Mike Long has made a career of traveling from school to school providing abstinence-only-until-marriage assemblies and presentations. The influx of federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding has meant that more schools are able to pay for these kinds of services (or receive them for free as a part of grants received by local community-based organizations or churches), and Long and his peers have been very popular in recent years. There is much to suggest that there is now a network of abstinence-only-until-marriage speakers that help promote each other’s work and materials.
Long describes himself as “one of America’s Abstinence Education pioneers” and claims that since 1985 he has “traveled to 46 states, trained over 50,000 educators, and spoken to over 1 million teenagers.” Long’s promotional materials also say that “he has been a national leader in the abstinence education movement politically” and is frequently sought out by the media. His website suggests: “He is an ideal speaker for parent conferences, Crisis Pregnancy Center banquets, teen assemblies, and youth rallies. If it’s a secular abstinence program from a health perspective you need (Title V) in your public school or home school, Mike Long will put you on the right track. If it’s a faith based youth speaker for your parochial school or church youth group, Mike is well prepared to answer the call!”
Long offers a three-day visit to an area during which he will conduct in-service trainings for teachers, school assemblies for young people, and a community awareness program after which “School board members, administrators, clergy, community leaders, and concerned parents are always convinced that this directive educational strategy is exactly what needs to be taught to teens.” His website describes these three-day visits as “one of the most productive uses of the Title V Abstinence Education Grants and Drug/Alcohol Grants.”
In addition to in-person presentations, Long also offer videos/DVDs and books. SIECUS did not attend one of Mr. Long’s presentations. Instead, our review is based on his DVD series, “Everyone is NOT Doing It,” and his book for teenagers of the same name. SIECUS reviewed the updated 2004 version of the DVDs which had originally been released in 1997. Long’s website suggests that “the 21st century edition contains all the newest and innovative video technologies designed to hold teenagers’ attention.” In truth, the video contains very little in the way of technology—it includes videoed segments of a presentation to a large teenage audience, man-on-the-street interviews with young people who believe in abstinence-until-marriage, in-depth interviews with two young abstinence-only-until-marriage speakers, and occasional additional taped segments in which Long addresses his DVD-viewing audience directly. Apart from a few low-resolution graphics that flash onto the screen and some stylized camera work during a few of the interviews, the video contains little in the way of technology and seems unlikely to hold young people’s attention.
Long’s presentation itself uses no technology. In the taped presentation, Long, clad in a striped-green-tee-shirt and jeans walks a stage that is empty except for a music stand of materials that he reads. His presentation style falls somewhere between that of an infomercial spokesperson and a televangelist. While he seems anxious to be thought of as a friend who has listened to thousands of teens and understands them, he addresses his audience as “teenager” and speaks in a condescending tone. And, despite the fact that he spends a great deal of time discussing the influence of the media, he includes no up-to-date cultural references and uses terms like “petting” and situations like hanging out at a car wash that seem unlikely to appeal to today’s teens.
Long argues that sexuality education has failed in the past. “A number of teenagers have told me that sex education programs in their school sometimes encourage them to be sexually active…These teens are right! Some sex ed programs do send a mixed message to young people. And others go even further. They actually teach middle school and high school students how to have sex and encourage them to engage in sexual behavior as long as they do it ‘safely.’” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 11) This is a highly biased and inaccurate description of sexuality education. No legitimate sex education program would encourage young people to have sex or teach them “how to do it.” Instead, comprehensive sexuality education is designed to provide young people with information and help them develop the critical thinking skills they need to make responsible decisions now and in the future.
Long’s argument that providing young people with information about condoms sends a mixed message, not only discredits teens—who make difficult decisions on a daily basis—but also ignores the research. Research shows that programs that tell young people about both abstinence and contraception help them delay sexual intercourse, have fewer partners, and use condoms and contraception more when they become sexually active.
Still, Long argues that this kind of sexuality education is dangerous and that young people want and need adults to tell them what is right and wrong, “especially regarding sex.” He refers to his brand of education as “directive” and says that it works and that it sells. In an op-ed piece on his website, Long suggests that principals are reluctant to bring abstinence speakers because “you used the word abstinence, you are often immediately labeled as right-wing, religious, and unrealistic. You often find yourself from that point on talking to a brick wall!” But the term directive education goes over better and can be described by saying “Well, let me tell you what he’s not going to do. He’s not going to lecture kids. He’s not going to preach to them. He’s not going to tell them to ‘Just say NO!’ He’s going to get on a teenager’s level and direct them how to make responsible, healthy decisions in life that will build their character, build responsibility, build maturity, build discipline, and completely free them from life-scarring consequences.”
