SUMMARY: SIECUS REVIEW OF Choosing the Best JOURNEY
Choosing the Best JOURNEY is a fear- and shame-based abstinence-only-until-marriage program designed for ninth and tenth grade and written by Bruce Cook, the founder of Choosing the Best, Inc. SIECUS reviewed the first edition which was published in 2006.
As is typical of abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula, Choosing the Best JOURNEY provides limited information on human sexuality and does not cover such basic topics as puberty, sexual response, or reproduction. Other important issues such as contraception, abortion, sexual orientation, STDs, and HIV/AIDS are presented in an unbalanced manner that seems designed to promote one point of view rather than simply inform students.
In addition to omitting important information, this curriculum aims to push a singular agenda, what it calls the “best” choice, while convincing students that they are making their own choices. The curriculum relies on messages of fear and shame and biased views of marriage, gender, and sexual orientation.
Relying on Negative Messages
Messages of Fear—Trying To Scare Students
While it is important for students to understand the difficulties that accompany teen pregnancy, it is possible to do it in a way that does not wholly stigmatize teen parents or suggest that they will never have a happy life. The author’s preferred 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
With ideas like these, the author sets up a dichotomy between those students who choose to be abstinent who are portrayed as being honest, responsible, and courageous, and those who become sexually active who are portrayed as lacking self-respect, worth, or personal value. 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.
STDs—Focusing on Worst Case Scenarios
Rather than focus exclusively on worst case scenarios, the curricula would better serve students by highlighting the early symptoms young people should look for and emphasizing the need for everyone who has been sexually active to get tested regularly.
Condoms and Contraception—Discouraging Use
Like any other method of pregnancy- or disease-prevention, abstinence can be used inconsistently or incorrectly. The curriculum could better serve students by explaining that although condoms and other contraception are not 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy and STDs, there are steps that sexually active couples can take—like using their methods consistently and correctly every time—to improve the chances of avoiding unintended pregnancy and STDs.
Promoting One Point of View
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.
Sexual Orientation—Ignoring Gays and Lesbians
Curricula written exclusively for heterosexual students are not appropriate for a classroom setting in which some students are likely to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning their sexual orientation. Such curricula will only further marginalize and alienate these students.
Guys vs. Girls—Perpetuating Gender Stereotypes
The curriculum perpetuates stereotypical views including the ideas that men desire casual sexual activity from any and all women while women only agree to sexual activity to get love. Students are not 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. Instead, students need to learn that both men and women are sexual beings and are equally responsible for making decisions regarding sexual activity.
 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, <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.