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 The WAIT Training 80/20 Manual is a supplemental curriculum produced by WAIT (Why Am I Tempted) Training, one of the main providers of abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula.  WAIT Training is run by Joneen Mackenzie (RN, BSN), who also serves on the Board of Directors of the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) and the National Advisory Board for the Medical Institute (formerly the Medical Institute for Sexual Health).  Additionally, Ms. Mackenzie is a national speaker and teacher trainer.

 

WAIT Training produces a number of different abstinence-only-until-marriage and marriage promotion materials: WAIT Training: Learn How to Have the BEST Sex…by waiting till marriage, for public schools; Training for WAITing: WAIT Training for the Faith Based Community; WAIT Training for the African-American Community; WAIT Training, Spanish Edition; It’s All About M.E. (Marriage Education); WAIT Training: Medical Cessation Model for Sexually Active Youth, a manual for medical providers seeking to aid teens in returning to an abstinent lifestyle; and WAIT Training: Rites of Passage Program for Latino Youth, which is in English and Spanish.

 

SIECUS reviewed the 2009 edition of the WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, which is designed for middle and high school students. The manual was created to supplement existing abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in areas where legislation or grant requirements specify that sexuality education programs should include information about contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).  This is particularly relevant in Colorado, where WAIT Training is based, because the state recently passed a law requiring sexuality education classes to use curricula that are science-based, age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, medically accurate, and that address the topics of both abstinence and contraception, including emergency contraception (EC).[1]

 

The WAIT Training 80/20 Manual attempts to adhere to these new regulations. According to WAIT Training, the “80/20” refers to 80 percent of the curriculum focusing on “healthy relationships, building personal power and self-regulation,” while 20 percent is set aside for “healthy family formation and healthy family planning” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 2).  The manual includes five units: “The Teen Brain,” “The Benefits of Marriage,” “Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections (STDs/STIs),” “Contraception,” and “Reality Check.”  Some lesson plans also use a power point presentation on DVD titled “Getting Inside the Teen Brain.”

 

SIECUS’ curricula reviews are based on the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, K–12 which was developed by a task force of professionals from the fields of education, medicine, youth services, and sexuality education. The Guidelines are a framework for comprehensive sexuality education programs and represent a consensus about the necessary components of such programs. Abstinence is one of 39 topics included in the Guidelines.

 

In its inclusion of accurate information on STDs and contraception, WAIT Training 80/20 Manual differs from many of the abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula that we have reviewed in past years. Nonetheless, and perhaps because it is meant as a supplement, the manual includes few of the topics including in the Guidelines.  Moreover, despite the fact that the authors describe the curriculum as “positive youth development” and “relationship education,” very little effort is made to help young people clarify their own values or make decisions for themselves about relationships.  Instead, the authors are intent on convincing students that marriage is the only morally and socially acceptable relationship goal for young people.  And though the curriculum represents vast improvements in medical accuracy, some lessons still rely on fear, shame, and judgment to make their point. 

 

Discouraging Decision Making and Scaring Students: “The Teen Brain”

 

The WAIT Training 80/20 Manual begins with a unit on the teen brain that includes a power point presentation and short videos.  The slides include quite a bit of accurate and useful information about adolescent brain development, but the authors use this information to tell a story about students’ brains that ultimately discourages decision making and uses fear to motivate students to abstain from sex, drugs, and alcohol.

 

Brain Development—Not Trusting Teens to Make Their Own Decisions

 

“The Teen Brain” section begins by emphasizing a common point among abstinence-only programs; that adolescents cannot be expected to make sound decisions because their brains are not fully developed.  In the introduction the authors tell us that “Based on the research about brain development, we should not be surprised by the unhealthy choices teens sometimes make.”  They continue, refuting the idea that “the teen brain is ready to make mature decisions in high school” and explaining that “since the teen pre-frontal cortex does not fully develop in the teen years, judgment, ability to see into the future, moral intelligence, abstract thinking and discernment skills, planning abilities, rational behavior, decision making, and comprehension of social conduct rules are also not fully developed” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 3). 