Unfortunately, Long does just what he says he won’t do—he lectures and preaches and tells young people in no uncertain terms that premarital sex is morally wrong. This approach presents two clear issues. First, it clearly disregards young peoples’ ability to make decisions for themselves and, instead, mandates decisions for them. In fact, in some discussions (such as those around sexual arousal) Long argues that young people are incapable of making good decisions and in others he suggests that they don’t have the right to do so. Arguing that the consequences of premarital sex such as STDs and unintended pregnancies affect many people, he suggests “…it isn’t really fair for teenagers to think they have a right to decide whether or not to have sex.” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 22) While young people should be encouraged to evaluate their behavior based on how it will impact other people as well as themselves, suggesting that they have no right to make decisions is ridiculous.
Directive education as Long practices it is also problematic because it refuses to acknowledge that we live in a pluralistic society where there are a variety of valid opinions “especially regarding sex.” Long, instead, presents one set of opinions as fact and does not allow for anyone in his audience (whether young person or adult) to question his suppositions. He claims that, “There is a moral side to sex. Hey, it makes no difference what religious affiliation a person is or whether or not a person is even religiously affiliated. On the moral side of human sexuality I’m dealing with right and wrong.” And, in advice to young people struggling to make a decision about abstinence he suggests that they remind themselves, “It’s wrong to have sex before marriage.” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 47)
One could certainly argue that sexuality has a moral component and even that there are moral absolutes when it comes to sexual behavior such as never forcing a person to engage in any behavior without their consent. In a society in which 63 percent of high school seniors and 80 percent of college students 18 to 24 have engaged in sexual intercourse and 11 million Americans report living with a partner outside of matrimony it is hard to argue that premarital sex as wrong is one of these moral absolutes.
Relying On Negative Messages
Unrealistic Expectations—Crediting Abstinence with Future Happiness
Long and the young people in his video credit abstinence before marriage with benefits including future happiness, success in your career, and an adultery-free marriage. Many of these benefits read simply as the opposite of, or lack of, the consequences of premarital sex that are detailed throughout the video. For example, you don’t have any worries about pregnancy or STDs. Others include not having to take “emotional baggage” such as memories of past sexual experiences to your marriage. Some of the young people interviewed in the video suggest additional benefits such as feeling that sex will actually be special when it happens, feeling like a better person, and the ability to give your husband the gift of your virginity: “Your virginity is the only thing that is truly yours that you can give him.” (One former teen mom explains that her biggest regret in her life is that she was not able to give her husband this gift.)
Long suggests that if they choose abstinence teens can “be a teenager” and have a “happy, healthy, more fulfilled life—pursue what you want to do, be what you want to be….” After explaining that the physical, emotional, and social consequences of sex outside of marriage include pregnancy, STDs, and a broken heart, Long tells young people, “Here’s the bottom line, if you have not had sex at this point in your life, you choose not to have sex until you get married, and you remain faithful to your spouse… Guess what? You do not have to worry about any of this stuff.” While this is a nice sentiment, it is not based in fact. Many married couples, for example, experience an unintended pregnancy. Moreover, marriage is not a permanent guard against hurt feelings or a broken heart.
Again, these are nice sentiments but they are not based in fact. Even couples who have decided to save sex for marriage may experience sexual problems after their wedding. And, abstinence before marriage does not guarantee that a couple will not get divorced.
SIECUS’ Guidelines for Comprehensive 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.”
Long should be applauded for taking a positive approach to teaching young people about abstinence. However, by crediting abstinence with all life’s future successes, he is instilling young people with unrealistic expectations.
Messages of Fear—Portraying Premarital Sex as Harmful
Despite attempting to take a positive approach to teaching about abstinence, Mike Long devotes a good deal of his presentation and book to detailing the potential consequences of sexual activity outside of marriage. He suggests that “if necessary” young people making a decision about sex could “make a list of the potential consequences and determine whether you would like to live with pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, the emotional shock, the hurt to your parents, and how the knowledge of your behavior might affect your reputation at school and among your friends.”
