Sloppy Seconds Sex Ed


Last week, the conservative circles of the internet were abuzz in disapproval over Elizabeth Smart’s recent criticism of abstinence-only sexual education. Speaking at a forum on human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University, Elizabeth said that the abstinence-only education she received left her feeling “so dirty” and “so filthy” after being repeatedly raped.

The reactions to this were infuriatingly predictable. Good people, people who have proven to be thoughtful and compassionate, immediately shut down in the face of any criticism of abstinence-only sex ed. Their responses to Elizabeth Smart were irrational, ignorant, and stunningly condescending. From accusing her of “casting blame” to snarkily suggesting that we teach “bestiality (oral, anal, etc…) as an alternative to those worthless, dirty, filthy feelings”, there was a mob-like mentality on display. People stubbornly defended her religious parents and reminded each other how she had held on through her captivity so she could get back to them, without bothering to explain what that had to do with the point she was making. People insisted that the shame and unworthiness she felt was solely the result of the abuse she suffered, and by making her emotional trauma about abstinence-only education she was doing a disservice to other forms of abuse. People claimed that she was using her platform irresponsibly, and should have thought through the impact her words would have on the abstinence-only sex ed movement.

What almost no one did was hear what she said. No one was horrified at what she had been taught in her abstinence-only sexual education. No one acknowledged that the direct, logical result of such an education is a sense of shame and unworthiness after having been “used.” No one showed even a hint of sympathy for how she had suffered, not only at the hands of her captors, but at the hands of a degrading philosophy of human sexuality. Such a callous indifference to human suffering is appalling. It shows that too many Christians, too many proponents of abstinence-only education, have put their concern for the welfare of a quasi-political movement above their concern for the welfare of a human being, of human dignity itself.

For some time, I have thought that the reason more people aren’t speaking out against this “purity culture” is that they are unaware of it. After last week, I’m not so sure. The mainstream message of abstinence-only education got press far and wide with Elizabeth Smart’s denunciation of it, yet I saw no shock, horror, or disgust.

Let me be clear about the particular type of abstinence-only education Elizabeth Smart is referring to. I’m not entirely convinced that there is another type, but just in case, this is the abstinence-only message that Elizabeth Smart received as an adolescent:

“Smart said she grew up in a Mormon family and was taught through abstinence-only education that a person whose virginity was lost before marriage was considered worthless. She spoke to the crowd about a school teacher who urged students against premarital sex and compared women who had sex before their wedding nights 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 no longer have worth, you no longer have value. 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’.”

(Read the rest here)

Perhaps there are some people out there who think this mindset is an abberration, who are not responding to this because they genuinely believe this is a rare exception to typical abstinence-only curricula.

It isn’t.

It is absolutely crucial that Catholics, Christians, and all proponents of abstinence-only education get their heads out of the sand on this. This is not some sort of freaky Mormon glitch in the abstinence-only train. This IS the abstinence-only train.

When I heard it, it was glasses of water. Women (and only women, mind you; the boys got a separate talk about cherishing each woman as if she were the prized treasure of another man) were like glasses of crystal-clear spring water. If you “fooled around” before marriage, it was like someone spit in your glass of water. If you had sex before marriage, it was like someone took a huge drink of your water, swished it around in their mouths, and then spat it back into the glass. The more sex you had, the dirtier your glass of water got. “So think of that before you have premarital sex,” we were admonished. “Think of the gift you’re going to give your husband on your wedding night. Do you want to give him a pure, untouched glass of delicious water, or a dirty cup of everyone else’s backwash?”

For one of my friends, it was an Oreo cookie that had been chewed up and spat back out. For another friend, it was a pair of custom-made shoes that had been stretched and warped from being worn by people they weren’t made to fit. Cups of spit. Plucked roses. It goes on and on. I’ve heard a million variations of it, but always the message is the same.

This does not teach anyone chastity or purity. “Abstinence-only” sex ed is a fundamentally flawed concept, beginning with its very name. It teaches children to negate an act, to deny a fundamental part of human nature until such a time as it’s permissible to indulge. It doesn’t teach children what sex is, what their sexuality means, how to understand it, or how to properly integrate it into a life of chastity both without and within a marriage. It doesn’t teach a boy that sex is primarily about the giving of himself, and that he can’t fully give himself to his wife unless he learns how to master himself first, how to wait, how to have patience, how to love her instead of using her as a vehicle for pleasure. Actually it teaches boys the exact opposite of that; that a woman is a trophy, a prize, that a good one (one worth keeping forever) will be untouched, but that there are plenty of dirty water-glasses walking around that have been ruined for any decent man anyway, and they might as well be used up since they’re not worth saving.