 

The WAIT Training 80/20 Manual seems to make the argument that young people are hardwired to be poor decision makers in order to encourage them to check-in with adults who can help them make better decisions about things like sex, drugs, and alcohol.  Unfortunately, parents and trusted adults are not always present and young people are constantly in situations where they have to make decisions for themselves.  While SIECUS believes young people should be encouraged to communicate with the trusted adults in their lives about big decisions, the condescension present in the WAIT Training 80/20 Manual seems more likely to teach them to avoid conversations with adults who don’t believe in their decision-making capabilities. 

 

Moreover, teaching young people that they are incapable of making responsible decisions is an inappropriate and dangerous tactic.  In many ways it could be seen as giving them license to behave badly.  Instead, teens need to know that they are accountable for their behavior and that they have the ability and the responsibility to make good decisions.


 

Sex and the Brain—Scaring Students into Abstinence

 

After laying out the premise that teens are poor decision makers, the curriculum goes on to use fear-based messages to suggest that sexual activity can permanently damage a young person’s brain.  First, it suggests that the adolescent brain is in a “use it or lose it” phase where any unused cells will be pared away and those connections that are well exercised will be “hard-wired,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 9).  Instructors are then supposed to tell students “A key point to think about is that if you are doing these activities [drugs, alcohol, and early sexual debut] while your brain is developing, the decision might not only affect the here and now, but also the next 80 years of your life” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 12).  For example, students are told that “Some studies have shown that intimate sexual activity in teens resembles addictive behavior” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 17). 

 

Later in the lesson, students see a slide titled “How to Maximize Adolescent Brain Growth in a Healthy Manner” and listed below are the directives “Avoid pornography—it’s highly addictive” and “Delay the onset of sexual activity” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 18).  This suggestion that sexual activity and healthy brain development are mutually exclusive is inaccurate and stigmatizing.  Almost two-thirds of seniors in high school report having had sexual intercourse, and that number increases in college.[2]   It is illogical to suggest that this majority of individuals are plagued by mental health problems and/or sexual addiction.  

 

In addition, using the same approach and information to teach young people about avoiding drugs and alcohol as about avoiding sexual behavior once again shows the authors’ biases.  While drug and alcohol abuse is something we never want for anyone regardless of age, most adults want young people to enjoy a happy and healthy sex life as an adult. 

 

Sexual Orientation—Assuming Heterosexuality

 

In this first section on the teen brain, the authors set the tone for the rest of the curriculum with their assumptions that all students are heterosexual.  One slide asks students if they would agree that adolescents have, among a list of other things, “increased interest in the opposite sex,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 8).  Later, in another list of ways that brain development affects behavior, it reads “strong attraction to opposite sex,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 12).  The emphasis on marriage in the following units only serves to reinforce this disregard for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) students.  As with the previous WAIT Training curricula, students receiving this supplemental program will never hear the terms gay or lesbian (except in the context of HIV risk) or discuss the possibility that some people may have same sex relationships.  Such a program is not appropriate for LGBTQ students who are essentially ignored, nor is it appropriate for heterosexual students who also need to learn honest and complete information about sexual orientation.

 

Mandating Future Relationships: “The Benefits of Marriage”

 

The second unit of the curriculum focuses exclusively on marriage.  The authors seem very concerned that some students might not be interested in marriage and spend the first six pages trying to convince them that marriage—specifically heterosexual, monogamous marriage—is the only relationship that is both personally fulfilling and beneficial to society. The rest of the unit emphasizes planning for marriage, the importance of staying abstinent until marriage, and finding an appropriate partner.  The authors do include some useful information about healthy relationships in the latter half of the unit, such as a checklist that may help some young people evaluate whether they are with an abusive or controlling partner (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 32).  However, throughout the unit the curriculum portrays marriage as a panacea, uses fear to motivate students to embrace marriage, and judges those who don’t get married or stay married. 

