Mike Long, a self-described pioneer in the abstinence movement, describes his three-day trip to an area, during which he addresses educators, parents, and young people about abstinence, as “one of the most productive uses of the Title V Abstinence Education Grants and Drug/Alcohol Grants.” Long believes that young people need “directive education” which he argues does not preach or lecture but gets “on a teenager’s level” and “direct[s] them how to make to make responsible, healthy decisions….”
Long’s 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 reference and uses terms like “petting” and situations like hanging out at a car wash that seem unlikely to appeal to today’s teens.
Relying On Negative Messages
Unrealistic Expectations—Crediting Abstinence with Future Happiness
By crediting abstinence with all life’s future success, he is instilling young people with unrealistic expectations. Moreover, it is inaccurate to suggest that married couples – even those in which both partners were virgins on their wedding night – never have to worry about unintended pregnancy, sexual problems, or broken hearts.
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 which he refers to as life-scarring. This enumeration of the endless and inevitable consequences of premarital sex is clearly designed to scare young people rather than educate them.
Messages of Shame—Creating a Dichotomy Between “Good” and “Bad” People
Long seems to view virginity as the ultimate test of a person’s character and moral worth. Throughout his presentation, Long divides teenagers into those who are virgins, who should feel great about themselves, and those who have had sex who should not. He goes on to suggest that those young people who have had sex are less likely to succeed and are no longer marriage material. Nearly 50% of high school students and 63% of high school seniors have had sexual intercourse. It is never acceptable to tell these teens are of less value or that they are less worthy of trust or respect than their abstinent peers.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases—Misleading Students
These brief snip-its of information that Mike Long bothers to include about STDs are incomplete and often inaccurate. Gonorrhea is caused by a bacteria, most often infects the cervix and/or urethra, and is curable with antibiotics. Syphilis is also curable and while at one point in the distant past, people did go insane and die from this disease, with today’s modern medicine this is quite rare. And, although genital warts and cervical cancer are caused by the same virus (HPV) they are caused by different strains and as such warts do not cause cervical cancer. This brief summary is almost devoid of information and clearly designed to scare students; young people would be better served by an unbiased discussion of how various STDs are transmitted, the symptoms they need to be aware of, and how they can seek testing and treatment.
Condoms and Contraception—Discouraging Use
Instead of telling young people the benefits (and limitations) of condoms, Long uses inaccurate statistics and fuzzy math to suggest that condoms never work. In truth years of scientific research has shown that that when used consistently and correctly latex condoms are highly effective in preventing pregnancy and reducing the risk of STDs, including HIV. And, when condoms do fail it is far more often than not caused by an error in use rather than a flaw in the condom itself. Unfortunately, Long’s student’s will not learn to us condoms correctly and after being told that they don’t work, are unlikely to use them at all. Discouraging condom use is a direct contradiction to the public health goals of preventing unintended pregnancy and STDs.
The Red Zone—Portraying Sexual Arousal as a Force Out of Control
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. And, the idea that once they begin any kind of sexual behavior they will be unable to stop is perhaps the most dangerous message we can give young people. It simultaneously makes them doubt their ability to make decisions and allows them to abdicate responsibility for what happens.
The Marriage Mandate—Promoting One Lifestyle
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. 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. Moreover, this exclusive focus on marriage ignores and alienates gay and lesbian students who can never legally marry in most parts of this country.
Grown-Ups Misbehaving—Attempting to Regulate Adult Behavior
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. 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.
 Mike Long – Speaking Engagements, M.L. Productions (2007), accessed 25 September 2007, <http://www.happenings.org/speaking_engagements.cfm>.