And what does abstinence-only sex ed teach girls? It doesn’t teach girls anything. It conditions girls into conforming with a sick, “religious-ized” chauvinism that masquerades as concern for moral purity but is really just plain old abhorrence of sloppy seconds. It says nothing to a girl about her inherent value as a human being, about her precious and vital role as life-giver, about her unique feminine genius that is inextricably linked to her sexuality. Like Pavlov’s dog, girls are told over and over in abstinence-only education that sex before marriage will make them dirty and worthless. The conditioning definitely works as intended on us pieces of chewed-up gum; our sexual relationships within marriage are usually fraught with psychological blocks, feelings of worthlessness, and fears of abandonment. It also does a number on girls who have been raped, like Elizabeth Smart. But here’s the thing: it totally screws up the “good” girls, too, the one who wait until their wedding night. You can’t tell a girl that having sex is like being a chewed and regurgitated Oreo and then expect her to be totally excited when it comes time for her husband to chew her up and spit her back out. You can’t teach a girl that her sexuality is a prize for a man, that the whole purpose of her existence as a sexual being is to be used by someone else at the “right” time and in the “right” way, and then wonder where these silly girls get their “objectification” martyr complexes.

It’s time to have a serious conversation about abstinence-only sex ed, and how it is not only failing but damaging our youth. It is screwing up our cultural understanding of human sexuality just as thoroughly as the hedonistic effects of the sexual revolution are. There very well may be some good abstinence-only sex ed courses out there, but they are certainly not the norm. We need to create a new way of teaching children about human sexuality, a way that emphasizes their essential dignity as rational, spiritual, and sexual human beings. We should strive to teach them to grow in virtue, to gain temperance, to master their passions, and to love for love of the other, not out of desire for pleasure, power, or possession. We should be teaching human sexuality as a series of positive moral developments that boys and girls must attain before sex can be truly enjoyed. We shouldn’t be teaching our kids to white-knuckle it through puberty and then glut themselves as soon as they say “I do.”

The question is not whether or not abstinence-only education is working. I’m not even sure what proponents of it mean by “working.” In the incarnation I’m familiar with, it certainly doesn’t seem intended to do much beyond shaming kids into not having sex using the crudest, most psychologically destructive means available. Research is pretty clear that it’s not even managing to accomplish that. The only thing abstinence-only education is accomplishing is entrenching misogynistic, licentious attitudes toward sex in a whole new generation of kids.

There is no excuse for Christians to close their eyes and pretend that abstinence-only sex ed is even a tolerable thing, much less a good thing. This dehumanizing approach to sexuality is not an acceptable alternative to the Planned Parenthood-driven over-sexualization of our kids. I will not settle for my kids learning anything less than the full theology of the body, and neither should you. You don’t need to defend abstinence-only sex ed from attacks by girls like Elizabeth Smart; you need to defend girls like Elizabeth Smart from the psychological effects of abstinence-only sex ed. It is not “education” in any sense of the word. It is shallow, sickening cultural conditioning, and we owe our kids enough to admit it. There are two whole generations of young adults who have been psychologically and emotionally damaged by the widespread and complacent acceptance of abstinence-only sex ed. Let’s not make it three.


*I am still getting used to our new comment system, which requires a great deal more moderation than I usually do. If you post a comment and it disappears, it got caught in my spam filter, and I will release it when I check in periodically. I don’t delete comments.


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  • Tina Marie

    I went to a conference on Christian sexuality and heard a great comment that summarizes what I learned in Christian sex ed: “Sex is disgusting, dirty, and sinful. Save it for the one you love.”

    Seriously, I don’t have a problem with teaching abstinence, I have a problem with the message that women are worthless outside of the “gift” of our virginity. Is that the ONLY value I’m supposed to have for my husband, or do I get to add my ability to clean and cook to my self-worth? Is it any wonder that so many women feel devalued in society? Is it any wonder that we often feel invisible inside our marriages?

