SUMMARY: SIECUS REVIEW OF Choosing the Best PATH and Choosing the Best LIFE
Choosing the Best PATH and Choosing the Best LIFE are fear- and shame-based abstinence-only-until-marriage programs designed for upper middle school students (seventh and eighth grade, respectively) and written by Bruce Cook, the founder of Choosing the Best, Inc.
In the new 2006 editions of the two curricula, some of the quotes and activities that SIECUS criticized in our review of the 2001 edition of Choosing the Best PATH and the 2003 edition of Choosing the Best LIFE were removed or changed. Some of the outrageous messages of fear have been toned down and the medical inaccuracies corrected. SIECUS applauds the author for taking these important steps.
Nonetheless, Choosing the Best PATH and Choosing the Best LIFE continue to rely on messages of fear and shame, misleading information, and biased views of marriage and sexual orientation. In addition, the format and underlying biases of the curriculua do not allow for cultural, community, and individual values. Instead, they discourage critical thinking and discussions of alternative points of view in the classroom.
Relying on Negative Messages
Messages of Fear—Trying to Scare Students
There is no scientific evidence to support the assertion that premarital sexual intercourse leads to everything from ruined relationships to a failure to develop an independent identity. The author’s focus on the inevitable consequences of premarital sexual activity is clearly designed to scare students rather than to educate them.
Messages of Shame—Instilling Feelings of Guilt
It is important to remember that 47 percent of all high school students have had sexual intercourse. It is inappropriate and potentially harmful for an education program to imply that these teens lack value and dignity or suggest that they are less worthy of love, trust, and respect. This can only be damaging to these students and serve to alienate them from their peers and the program.
Virginity Pledges—Asking Students to Publicly Promise Purity
Research has found that, while under certain circumstances virginity pledges can help a select group of young people delay intercourse, pledges only help young people delay intercourse for approximately 18 months (far short of marriage). In fact, 88 percent of young people who take a pledge ultimately have sex before marriage. And, pledges taken by an entire class as part of a lesson were not effective. Most importantly, however, young people who took a pledge were 1/3 less likely to use contraception when they did become sexually active than their peers who did not pledge. Far from providing a solution to the complex problems of unintended pregnancy and disease transmission, these simplistic pledges undermine the use of contraception among teens, potentially exposing them to greater harm.
For this edition of the Choosing the Best PATH and Choosing the Best LIFE, the author clearly worked to improve the section on sexually transmitted diseases. The inaccurate information that was once common has been removed, and well-researched fact sheets containing accurate statistics and descriptions of STDs have been added. Nonetheless the curricula’s discussions of STDs remain problematic as they focus on worst case scenarios and present treatable infections such as Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and HPV as inevitably leading to serious, permanent health problems.
While it is important for students to understand that condoms cannot eliminate the risk of STDs, every medical professional can agree that it is exceedingly safer to have sex with a condom than without. When used consistently and correctly, condoms are 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy and research has shown that using a condom for HIV prevention is 10,000 times safer than not using a condom. Furthermore, most condom failures are caused by errors in use, such as the failure of couples to use condoms during every act of sexual intercourse. This presentation about condoms, while mostly accurate, is none-the-less clearly designed to discourage use of this important protection method.
Gender—Fostering Myths and Stereotypes
Students are never challenged to question the nature, validity, or origin of these gender stereotypes, or to explore how stereotypes affect communication within friendships or sexual relationships. Such a presentation is detrimental to all young people by limiting their options, influencing their behavior, and coloring their expectations for future relationships.
Pregnancy Options—Mandating Choices
In previous drafts of Choosing the Best LIFE, abortion was not even listed as a choice, so its inclusion is definitely an improvement. Nonetheless, it is never the place of education programs to mandate choices for students. Instead, students need unbiased information about the options they have should they experience an unintended pregnancy as a teen or an adult. It is then up to students to make choices consistent with their own values and the values of their families and communities. By presenting even subtly biased information about abortion and adoption, Choosing the Best does not allow individuals to make informed, personal decisions.
 Karen S. Peterson, “Study links depression, suicide rates to teen sex” USA Today, 3 June 2003, accessed 6 August 6, 2009 < www.usatoday.com/news/health/2003-06-03-teen-usat_x.htm >
 J. Grunbaum, et al., “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2007,” Surveillance Summaries, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 57, no.SS-4, pp. 1-136., accessed, 5 June 2009, http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dash/yrbs/.
 P. Bearman and H. Brückner, "Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and the Transition to First Intercourse," American Journal of Sociology, vol. 106, no. 4 (2001), pp. 859-912; P. Bearman, et al., “The Relationship Between Virginity Pledges in Adolescence and STD Acquisition in Young Adulthood,” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 110, no. 1 (2004), pp. 44-92.
 Hatcher, et al, Contraceptive Technology; R.F. Carey, et al, “Effectiveness of Latex Condoms as Barrier to Human-Immunodeficiency Virus-sized Particles under Conditions of Simulated Use,” Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 19, no. 4 (July/Aug. 1992), p. 230