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Scared Chaste: How Fear-Based, Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Curricula Try to Control Young People’s Sexual Behavior by Instilling Fear, Shame, and Guilt
Abstinence is an integral part of any comprehensive sexuality education program. SIECUS’ Guidelines for Sexuality Education; K—12 suggest that students be told that abstinence from sexual intercourse is the most effective method of preventing pregnancy and STDs, including HIV. The Guidelines include a number of age-appropriate messages about abstinence for students such as: “Young teenagers are not mature enough for a sexual relationship that includes intercourse”; “Abstinence from intercourse has benefits for teenagers”; and “Teenagers in romantic relationships can express their feelings without engaging in sexual intercourse.”
Instead of presenting this kind of balanced, complete picture of abstinence and sexual activity, fear-based, abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula put forth exaggerated messages about both the benefits of abstinence and the inevitable dangers of sexual activity. They go on to suggest that teens who are sexually active have low self-esteems, questionable values, and are permanently damaged. Oddly enough, after telling young people that sex is inevitably harmful, these programs suggest that sexual arousal is an uncontrollable force like a train that cannot be stopped once it gets up some speed. 
The result is that students are instilled with fear and misunderstandings about sexual activity, shame over their own desires and behaviors, and a dangerous sense that “sex just kind of happens.”
Inevitable Harm
  • No one has ever had sex with more than one partner and not paid.” (Pam Stenzel, Sex Still Has a Price Tag)
  •  The negative consequences of premarital sex include: “pregnancy, financial aspect of fatherhood, abortion, HIV/AIDS, STDs, guilt rejection, loss of reputation, inability to bond in the future, challenge to not compare future sexual partners, alienation from friends and family, poverty and the inability to complete school.” (FACTS Middle School, Teacher’s Edition, p. 110)
  • “But did you know that sexual activity outside of the commitment of marriage could put YOUR FUTURE at risk?” (Heritage Keepers, Teacher Manual, unnumbered page)
  • “These are simply natural consequences. For example, if you eat spoiled food, you will get sick. If you jump from a tall building, you will be hurt or killed. If you spend more money than you make, your enslavement to debt affects you and those whom you love. If you have sex outside of marriage, there are consequences for you, your partner and society.” (Sex Respect, Student Workbook, p. 11)
  • It can be easy not to think about these things and just hope they don’t happen to you. But think about this, if I walk in front of a truck hoping I won’t get hit, not thinking about getting hit, can I still get hit?  This is the same as sex outside of marriage…” (HIS, Teacher’s Manual, p. 40).
  •  “WARNING! Going on this ride could change your life forever, result in poverty, heartache, disease, and even DEATH.” It goes on to say that many “will board this ride and come out losers.” (Why kNOw?, 6th grade, p. 26)
  • “Teenage sexual activity can create a multitude of medical, legal, and economic problems not only for the individuals having sex but for society as a whole.” (Worth the Wait, Section 6-20.3)
Students are told in no uncertain terms that if they have sex outside of marriage, they will suffer physically, emotionally, and socially. There is no evidence that premarital sex is responsible for everything from alienation to an inability to bond. The reality is that the majority of people have had sexual relationships outside of marriage and negative repercussions are far from inevitable. This focus on the consequences and pain of premarital sexual behavior is clearly designed to scare students rather than educate them.
Good People vs. Bad
  •  “Sexual activity also can lead to the trashing of a person’s reputation, resulting in the loss of friends.” (Choosing the Best PATH, Leader Guide, pg. 7)
  •  “You know people talk about you behind your back because you’ve had sex with so many people. It so empty too (sic). Finally you get sick of it all and attempt suicide.” (FACTS Middle School, Teacher’s Edition, Appendix, p. 98)
  • “Teens who choose abstinence are probably more likely to control themselves and make good decisions in other areas because they have demonstrated self-control by not getting involved sexually. They have developed a good habit by being abstinent and have shown how they are committed to their goals and dreams.” (Game Plan, p.73)
  • Opposites never attract when it comes to character—you will get exactly what you are.” (Pam Stenzel, Sex Still Has a Price Tag)
  • “Even if you’ve been sexually active, it’s never too late to say no. You can’t go back, but you can go forward. You might feel guilty or untrustworthy, but you can start over again.” (Game Plan, p. 45)
  • “Many men and women still prefer to marry virgins, so you don’t want to lose out on a future with someone special just because you didn’t say ‘no’ to premarital sex.” (Sex Respect, Student Workbook, p. 73)
  • “I said young man, the next time your friends start to tease you because you’re saving yourself for your wife I want you to look at your friends and I want you to say this ‘Any day, tonight, I could choose to be like you but you will NEVER again be like me.’” (Pam Stenzel, Sex Still Has a Price Tag)
Messages such as these create an underlying dichotomy between abstinent teens who have self-control, dignity, and can enjoy a healthy life, and their sexually active peers who are selfish, damaged, and unlikely to succeed. It is important to remember that almost half of all high school students report having engaged in sexual intercourse. It is inappropriate for an education program to suggest that these teens are unattractive marriage partners; face a bleak future; lack self-control, self-respect, and values; or that they are less worthy of love, trust, and respect.

Uncontrollable Force
  • “Getting involved in a physical relationship with someone can be like the pot of boiling water. First, you start kissing and then hands start roaming and then, oops! Sex just kind of happens!” (Worth the Wait, Section 2-26)
  • “Sex is any activity that causes genital arousal. One stage will eventually lead to another.” (Why kNOw?, 8th grade and high school, p. 108)
  • Scientists discovered that if they put a frog in a bucket of hot water, it would jump out immediately. But if they put the frog in a bucket of cool water and heated the water slowly, they could cook the frog. The frog could never decide at what precise point the water became too hot. Like the frog, many are never able to decide at what point to get out of a hot situation. So stop at the beginning of arousal, before the desire for pleasure or lust takes over. (Sex Respect, Teacher Manual, p. 48)
  • "But how do you stop? The feelings that have been stirred up do not just go away. Some make suggestions to release the physical tension, like masturbation, but thoughts are still focused on pleasing self, not the person you plan to commit to later” (HIS, Teacher’s Manual, p. 56).
  • “The farther you go physically, the more difficult it is to stop and say no to having sex.” (Navigator, workbook, p.73)
  • “Before Alan and Susie knew what had happened, they had sexual intercourse, because there was nothing left to satisfy their desires. Soon their relationship grew bitter, and they broke up, each feeling used, insufficient, and empty.” (Choosing the Best PATH, Leader Guide, p. 35)
This is perhaps the most dangerous message teens can be given about sexual activity: by suggesting that teens have no control over their actions these programs are actually discouraging students from making wise sexual decisions and taking responsibility for their actions. Young people need to know that at any point in a relationship, and at any point during sexual activity, they have the right and the ability to set their own sexual boundaries and that it is their responsibility to do so.

Curricula Referenced
 Speakers Referenced:
  • Pam Stenzel, Sex Still Has a Price Tag, A Fear-Based Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Presentation for High School Students, 2006. For more information see SIECUS's review of Pam Stenzel at <>