    I have never heard a better argument against the narrow, shaming, non-education provided by Christians regarding sexuality. Now if only we could get people to listen…

  • Scarlet

    Personally, I think Christians need to get AWAY from the narrative that sex is dirty. Sex is not dirty. Sex is something we are all created to do. Sex is beautiful. Sex is an expression of love. People who engage in sex, either inside or outside of marriage, are acting as normal people. When we escape this narrative, we dismiss the taboo about it. When we dismiss the taboo, children are less likely to act out and be in such a hurry to try it. So many people at my Christian university would get married ONLY to have sex… because sex outside of marriage was dirty and they were desperate to do it. Now they wouldn’t be willing to admit it, but it was clear as day. And then when they figured out that it’s not some magical world filled with ponies and rainbows where God comes down from heaven and waves his magic wand to make life beautiful, they would enter reality and realize that they were now attached to someone who they really didn’t like all that much.

    We no longer focus on the goodness of sex, the responsibility of marriage, and how the two tie together. Christians are more than willing to shame people into believing how they THINK people should believe. That God kills a puppy every time someone masturbates or that people who have sex outside of marriage are going to HELL and can never be redeemed. Too many Christians are rushing into marriages for which they are completely unprepared. I know that I wish I had some training about HOW to have sex when I was a girl, not just the very simple biology of it. Even worse, I wish my husband had not been a virgin because he was completely terrible at sex and scared to explore anything because of the bullshit brainwashing. I grew to resent him for being unable to please me. I hated that I didn’t know enough myself to train him. I hated that he wouldn’t talk about it. And I really hated that if I tried to talk about it, it was just as bad as having premarital sex.

    Even worse, we are no longer in this society where legacy is such a huge legal matter. We no longer concern ourselves with the legitimacy of heirs because it doesn’t matter legally if the woman had sex before marriage. It doesn’t matter if children are born bastards because they’re still entitled to anything their parents give. There are no estates to pass on, there are no titles to be inherited. Our culture has changed. What has not changed is the narrative about sex.

  • Annie Rodrigues

    I was very impressed with this article until I reached the line that said “the Planned Parenthood-driven over-sexualization of our kids.” You lost me there. Planned Parenthood has been stepping in where schools are canceling their sex education programs all over the nation. Their goal is to provide comprehensive, unbiased, age-appropriate information to anyone who wants it regardless of race/class/gender/sexuality. And they, too, urge abstinence by making sure to mention that abstinence is the only 100% effective method of avoiding both pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
    It is important to note that whether or not Planned Parenthood was there to make sure our teens have the protection they need by offering confidential and often free services, our kids would still be over-sexualized by the Twilight series and Abercrombie and Fitch and all that other shit that nobody seems to link to a teenager’s sex obsession. Sex is everywhere. Regardless of what kind of education they receive, teenagers on average lose their virginity at seventeen. I, for one, am glad that Planned Parenthood is here for me and for them.

    • CS

      “Regardless of what kind of education they receive, teenagers on average lose their virginity at seventeen.”

      Even if this statistic is true (source?) I wonder why it is that Planned Parenthood thinks it is necessary to teach sexual positions, fisting, and mutual masturbation to 11-12 year olds. Without parent consent.

      Can you tell me why?

    • CS

      “Regardless of what kind of education they receive, teenagers on average lose their virginity at seventeen.”

      Even if this statistic is true (source?) I wonder why it is that Planned Parenthood thinks it is necessary to teach sexual positions, fisting, and mutual masturbation to 11-12 year olds. Without parent consent.

      Can you tell me why?

      • mijan126

        I’d like to know where you got the idea that they teach those things… because they don’t. Seriously, where are you getting this garbage?

        • CS

          Here is some info about the graphics from PP educational materials “Take Care Down There” which is aimed at younger teens, based particularly on its particular cartoon style:

          Here is a nice story about giving information to middle schoolers:

          On sexualizing younger people, I have already commented about it numerous times on this thread, especially concerning their complete lack of responsibility for helping child victims other than giving them birth control, and their active promotion of a particular moral message that all children as young as 10 should be given explicit education in all aspects of sex. I can add this weird picture next to a section about coming out. It looks like a younger teenager and an older man.

          The link to the whole teen section is here, and you can explore it to find that it’s main message is: the only bad kind of sexual behavior is that which leads to pregnancy or infections!

          Added bonus: I love this embarrassing, semi-violent Superhero for Choice ad:

          • missdk

            Do you have sources from actual news sites that aren’t pro-life orgs?

          • CS

            This is a good question. I like solid sources for my links. Interestingly, there is little to nothing in mainstream sources about PP that is critical. This could mean a lot of things. You should do your reseach and make a decision, but it would highly unintelligent to dismiss it because it is from a pro-life source. Remember, in the beginning of the Gosnell trial ONLY pro-life sources covered it, except for the paper local to Gosnell’s clinic. I don’t even think the AP picked it up until the #Gosnell hashtag was started by (I think) Mollie over at GetReligion. (Which is NOT a prolife site but one that covers how journalism covers religion.)

