new career path. After all, we still have many other laughable policies to promote.

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Several commenters here have said that in examining the practical effects of abstinence-only sex ed, I am missing the point that the religious right isn't really interested in decreasing teen pregnancy or STDs. Wesley Elsberry sent me this perfect example of that from the ARN message boards. When…
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Those aren't even machetes - they're juggling knives, and they're not sharp.

Great article! Thanks for drawing attention to this incredibly important issue that affects not just young people, but the adults they become.

Who doesn't he juggle nastily-barbed chastity belts?

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 13 Mar 2009 #permalink

(ahem) Why ...?

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 13 Mar 2009 #permalink

Geez. I guess that's one way to kill the horny of young teenagers: clowns.

As I watched this I wondered what makes him any kind of "expert" that he should received funding at all for making presentations to kids? He can juggle. Nice. He can makes lists of bad things. Nice. He can talk about "dreams." Nice. So can just about anyone (except maybe the juggling part.)

Seth McFarlane has nailed those kinds of clowns to the wall in episodes of "Family Guy."

You're right that abstinence-only sex education is dangerous and stupid. But it has nothing to do with Secretary Smith's investigation. According to the linked article, Secretary Smith's motivation is not anti-sex, it's pro-child. Children should not be sex objects because it's harmful to their self-image and undermines their autonomy. The sexualisation of girls also contributes to a culture where a significant number of young girls are the victims of sexual assault and rape. Secretary Smith doesn't want to end consensual encounters between teenagers, she wants to end the increasing pressure on young girls to appear sexually available and be sexually active.

@Anne
It's not something I can do justice in a comment box, and I may spend more time on Smith's proposals in a later entry. In that article, I see elements of the same matriarchal attitude that demanded we send soldiers into Afghanistan to tear burkas off women - without first asking those women what they thought of the idea. It seems to me a lot of the problems we hang on women (increased sexual activity, alcohol consumption, etc) stems from our own prejudices of how women 'should' act.

I am a total loser for recopying a comment from another blog on this subject, but this guy really pisses me off. Here is what I said about it on Feministe in January.

The juggler neglects to make the connection that could have safely juggled the macheteâs over the studentâs body if he had placed a BARRIER over the student. Or he could have juggled the machete alone while watching the other guy juggle his own machete. Or he could have called the guy on the phone and had phone juggling. Or he could use silicone macheteâs with absolutely no risk at all. Or they could have watched a movie about machete juggling and cuddled.

I could go on all day folks . . .

Okay, two things.

First: He's using the knife juggling thing as a metaphor for premarital sex. So I really don't want to think about him "practicing to reduce risk." I don't know how it helps him reduce risk, and I really don't want to either.

Second: He seems to be comparing an egg to a defencless human body, and sperm to sharp knives. When you think about it, that parallel right there is probably more effective than the entire rest of the program put together.

Well all I can say is the next time I have sex (pre-marital sex, oh my) I'll think about a clown juggling knives -- until I put a condom on.

Abstinence only education wants kids to give the gift of sexual inexperience to each other on their wedding day. These are also the same people who often are against divorce. And Masturbation. They seem not to value sex very much.

They also often treat sexuality as something that only gets cheapened when you use it. You hear some variation of the "would you want a cookie with a bite taken out of it? or "Would you want a present that's been opened already?". That's not a fair comparison to one's sexuality during their short time alive on this planet.

It's more like giving someone a bag of rock salt instead of ice cream, a lump of iron instead of worked steel, ignorance instead of experience.

Clowns juggling knives while taking about how sex is bad - sounds like something from Stephen King.

I don't mind you using my photograph in your blog as I licensed it on creative commons. However, I would greatly appreciate it if you could ask for my permission or at the very least credit the photographer with a link to the original image.

My apologies Ian - CC info is in the meta but I'm still trying to figure out a decent, automated way of displaying this. I'll sit down tonight and write some decent code to handle captions once and for all.