 

Promoting Marriage—Unrealistic Expectations

 

The WAIT Training 80/20 Manual makes numerous statements about the benefits of marriage that set young people up for unrealistic expectations about the institution.  It begins the unit by asking students to “brainstorm and write down the benefits of marriage” “to a man,” “woman,” “child,” “family,” “community,” “society,” “one’s health and well-being,” and “to your economic status,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 23).  This activity is followed by a handout titled “The Good Stuff of Marriage” that includes such assertions as:

 

·         Married couples seem to build more wealth on average than singles or cohabitating couples

·         Married men earn more money than do single men with similar education and job history

·         Married people, especially married men, have longer life expectancies than do similar singes

·         Healthy marriage is associated with better health and lower rates of injury and disability for both men and women

·         Healthy marriages appear to reduce the risk that adults will either be the perpetrator or the victim of a crime

·         Married women appear to have a lower risk of experiencing domestic violence than do cohabitating or dating women (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 25).

 

The other 20 statements on the handout make similar claims that marriage leads to better health and more affluence.  Unfortunately when making these claims, the curriculum is telling only half of a complicated story.  There is no proof that marriage directly causes financial stability or better health.  The authors use an abundance of qualifiers, telling students marriage “seems to build,” “appears to increase,” and “is associated with” these benefits, because they know they cannot prove this.  What they fail to include is a discussion of how these benefits may be linked to other variables besides marriage and how other relationships may generate some of the same benefits.

 

These lessons also set up an unrealistic expectation for young people.  It is simply inaccurate to suggest that married couples won’t experience poverty, crime, depression, injury, disability, or domestic violence.

 

In this handout, the curriculum also specifically targets minorities and students from poor and working class backgrounds with these marriage promotion messages:

 

·         Healthy marriages reduce poverty and material hardships for disadvantaged women and children

·         Healthy marriage and safe and stable family dynamics seems to be associated with better health among minorities and the poor

·         Minorities benefit economically from healthy marriages, and safe and stable families (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 25).

 

This language is reminiscent of Welfare Reform-era and Bush administration policies that hold up marriage as a panacea for poverty and health problems.  Unfortunately these assertions do not match up with the facts.  The National Center for Children in Poverty reports that as many as 49 percent of all low-income children live with married parents.[3]  In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has admitted that there is a dearth of data on marriage-promotion programs focused on low-income populations and that the existing studies did not examine the programs’ effectiveness with respect to child well-being.[4]  The WAIT Training 80/20 Manual also fails to take into account the high rates of domestic violence reported by low income women.  Between 50-60 percent of women receiving welfare assistance have experienced domestic violence as an adult and recent research suggests that those who do not marry may actually be doing so to avoid a lifetime commitment to a dangerous partner.[5]

 

This fact sheet, as well as much of the other information about marriage in the WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, is cited to the Institute for American Values (IAV).  IAV describes itself as a “private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that contributes intellectually to strengthening families and civil society in the U.S. and the world.”[6] Despite this characterization, IAV is actually funded by a number of conservative, Republican foundations and was active in advocating ending California’s same-sex marriage policy.[7] 

 

The authors of the curriculum express a genuine concern for helping young people succeed in their future relationships.  However, stating opinions as fact and citing biased sources is no way to give young people an accurate picture of their relationship options.

 

Messages of Fear and Judgment—Portraying Non-Traditional Families as Troubled

 

While suggesting that marriage will bring health and wealth, the curriculum also implies that the absence of marriage or divorce will inevitably result in negative consequences.  In one lesson, a handout features a chart comparing “Marital Success” to “Marital Failure.”  There are no definitions of these terms and instructors are just told to discuss the material.  Under the “Marital Failure” column a number “results” of marital failure are listed under three sub-headings: Social Health, Children’s Achievement, and Overall Social Impact, (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 26).  They include:

 

Social Health

More Domestic Violence

Greater Overall Violence

Higher Stepparent/Other Sexual Abuse

Higher Rates of Suicide

Children’s Achievement

More Likely to be Expelled

Lower Reading, Spelling, and Math Scores

Overall Social Impact

Higher Risk of Being a Crime Victim

More Teens Carrying Weapons

Higher Risk of Poverty

 

The curriculum’s exaggerated claims are saturated with judgment of families that don’t meet the standard of heterosexual, monogamous marriage.  The authors open the unit saying that “Years ago, many married without the skills to know how to select a partner.  These marriages worked because people were determined to make them work.”  They continue, lamenting the lack of “social supports for marriage,” and stating that this results in “many individuals giv[ing] up, leaving a trail of broken relationships, drama and baggage behind,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 21).  The message to students of divorced or unmarried parents is that their parents didn’t work hard enough and are now overwhelmed by drama and emotional baggage.