Long uses stories from teen mothers in the form of both letters he reads on stage and video interviews to explain the problems with teen pregnancy. One story presents a worst case scenario of a young woman who has two children and lives on welfare with her boyfriend whom she loves even though he “knocks her around” sometimes. Instead, of looking into the numerous emotional and social issues this story brings up, Long simply tells his audience that this young woman is beyond help and implies that her decision to have sex led her down this inevitable path of despair.
Long does little to elaborate on the specific threats of STDs (see the STD section for more detail) but he does frequently refer to them as life-scarring consequences. He suggests that “To avoid these threatening diseases, sensible teenagers decide to abstain from sex until marriage and marry someone who’s made the same intelligent decision.” And, he calls teens who have not made this decision “unthinking youngsters.” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 39)
Long spends more time discussing less tangible consequences of premarital sex. He suggests that movies are inaccurate, in part, because “…you never see the pain, the humiliation, the frustration, the embarrassment that too often come with sex between teenagers who aren’t ready for the experience and the emotional consequences.” And, he bets his audience that someone in their school had sex over the weekend and everyone learned about it first thing Monday morning. He explains, “What we learn from that is that even today, reputations are still alive and well and when it comes to sex most teenagers are very concerned about what their friends think about them.”
Perhaps his most alarmist suggestion, however, comes when he gives this advice to young people dealing with peer pressure to become sexually active “Ask yourself this question. If everyone in the group was playing Russian roulette with a loaded pistol, would you play too?” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 39)
Messages of Shame—Creating a Dichotomy between “Good” and “Bad” People
After telling young people that premarital sex has inevitable, life-scarring consequences, Long looks at his audience and says “Now I know that the vast majority of you in here right now can sit back and go phew and feel great about yourself and proud about what you are and who you are.” In that moment, Long divides his audience into those who are virgins, who should feel great about themselves, and those who have had sex, who should not.
He tells young people that “If you’re the kind of person who is in the habit of working for long-term goals, then the chances are better that you’ll also be mature enough to postpone sex to ensure a bright and untroubled future.” He suggests that if you choose not to have sex “people will respect you more,” “you will have higher self-esteem,” and “you will be an influence on your peers.” The flip side of this, however, is that young people who have had sex or will choose to do so before they are married are not aiming toward long-term goals, will not have a bright or untroubled future, have low self-esteem, do not deserve respect, and are a bad influence on their peers. Long underscores this idea that abstinent young people are better than their peers when he explains what peers who tease “[you] because you choose abstinence” really think: “…you know how when we go to bed at night we think back on the events of the day, I promise that person is going to wonder what you’ve got that they don’t have.”
Throughout his presentation Mike Long tells his teenage audience that premarital sex is morally wrong and seems to suggest that virginity is the ultimate indicator of moral character. In his book, Long warns young people that if they choose to have sex they may no longer be marriage material: “You never know whom you’ll want to marry. The odds are overwhelming that it won’t be the person you’re dating now. Maybe that man or woman will regard virginity as an important indicator of character, and maybe, if you’ve been sexually active, he or she will find out. (If you’ve been pregnant or had a sexually transmitted disease, your chances of marrying such a person may be even slimmer.) (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 28)
Long’s opinion that premarital sex is morally wrong becomes even more evident as he equates sex to other behaviors that are morally unacceptable. He suggests that young people wouldn’t steal because they’d fear that everyone would know. He then suggests that the decision to stop having sex after you’ve lost your virginity would be similar to cooling down instead of punching somebody out or studying for a test instead of cheating. In one taped interview included in Long’s video, a young abstinence-only-until-marriage speaker compares young people who might be considering “renewed virginity” to recovering alcoholics and drug addicts: “You would never tell an alcoholic you know they can’t become sober, you know there’s AA out there… you would never tell a drug addict that it’s too late for them to become clean.” While this is meant to motivational, it simply serves to underscore the idea that young people who have had sex have done something wrong.
We have to remember that almost 50 percent of high school students and 63 percent of high school seniors have had sexual intercourse. It is never acceptable to tell these teens that they are less worthy of our trust or respect than their abstinent peers.