            Did you look at the links? I don’t link to things that are editorializing about abortion, but for the information presented. The has the actual graphics from a child/teen oriented educational booklet containing children about the age of 13 when it addressed the book to “you” in the text. Then it discusses other people having sex and shows adults as well.

            Planned Parenthood was forced to take down many of the TCDT videos on Youtube. The site, operated by PP, is up and as it loads it says “some of this material is intended for older teens and adults only.” Which is sort of like saying, “Victoria’s Secret’s supersexy line of flirty, come-on panties is for college-age kids only!” When they market to teens, have them as buyers, and have no distinction whatsoever in the stores.

            I will look for some more links after I get back from Mass.

          • missdk

            I don’t remember that because I read about Gosnell 2 years ago. I was able to find links to feminist and pro-choice blogs w/in 2 minutes on google search. RH reality check has posts going back to 2010 and Here’s one from feministing from early 2011 Not sure what Gosnell has to do with PP anyways.

            And I did look at your links. Did you? They are not objective. Seek out the truth and not confirmation bias.

          • CS

            Are the text & cartoons they show objective? Unless they are forgeries, it doesn’t matter what the commentary is. An intelligent person looks at a thing on its merits — taking into consideration the source– and decides whether it shows something or not.

            RE: Gosnell, Actually your response shows exactly what you mean by confirmation bias, unfortunately it is more the case in your post.

            See, I did that search, too, when the Gosnell trial began. Before the tweet campaign demanding that the media take interest, Feministing had the ONE pieceyou linked to, saying “We don’t know what happened but antichoicers are at fault…”….And at RhReality check there was one post describing his indictment, then a few in the week after describing why he is an “outlier” and an example of why abortion access is so important. (This is the same rhetoric that sprang up again once the whole country’s journalists were shamed into covering the trial.)

            Neither Feministing nor Rh Reality check covered the trial. Not until the huge tweet campaign April 12. Instead, they first used his indictment as a springboard for their rhetoric…the same criticism you are lobbying at my links. Interestingly, one post from 2010 at RhReality check, found here:, refers to his clinic and then goes on to talk about the problem of substandard care in clinics. I have another link to a discussion in the week after the tweet campaign, in which a decidedly pro-choice politician describes a culture of Institutional Denial surrounding Gosnell’s clinic, akin to the Penn ignoring Sandusky, because it was too afraid to deal with how it would make them look.

            Look, I could accuse you of being willfully ignorant, too, in that you tried to link to a whole bunch of rhetoric and claim it was “coverage” of Gosnell. But I won’t maybe you were too distracted to think it through. I will compare my links and yours: Yours had little actual source information. Mine had the Planned Parenthood “educational materials” AND links to outside sources. I don’t mean to sound petty. But it is easy to throw around the “source” demand but hard to know how to use a source and your mind to make your own conclusions.

          • CS

            Here is the link to the HuffPoLive discussion featuring PA Rep. Margo Davidson, whose cousin was killed by Gosnell’s butchery and neglect.


          • CS

            Wow I posted a huge long reply to you, and I do not see it here now.

          • CS

            Short story: the Rhreality Check shows exactly what I said was true. They covered Gosnell briefly on the day he was indicted, then used it as a springboard for ideological arguments about abortion access. Look at them closely yourself. Then nothing on their site until AFTER the tweet campaign that demanded more coverage. (There was, interestingly when he was first arrested, an essay about the problem of standards in abortion clinics, and trying to work toward clean safer clinic conditions.)

            Also, I searched Feministing myself before that tweet campaign even happened, as I was curious about their coverage. They did one blurb about it …. and also immediately went onto talk about abortion access. There was no coverage and there continues to be a GLARING lack of accountability for the fact that local abortion providers knew about Gosnell and did nothing to encourage his being closed down.

            It’s called Institutional Denial. Here is a Margo Davidson, whose cousin was murdered by Gosnell:

            and HuffPo live discussing it:

        • CS

          Also, wanted to point out that PP gives support and financing to sex ed curriculums without sponsoring them on their website. As is pointed out in that link about the children’s sex ed course.

          The public face of Planned Parenthood is very staid, as you can see on most of their website for teens. But the graphics and videos that come out from time to time, cartoonish and talking in language aimed at younger teens, and sometimes even trading in gay and racial stereotypes, illustrate their desired goal of reaching children as young as possible.