 

The WAIT Training 80/20 Manual includes a number of similar messages that level judgment at parents or caregivers in non-traditional families, but the curriculum is unique in its willingness to also instill shame in the children of those families.   In the “Marriage Quiz” handout students are told that “Boys raised in single-parent families are more likely to engage in delinquent and criminal behavior.”  It continues:

 

Teens in both one-parent and remarried homes typically display more deviant behavior and commit more delinquent acts than do teens whose parents stayed married.  Studies show that two married, biological parents have the means and the motivation to appropriately monitor and discipline boys in ways that reduce the likelihood that they will pose a threat to the social order (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 44).

 

It’s unclear what service the authors believe they are doing for young men by telling them that they are a threat to the social order unless properly controlled and disciplined.  This language might be fitting for an infectious disease or wild animal, but is outrageously inappropriate when used to describe young people.  This quote also reveals the rigidity of WAIT Training’s ideas about marriage because it asserts that families with parents that have remarried or parents who adopt or foster children cannot successfully raise boys.

 

While this discussion is aimed at directing the future life choices of young people, many of the students will likely see the implications toward their own family structures. There are many reasons that a student may live in a family that does not match the ideal model espoused by WAIT Training. It is unfair and potentially harmful to suggest to young people—who as children have no control over their current familial situation—that their families are any less valuable than others.

 

Accurate but Incomplete Information: “STDs/STIs”

 

Curriculum Strong Points—Accurate Information

 

The WAIT Training 80/20 Manual’s unit on STDs is a vast improvement over the fear and shame-filled sections in many abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula.  The chart on the most common STDs provides accurate and useful descriptions, as well as information about disease transmission, symptoms, and treatment options.  Lessons in the unit say little about condoms as disease prevention, however, the following unit on contraception does include quite a bit of useful information about condoms.  Students are told that if used consistently and correctly condoms will greatly reduce the risk for STDs, to check for the expiration date on the package, and how to store and open condoms without damaging them. (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 84).

 

STDs—Providing Incomplete and Confusing Information

 

The manual opens its unit on STDs by emphasizing its intention to avoid fear-based messages.  The curriculum states “Our objective is not to associate sex with disease, but rather to associate it with the wonder, delight, thrills and passion that characterize sexual activity within the context of a healthy, committed, connected and loving marriage,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 47).  It’s refreshing to hear an abstinence-only-until-marriage program reject associating sex with disease; unfortunately, the rest of the introduction reinforces the marriage promotion message of the previous section.  Instead of providing sexually active and soon-to-be sexually active students with information about how to protect themselves from STDs when they do have sex, the unit fixates on abstinence-until-marriage as the only option.

 

In the unit’s STD chart, the “how is it prevented?” column lists nearly identical statements for all STDs: “Abstinence from all types of sexual activity and/or mutual monogamy is the only 100 percent way to avoid being infected,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 54).  Condoms and other latex barriers are never mentioned in the five page chart.  This message is echoed in the HIV/AIDS lessons where a fact sheet on the disease includes a paragraph on “preventing transmission” and tells students, “To protect yourself, abstain from sex (do not have oral, anal, or vaginal sex) until you are in a relationship with only one person, are having sex exclusively with each other, and both of you are aware of the other’s HIV status,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 65). 