Neither Mike Long’s video presentation nor the accompanying bookcontains any information about topics related to sexuality such as puberty, reproduction, or contraception. In fact, unlike many abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, these materials contain almost no information on the topics of STDs and condoms. The little information that is scattered throughout the presentation and the book is incomplete, often distorted, and likely to leave young people more confused.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases—Misleading Students
In the video, Long uses a few brief interviews with Dr. Hale Stephenson, an obstetrician/gynecologist to talk to young people about STDs. Dr. Stephenson launches into a list of the possible sexually transmitted diseases young people can get. He does not elaborate on any of these STDs other than to say that it is possible to contract an STD through intimate contact other than intercourse such as oral sex. He goes on to give a rather graphic description of gonorrhea of the throat. He tells young people that if they have oral sex while infected they can infect their partners. He does not, however, tell young people what symptoms they should look out for, how they can seek testing for this disease, or that gonorrhea is curable with antibiotics.
In the book, Long gives a few more details about gonorrhea and other STDs. He describes gonorrhea, for example, by saying “this highly painful disease is all too common among teenagers and can affect your throat, your joints, and other portions of your body, as well as your sexual organs.” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 39) This is the only information about gonorrhea included in the book. Gonorrhea is caused by a bacteria and most often infects the cervix and urethra in women and the urethra in men. Telling young people that it can affect their joints and other portions of their body is not particularly useful if the goal is to help them gain an understanding of how gonorrhea is transmitted, how it is prevented, the early symptoms of the disease, and that it is curable with antibiotics.
The book then mentions syphilis by saying, “Over one million teenagers (ages 15-18) were infected last year with this dangerous and potentially fatal disease, which can eventually drive you insane.” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 39). Like gonorrhea, syphilis is a curable STD. While at one point in the distant past, people did go insane and die of syphilis, with today’s modern medicine this is quite rare. This snip-it of information seems designed to scare young people rather than inform them and is likely to leave them confused.
The last STD mentioned in the book is human papillomavirus (HPV), however it is not mentioned by name. Instead, Long simply writes, “Genital warts are transmitted from skin to skin, so condoms don’t offer any protection. These growths are a leading cause of cervical cancer among women.” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 39) This is not only misleading but inaccurate. HPV is transmitted through skin to skin contact and can cause either genital warts or cervical cancer. Genital warts, however, do not lead to cervical cancer as different strains of the virus are responsible for one or the other. Moreover, most cases of HPV resolve spontaneously without causing either. And, the most recent research suggests that condoms can reduce the risk of HPV and its related consequences.
On-stage, Long frequently refers to STDs as a life-scarring consequence of pre-marital sexual activity but does not provide any information about them except to say; “The number one problem when it comes to AIDS or other STDs is the dormancy problem. We don’t know how many teenagers right now are carrying a sexually transmitted disease because they don’t know they’ve got it.” Long is likely imprecisely substituting the phrase dormant for asymptomatic. While this could be important information, it is tossed out with little explanation and therefore not particularly useful.
Condoms and Contraception—Discouraging Use
While many fear-based abstinence-only-until-marriage programs devote inordinate amounts of time to undermining young people’s faith in condoms, Mike Long merely touches briefly on this method of contraception in his on-stage performance. The book includes slightly more information. Both rely on inaccurate information, exaggerated statistics, and illogical assumptions designed to undermine young people’s faith in this method of pregnancy and disease prevention.
In the book, Long explains that “The pregnancy rate among teenage girls whose partners use condoms is 16%-18%. What exactly does this mean? It means that, during a one-year period, 16 of every 100 sexually active girls who depend on condoms to prevent pregnancy will get pregnant anyway.” While his statistics are accurate his explanation of what they mean is missing an important step. It is true that approximately 16 of 100 girls who name condoms as their primary form of birth control will get pregnant over the course of a year. What Long does not explain, is that during the act of sexual intercourse that led to this pregnancy, these girls may very well have been using a condom incorrectly or not using one at all.
Nonetheless he goes on to ask young people: “Would you fly on an airline if you knew that 16 of 100 planes they send up will crash within a year.” This is an unfair analogy as it suggests that pregnancies were caused by a failure of the condom and not failure on the part of the user. In truth, method failure of the male condom is rare occurring less than 2% of time.
Mike Long, however, wants his audience and readers to believe otherwise. In fact, in his book, he says “Condoms don’t effectively prevent the spread of AIDS.” In truth, research has shown that condoms are highly effective in preventing the spread of HIV. One study concluded that in terms of HIV prevention, using a condom was 10,000 times safer than not using a condom. (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 34)
Long’s brief treatment of condoms seems to be based on the illogical assumption that if young people believe that condoms do not work, they will abstain from sexual intercourse. There is no reason to think that this is true. Such inaccurate information about condoms may instead discourage teens from using this important prevention method when they do become sexually active thereby putting them at increased risk for unintended pregnancy and STDs, including HIV.