          The thing is that teenagers don’t need “hip” graphics and funky beats to go with their info. They need honesty and openness. There are healthy and wonderful ways to offer information to other people’s children without pushing a moral agenda on them, or violating the boundaries they have for themselves or their parents want for them.

  • nettwench14

    They co-exist. They are two different things. Your child’s math teacher is not going to teach them much about ethics. That is where the family comes in, you teach values to your children. Medical professionals are just going to do a straightforward presentation of facts. It is not their place to teach your child morality and ethics. Sex education done in a nonjudgmental way is just going to lay out the facts, not about how to make decisions regarding those facts. Any kind of sex education should be followed up with you and your child have more than one conversation about what those decisions mean.

    People seem to be confused about this. They seem to want ethics and morality to be taught along with presenting pretty basic information about sex. Since all parents are likely to have many different religious beliefs, and even moral beliefs, you are asking the impossible.

    As far as consent goes, it is VERY important to teach young men and women about legal consent. From the looks of things these days, a whole lot of teenagers have no clue, and that is how things like Steubenville happen: “It’s not really rape if she’s drunk and doesn’t know what I’m doing” “It’s not really rape if I just stick my fingers into her and not my penis,” “I’m just a bystander and it’s ok for me to film this rape and put it up on the Internet” “any language is fine even if is is sexist and demeaning,” “oral or anal sex doesn’t “count,”” or “she can’t say no if we already started.” Where is the respect for women’s consent here?

    There seem to be an awful lot of young men who have been raised to think they are ENTITLED to have sex with young women whether they give consent or not. It is epidemic in high schools and colleges, and most of these places turn the girl into the perpetrator and shield the rapist because he’s “a good kid,” or “he’s getting a sports scholarship and we can’t mess that up!”
    20% of women joining the military are raped, sometimes repeatedly, drugged, stalked, beaten, but if they tell, they get kicked out and the rapist is protected. omen need to be taught how to stand up for themselves, and given the information to do so.

    • Maria

      I think maybe you missed my point to Genevieve about “universal” ethics. If you are happy with whatever any individual family teaches as ethical, then you have to accept that some families are going to teach that the behavior at Steubenville was fine. Is there a universal right and wrong? I think there is, and I think we should strive to learn what that is, just as we strive to learn what is biologically healthy.

    • tedseeber

      If ethics can’t be expressed mathematically, then they’re not much good to anybody.

  • Maxine Doogan

    Its not a purity ‘culture’. Its a fetish and they ‘re trying to put their fetish off onto the rest of us-gross

  • Keith Cumbie

    All that happens when you have sex before marriage is that the state hasn’t approved your POSITION.

  • Karl Komara

    I guess these abstinence only groups are not teaching that sex within the confines of a marriage between a man and a woman is a beautiful thing and should be emjoyed and appreciated for what it is- a gift from God. That’s my understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches. However sex outside of marriage is fornication and a sin against one’s own body. It should be avoided at all costs and a person should not have sex until marriage. That should be taught. Chastity and virginity are beautiful things and needs to be upheld and respected, encouraged and taught. God gave us the gift of sex. Let’s use it properly in a marraige, never outside a marriage. That’s waht God wants of us. We should expect no less of our children.

    • mijan126

      And you didn’t actually understand a word the author wrote.

  • Lisa

    I think if you are going to be a sex education teacher then you should be covering all the areas including abstinence,protection and human anatomy. Sex shouldn’t be taught as something dirty or something that a “good woman” does for her man. Women are not solely baby factories! Sex is also a healthy component in a relationship, it’s an expression of affection between two people (any gender for that matter).

    I can tell you that most of these said “Christians” are hypocrites. I know one myself,but I don’t need to air her dirty laundry to prove it on the internet. So as I’ve told her, you can preach abstinence before marriage,but people are going to have sex so you might as well teach them how to protect themselves for diseases and unwanted pregnancy. Someone should have taught my cousin because now she has an STD the rest of her life,that’s where I’d say the “Dirty Water glass” comes into play.

  • Rebecca Kirby

    Thank you. I never realized that is what’s going on in abstinence only sex-ed. That certainly isn’t how I’d teach it.

  • Rosemary Brewer

    Not all abstinence seminars are like this. They explain how dangerous STD’s can be for boys and girls and how young female bodies are not ready for the pregnancy that can ensue from sex. Very factual and logical the one i brought my kids to was.