 

Much of the information about condoms in the WAIT Training 80/20 Manual is part of a handout titled “The Real Story About Condoms” in the contraception unit.  The handout does an adequate job explaining condom effectiveness for STDs and accurately informs students about the types of condoms, spermicide, condom storage, and how to check for damage, (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 84).  Unfortunately, young people who are, or will be, sexually active and are interested in learning the steps to correct condom use, will not find any information here.  Students are told to “use a condom the correct way from start to finish,” but there is no information about what the correct way is.  This is particularly unfortunate as most user error with condoms occurs not because the condom has been stored improperly or is not the right type, but because users fail to put the condom on correctly, use oil based lubrication, or allow it to slip off during sex.[8] 

 

The WAIT Training 80/20 Manual also provides some confusing analogies to young people about condoms use.  One assignment asks students to write essays on the difference between “risk avoidance” and “risk reduction” while highlighting a risky behavior “such as drugs, alcohol, drinking and driving, or teen sex.”  Some of the examples of risk reduction, in addition to condom use,  are “wearing seatbelts while driving and riding in a car” and “washing hands before eating or handling food” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 61).  Risk avoidance for each of these activities would presumably involve never driving or riding in a car or eating.  While the authors are attempting to push risk avoidance strategies, especially when it comes to abstaining from sexual activity, these analogies simply highlight how impractical and unrealistic risk avoidance strategies can be and how important risk reduction is in our day-to-day lives. 

 

WAIT Training should be congratulated for including accurate information, free of fear and attacks on condoms in the STD and contraception sections of this manual.  In that respect, it has far exceeded the standard set by other abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  Still, the authors focus exclusively on abstinence-until-marriage as the only option for youth to prevent STDs and provide incomplete and sometimes confusing information about disease prevention methods besides abstinence.

 

Providing Medical Accuracy, but Discouraging Use: “Contraception”

 

Curriculum Strong Points—Medical Accuracy

 

One strength of the WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, and the Contraception unit in particular, is the medical accuracy of the information provided.  The chart of contraceptive methods includes correct descriptions and information about the advantages, side effects, disadvantages, and effectiveness rates of most methods.  The chart even includes withdrawal (and tells students that “it is better than not using any protection, but it is not very effective”) and Plan B (possibly because its inclusion is required by the new Colorado state law) (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 79-82).  It is particularly exciting to see the curriculum use effectiveness rates for contraception methods as abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have as a rule used failure rates and “typical use” rates to discourage students from using contraception.[9]  SIECUS applauds WAIT Training for providing accurate information on contraception.

 

Promoting One View—Abstinence-Until-Marriage

 

Despite including an entire unit on contraception, the authors are very clear that they don’t believe young people should use contraception until they are married.  The instructions for teachers at the beginning of the unit say:

 

To maintain fidelity to the message of optimal health practices and outcomes this contraception unit can be approached within the context of marriage.  Teachers can frame this unit as information that is best applied to married couples who want to achieve certain goals before having children, (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 77).

 

SIECUS believes in providing young people with information about sexual health, even if they may not use it until later in their adult years.  However, providingthat information with the proscription that young people should not use it until they are married adults is irresponsible.  Moreover, it may provide students with an excuse to not fully absorb this information or practice the use of contraception if and when they are sexually active before marriage. Nearly half of all high school students have had sex and they should be encouraged to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy.[10] 

 

The curriculum is also intensely concerned with avoiding contraceptive demonstrations.  In the introduction to the unit, instructors are told “We strongly urge you to not demonstrate the use of any contraceptives.  Quite often, demonstrations that take place in the classroom across the country are offensive and unnecessary to the student’s ability to understand the message,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 78).  This message follows the same path as the information given about condoms: students are given accurate information about the method, but left without the practical knowledge they need in order to use it correctly. After warning against demonstrations, the authors reinforce their message one more time, saying “Remember, sexual harassment issues apply as much to the classroom as the workplace,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 78).  The message to instructors who may believe in providing young people with the practical knowledge they need to protect themselves is that contraceptive demonstrations are tantamount to sexual harassment. 

 

The curriculum finishes its introduction by making it very clear that despite the information about contraception, sexually active students should be taken aside and encouraged to return to abstinence.  Instructors are told that sexually active students “should be instructed in the use of contraceptives as a form of risk reduction and not protection in a one-on-one setting with a health professional.  Please note that WAIT Training promotes a strategy to empower and enable these sexually active adolescents to move towards a healthy risk avoidance behavioral choice,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 78).  The authors then go on to promote the WAIT Training Medical Cessation Model, which involves personal counseling with the goal of convincing young people to commit to abstinence.