Despite this, Long goes on to suggest that sexually active teens do not have the moral fortitude to be responsible: “If you break society’s rules about having sex outside of marriage, you’ll probably find it even easier to ignore warnings about using a condom.” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 35)
Mike Long tells his teenage audience that he believes in their generation and trusts them to make the “right” decision. Helping young people develop the critical thinking skills they need to make a lifetime of good decisions ought to be one of the goals of any education program. This, however, is not what Long is actually doing. Instead of helping young people evaluate their own values and the values of their families and communities, Long is telling them what is right and wrong and exactly how they should live their lives.
The Red Zone—Portraying Sexual Arousal as a Force Out of Control
When discussing sexual arousal, Long clearly tells his audience that they are incapable of making good decisions. He explains that there are stages of sexual arousal. The first stage is simply being together and that is no big deal. The second stage is physical contact like holding hands or putting an arm around each other which is also no big deal. The third stage is light kissing such as a peck on the cheek. This stage is also no big deal because, as Long explains, if you went to the mall with someone one day and this is all you did, you would consider yourself friends with this person and wouldn’t be upset were you to see them with someone else doing the same type of thing the next day.
Any further, however, and you have entered what Long calls, in an acknowledged sports metaphor, the Red Zone. “Yep, you’re at the 20 yard line and the offense is getting ready to score. Alright, now that means that in the red zone, the defense has to be at its best.” This image of sex as a competitive sport in which one person is trying to “score” or “win” and the other has to “play defense” is a terrible way for young people to think about intimate relationships. Young people should be encouraged to view sexual relationships as partnerships in which people share responsibility, communicate about what they want, and make joint decisions.
Long, however, does not trust his audience to be able to handle this mature view of relationships and in fact, tells them that they will be unable to make good decisions. As he explains it, when “a simple kiss goes to a more deep and involved kiss,” the “same thing is happening to you that alcohol and drugs do.” Sexual arousal, according to Long, lowers your ability to make good decisions. If, for example, teenagers engage in petting, or as he likes to say “touching of the private parts whether inside or outside of the clothes,” their ability to make good decisions will be down and their drive for pleasure will be up. He then point to his head and says “that’s why this isn’t thinking straight anymore, feelings are thinking for you, and it progresses to the next stage.”
Long goes on to give young people the following advice: “How far is too far, the only thing I can tell you and appeal to your intelligence is don’t ever get into the red zone. Why? Because you know that your ability to make a good decision will go away.” This is perhaps the most dangerous message that young people can be given about sex. The idea that once they begin any kind of sexual behavior they will be unable to stop tells young people that they are incapable of making decisions and allows them to abdicate responsibility should sex just happen. This is in direct conflict with the goal of helping young people make responsible decisions, including the decision to remain abstinent. Students need to know that at any point in a relationship, regardless of whether they have begun to engage in sexual activity or have engaged in sexual activity in the past, they have the right and the ability to set their own sexual boundaries.
More specifically this kind of language (“she asked for it”) has historically been used to blame women who are raped for what happened to them. And, although Long claims his advice is for both young men and women because “guys are equally responsible for what happens in a relationship” he goes on to point out that “girls have more to lose than guys.” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 76)
Long’s treatment of sexual arousal as a force out of control and teenagers as incapable of making good decisions suggests that in the end he does not actually trust this generation. His audience would be better served by someone who did.
The Marriage Mandate—Promoting One Lifestyle
Long’s desire to make decisions for young people is perhaps most evident in his discussions on marriage during which he unfailingly suggests that marriage is superior to any other relationship and that abstinence prior to marriage is necessary for a successful marital relationship and future.
Long explains that all teenagers really have the same desire “you want to be married someday.” This makes sense because “this has been the whole basis of our civilization and our culture, marriage family, moms, dad, children.” And, this is why sex is “a wonderful thing in the context of a committed relationship based on love and marriage,” because “then there’s going to be little babies coming along and they’re going to be wonderful and their going to have a mom and they’re going to have a dad and it’s going to be a wonderful family. And this is what it’s all about.”