 

It’s somewhat encouraging that WAIT Training acknowledges the importance of providing risk reduction education to sexually active students; however, it’s not clear how instructors are supposed to identify these students.  It seems unlikely that students would disclose this information after being told that they are more likely to end up in failed relationships with delinquent children and any attempt to identify them would clearly be stigmatizing.  It also seems impractical to identify and then send nearly half of a high school class to the school nurse or other health professional for one-on-one counseling.  In the end, it’s clear that instructors are supposed to emphasize abstinence-until-marriage as the only life choice for students. 

 

Reverting to Negative Messages: “Reality Check”

 

While the WAIT Training 80/20 Manual provides accurate information free of fear and shame in some units, in the final unit, Reality Check, the authors revert to activities and exercises full of negative messages.

 

Messages of Fear and Shame—Trying To Scare and Instill Guilt in Students

 

The unit opens by reminding instructors that the following lessons should “[create] reasons to delay sexual activity that go beyond reducing unintended pregnancy or disease.”  And the authors enumerate exactly what those reasons are when they write:

 

What many health professionals and youth-serving personnel do not understand is that even if a sexually active adolescent does not get pregnant or a disease, many times they do get emotionally wounded and confused by the higher level of intensity and emotionally attachment that occurs when sex becomes part of a relationship, (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 89-90).

 

In addition to emphasizing the negative consequences of premarital sexual activity, the WAIT Training 80/20 Manual also utilizes a variety of tactics to suggest that teens should feel guilty, embarrassed, and repulsed by sexual behavior.

 

Messages of shame are effectively dramatized in an exercise called “Spit in a Cup.”  The teacher asks seven volunteers to line up side-by-side at the front of the class.  Each volunteer is holding a sign with an STD written on it (HPV, Chlamydia, Herpes, HIV/AIDS, Gonorrhea, Syphilis), except the last person in line who holds a sign reading “Virgin.”  The teacher then gives a cup to the first person in line and asks them to spit in it and pass it down for the next person to spit in it.  When the cup gets to the person with the “Virgin” sign the teacher is supposed to tell that person to drink it, but stop them if they actually try to.  The teacher concludes the activity by saying “Now isn’t he smart?  This is like what you put into your body when you have sex with someone whose sexual history is unknown to you,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 86).  This lesson is at the end of the Contraception unit even though it focuses on STDs.  And while it’s important to encourage students to communicate with their partners about their sexual history, this lesson takes the inappropriate step of comparing sexual activity to drinking a cup full of spit.

 

In a similar activity the teacher is supposed to open a bottle of water, take a long drink and then offer the bottle to a student.  The student is expected to reject the bottle and the teacher then leads a discussion about why they would want a new bottle.  The students answers are supposed to include “terms like ‘gross,’ ‘germs,’ ‘backwash,’ etc,” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 111).  Comparing sexually active young people to backwash and spit sends a clear message that they are no longer clean and therefore less valuable. 

 

Another lesson, “How Valuable is This?” instructs the teacher to ask students if they would like a crisp, new $20 bill.  The teacher is then supposed to wad the bill up and stomp on it and ask again if anyone wants it.  After stomping, they are told to accidentally spill soup or soda on it and ask again.  Finally, the teacher is supposed to pretend to sneeze into the bill and ask once more if any students want it.  The curriculum tells the teacher to “discuss how just because it has been treated poorly, abused and worked over, it hasn’t lost its value.  Twenty dollars is still $20, even though it’s ‘been around’” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 109). 

 

SIECUS has criticized WAIT Training and other curricula for similar messages in the past.  For example, a number of curricula include an exercise in which the teacher passes around a rose and peels petals off to represent premarital sexual activity.  The end result, a rose with no petals, is said to have no value.  Similar exercises have young people tearing off pieces of a paper heart.  We strongly objected to the suggestion that sexually active young people are torn up, no longer beautiful, and worthless. Perhaps in response to this criticism, the authors chose to use money and to point out that its intrinsic value remains despite the fact that it is no longer appealing.  This is a feeble attempt to fix the horrific messages of such an exercise.  Young people who have sex are not the equivalent of a battered, stepped on, sneezed on, twenty dollar bill. It is inappropriate to suggest that these adolescents are less worthy of our love and respect than their abstinent peers.