Inherent in this description, however, is not just the opinion that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong but the idea that families that do not meet this standard are fundamentally flawed. In his book, Long explains that “Over the past several decades, the traditional family has become more and more unstable; and as a consequence more and more children are being raised in troubled homes.” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 14) The suggestion that a traditional family is superior and a non-traditional family is by its nature troubled is unfair and inaccurate. There are many unhappy families with two married parents and there are plenty of families in which loving single parents, same-sex parents, step-parents, or grandparents are raising happy and healthy children.
Yet, Long goes on to blame these non-traditional families for the rise in teen sex in our society because teens “seek sex as a means of receiving the warmth and affection they have missed at home.” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 14) For some young people this may be a sad truth, and all young people could certainly benefit from an unbiased discussion of positive and negative reasons for choosing to have sex. At the same time, it is again unfair and inaccurate to suggest that this is only an issue for young people who come from a nontraditional home.
While Mike Long may intend for this discussion to direct the future life choices of young people, many of the students will likely see the implications towards their current family structures. There are many reasons that a student may live in a family that does not match the ideal model espoused by Long. 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.
Long’s discussion of marriage and family is also disturbing for its failure to acknowledge that some young people in the class are not legally permitted to marry. In fact, throughout both his presentation and his book, Long fails to acknowledge the existence of same-sex couples or relationships. All references to dating and sex involve heterosexual couples. For example, when discussing the danger of sexual arousal, Long writes “When a boy and a girl go beyond a certain point in their physical relationship, they enter a red zone that expose them to danger.” (Teenagers: Everyone Is NOT Doing It, p. 73)
By repeatedly asserting that the only safe and morally acceptable sex is in marriage, the curriculum is essentially telling gay and lesbian young people that they can never have a safe or healthy sexual relationship. Gay and lesbian youth, especially young men who have sex with men, are at increased risk for STDs, including HIV.
It is clear that these young people need programs that can help them handle the complexities of growing up gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning their sexual orientation. Therefore, programs written exclusively for heterosexual students are not appropriate for a school setting. Such programs will only further marginalize and alienate these students and may put them at increased risk.
Grown-Ups Misbehaving—Attempting to Regulate Adult Behavior
Throughout his presentation and his book, Long takes aim at irresponsible adults who either through their words or actions do not reinforce the notion that premarital sex is wrong. He frequently targets sexuality educators who take a more comprehensive approach than he does, accusing them of throwing condoms at young people and encouraging them to have sex. (He even goes as far as to kill off a condom educator in a story about a car accident because she had broken society’s laws by speeding and forgotten to use the protection of her seat belt.)
Long also seems to feel, however, that young people’s own parents are behaving badly. He says “I was surprised when some teenagers told me that adult family members had encouraged them to have sex—if not in actual word, then by example. For one thing, the number of single-parent families has increased alarmingly over the past four decades.” Presumably, here Long is not just criticizing their decision to be single parents but suggesting that they are also engaging in sex of their own outside of marriage. He goes on to list a set of concerns about adult behavior that young people frequently bring to his attention:“they learn that Bob and Susie, the couple next door aren’t married; they listen as Uncle Jack brags about his new live-in girl friend; Mom’s old college roommate comes for a two-day visit. She brings her boyfriend, and they share a room; and dad keeps copies of Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler around the house –sending a message to his kids that his interest in sex isn’t necessarily confined to mom.”
What Long fails to acknowledge, however, is that many adults do not share his values about sex. While he may feel that it is inappropriate for two unmarried adults to live together without being married or share a bedroom on vacation, many people do not. In fact, 11 million Americans do live together without marriage. And while Long bemoans pornography as a dangerous drug, others believe that adults have a right to view this material.
It is inappropriate for an educational program to mandate behavior for grown men and women. Adults who choose not to follow Mike Long’s rules are not necessarily misbehaving but exercising their rights as adults to make sexual decisions in accordance to their own values.
Although the program and video start off with what could be a valuable look at the pressures young people face, every discussion is tied to the idea that there is one correct set of values when it comes to sexuality. Long presents his opinions as fact and sets out to ensure that young people buy into this supposition, leaving no room for those who might question the underlying beliefs. Along the way he provides incomplete and biased information, promotes fear and shame, and undermines young people’s confidence in their own decision making ability.
While Long may consider this type of education to be “directive,” it ultimately fails to meet the needs of young people in helping them become sexually healthy and make good decisions about their sexuality now and in the future.
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