 

Although experiential exercises can be beneficial to students, rather than building critical thinking and negotiation skills, exercises such as these simply serve to reinforce negative message about sexuality.

 

Failing to Edit: Errors and Confusion

 

Like the other leading organizations that produce abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula, WAIT Training tends to create materials that look polished and seem thoroughly prepared.  The four websites the organization runs are a good example of this as well.  Unfortunately, a reading of the WAIT Training 80/20 Manual reveals a number of errors and some confusing activities that are hard to overlook.

 

Two of the more glaring and confusing errors appear in a quiz in the Reality Check unit.  The quiz, ironically titled “Clarifying the Confusion,” lists behaviors and asks students to choose the corresponding outcome for that behavior from a choice of four answers.  For the behavior “Longer time between sexual partners” the answer key indicates that “Increases chance of STDs/STIs” is the correct outcome (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 102).  In fact, the opposite is true and the curriculum even says so five pages earlier, explaining that “Increasing the time between sexual partners (weeks, months, years) can reduce the chance of STDs/STIs to some extent because a person may notice an infection and be able to treat it prior to sexual activity” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 97).  The same handout and quiz also tells students that the “using contraceptives the way an adolescent generally describes using them… increases the chance of pregnancy” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 96, 101).  This is also false, as using contraceptives—even if not correctly and consistently every time—still reduces the chance of pregnancy.  In fact, the WAIT Training 80/20 Manual tells students that “typical failure rates of contraceptives used by teens range from 15 percent for condoms and 8 percent for birth control pills and less than 1 percent for the IUD” (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 96).  Compared to 85 percent of women who experience a pregnancy after one year of using no birth control method, these all seem like drastic reductions in risk.[11]  With errors like this, it’s hard to imagine this handout clarifying students’ confusion over STD or pregnancy risk.

 

In another exercise the curriculum relies on faulty math to dramatically exaggerate the number of partners someone might be exposed to based on how many people they have had sex with.  The activity, “I Only Had Sex One Time,” opens with the teacher asking students “if a person has only had one sexual partner, how many people have they been exposed to for potentially getting a STD?”  The answer given is one.  The teacher then asks students to “think about what if that person then had sex with a second person, who also had sex once before.  Now how many potential people has that person been exposed to?”  The answer is three “because they’ve now been exposed to their first partner, their second partner, and their second partner’s first partner.”  The teacher continues, telling students that if they “have sex with a third partner who has also had sex with two partners previously” then their number jumps to seven (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 107).  It’s at this point that the WAIT Training 80/20 Manual’s math becomes problematic. In this scenario, the person in question has had sex with two people and been exposed to total of three people.  When they then decide to have sex with a third person, who has also had two previous partners, that adds three more exposures.  Adding these three new exposures to the three old ones gives a total of six exposures, not seven. 


This may seem like a small discrepancy, but as the activity continues the math seems to get worse and worse. The authors stop following their own formula and SIECUS was unable to figure out any mathematical formula that would yield the results they report. The curriculum uses a bar graph to represent the number of people someone has been exposed to based on that person’s number of partners (the assumption being that each partner has the same number of partners as the person in question).  The bar graph tells students that if they’ve had four sexual partners, then they’ve been exposed to 15 people, even though the formula they lay out in the handout only yields an exposure to 10 people, six from their previous partners and the four new ones.  The bar graph continues saying that five partners equals 31 exposures, six partners equals 63, seven partners equals 127, eight partners equals 225, and nine partners equals 511, (WAIT Training 80/20 Manual, p. 108).  In fact, five partners would equal 15, six partners would equal 21, seven partners would equal 28, eight partners would equal 36, and nine partners would equal 45.  While the difference between six and seven may seem inconsequential, the gulf between the curriculum’s numbers and reality grows to the point that with nine partners the curriculum tells students they will have been exposed to 11 times more people than they would actually be exposed to.  This is a particularly glaring inaccuracy, especially because the effect is to dramatize and inflate the consequences of sexual activity.

 

While it seems the authors were careful to fact check the sections on STDs and contraception, they failed to catch a number of conspicuous errors in other parts of the curriculum.  Overall, the curriculum feels rushed to publication and poorly edited.  If WAIT Training is interested in retaining credibility with students, instructors, and parents, it should be very concerned about these errors.

 

Conclusion

 

SIECUS originally reviewed WAIT Training: Learn How to Have the BEST Sex…by waiting till marriage and found its strict focus on abstinence until marriage, biased and incomplete information, and reliance on messages of fear and shame to make it inappropriate for schools.  We’re pleased to find that some of the information here has changed for the better.  The WAIT Training 80/20 Manual is free of many of the gender stereotypes present in the original curriculum and has corrected some medical inaccuracies as well.  We criticized the WAIT Training curriculum for listing “mutual masturbation” and “French kissing” as “at risk” activities for HIV transmission and this new supplemental program no longer includes these errors. 

 

In fact, we applaud WAIT Training’s attempt to create a more comprehensive sexuality education program, especially its inclusion of medically accurate information on STDs and contraception.  Nonetheless, despite being marketed as a supplement that will bring an abstinence-only-until-marriage program into compliance with comprehensive sex education legislation, this is still an abstinence-only-until-marriage program.  It still focuses exclusively on marriage, alienates sexually active and LGBTQ students, and relies on fear and shame.

 

Effective sexuality education programs provide accurate information in an unbiased manner and encourage students to think critically in order to define their own values and beliefs regarding sexuality. Ultimately, the WAIT Training 80/20 Manual falls far short of helping young people develop the skills and knowledge they need to become sexually healthy adults.

 

 



[1] See Colorado Statutes 22-25-104, 22-25-106, 22-25-110 and 25-4-1405.

[2] Danice K. Eaton, et. al., “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2007,” Surveillance Summaries, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 57, no.SS-04, June 6, 2008, pp. 1-131, accessed at: <www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dash/yrbs/>;

[3] Ayana Douglas-Hall et. al., Basic Facts About Low-Income Children: Birth to Age 18 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Children in Poverty, September 2006), accessed 23 September 2009, <www.nccp.org/publications/pub_678.html>.

[4] Jane Reardon-Anderson et. al., Systematic Review of the Impact of Marriage and Relationship Programs (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 19 September 2006).

[5] Sara McLanahan and Marcia Carlson, “Welfare Reform, Fertility, & Father Involvement (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2001); Violence Against Welfare Recipients: Domestic and Sexual Violence,

(Washington, D.C.: Legal Momentum, 2007). 

[6] Institute for American Values At a Glance, Institute for American Values (2009), accessed 23 September 2009, <www.americanvalues.org/html/institute_at_a_glance.html>; David Blankenhorn, “Protecting Marriage to Protect Children,” Los Angeles Times, 19 September 2008, accessed 23 September 2009,  <http://articles.latimes.com/2008/sep/19/opinion/oe-blankenhorn19>.

[7] Jon B. Eisenberg, “The truth about that ‘liberal’ against gay marriage,” Salon.com, 2 October 2008, accessed 23 September 2009, <www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2008/10/02/blankenhorn/>.

[8] Crosby, DiClemente, Yarber, Snow, and Troutman, “An Event Specific Analysis of Condom Breakage Among African American Men at Risk of HIV Acquisition,” Sexually Transmitted Diseases 35 (2008), 147-177.

[9] “Typical use” rates for contraception effectiveness are calculated by looking at 100 couples who use the method as their primary method of birth control over the course of a year.  If 15 couples experience an unintended pregnancy during that year than the typical use failure rate for that method is 15 percent.  However, studies show that defects in contraceptive products are extremely rare and most contraceptive failure is due to user error or failure to use the device.

[10] Danice K. Eaton, et. al., “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2007.”

[11] R. A. Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology, 19th revised Edition (New York: Ardent Media, Inc., 2008).