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SUMMARY: SIECUS REVIEW OF ASPIRE: Live your life. Be free.

Aspire contains some interesting topics and important discussions including those focused on the significance of planning for one’s future, the role of alcohol and drugs in sexual decision-making, and the impact of the media. The curriculum also provides opportunities for students to discuss these issues with their parents. Unfortunately, Aspire is based on one set of values and opinions—that marriage should be everyone’s ultimate goal and that sex outside of marriage is wrong—which it tries to pass off as universally held truths. In an effort to convince students that these opinions are facts, the curriculum provides incomplete and biased information, promotes fear and shame, and undermines young people’s confidence in their own decision-making abilities.

Aspire 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.

Relying on Negative Messages

Message of Fear and Shame—Trying to Scare Students and Instill Guilt

  • Students are asked to brainstorm about the negative consequences of sex outside of marriage in each of five categories. Suggested answers include:
    • Emotional: emptiness, loneliness, broken heart, anger, rage
    • Physical: pregnancy, STDS, AIDS, infertility, cancer
    • Mental: worry, fear/stress, regret, low self-esteem, confusion
    • Financial: pregnancy, child care/support, hospital, medication, loss of income
    • Social: reputation, parental conflict, withdrawal, change in friends.

(Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 19)

  • “While it is always possible to start over, some consequences will be more difficult to leave behind than others.” (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, Sec 2:A)
  • “In a marriage relationship, sex is not only safe, but can strengthen the relationship between the husband and wife as a result of oxytocin. Outside of a marriage relationship, however, the oxytocin bond can increase the emotional pain when the relationship is ended.” (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 70)
  • “In the same way a person becomes addicted to drugs, sexual images trigger biochemical response that cause increased heartbeat, sweaty palms, and dilated pupils, all of which indicate the release of adrenaline in the body, causing a biological rush. This creates a powerful cycle of dependency.”(Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 40)
  • No one ever told me that pornography would lead to addiction that would steel away most of my life.” (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 40)

This focus on negative consequences is clearly designed to scare students rather than educate them. There is no scientific evidence to support the assertion that premarital sexual intercourse leads to everything from bitterness to confusion. According to recent studies, forty-seven percent of all high school students have had sexual intercourse. It is inappropriate and potentially harmful for education programs to imply that these teens lack self-control or self-respect or to suggest that they are less worthy of love, trust, and respect. These implications can only be damaging to these students and serve to alienate them from their peers and the program. Furthermore, the odd focus on pornography serves only to underscore the curriculum’s messages of fear.

Distorting Information

Faux Science—Presenting Misleading Evidence

  • “Any kind of sexual activity can spread STDs from one person to another.” (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. vi)
  • “Condoms or other contraception may reduce the risk of some of the physical consequences, such as pregnancy or STDs, but they cannot completely eliminate any of these consequences.” (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 19)
  • “In a marriage relationship, sex is not only safe, but can strengthen the relationship between the husband and wife as a result of oxytocin. Outside of a marriage relationship, however, the oxytocin bond can increase the emotional pain when the relationship is ended.” (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 70)

According to the curriculum, “sexual activity” includes any type of “genital contact or sexual stimulation.” Given that such a broad definition could easily encompass masturbation in front of a partner, petting with clothes on, or a particularly good foot massage, this statement is neither accurate nor informative to students. Similarly, the curriculum refers students to its previous list of emotional, mental, financial, and social consequences of sex and reminds them that condoms cannot protect them from anger, rage, low self-esteem, or a broken heart—none of which condoms were designed to prevent. The curriculum provides little information on STD transmission, testing, and treatment or condoms as either contraception or disease prevention. Yet, it goes into great detail about the “scientific” proof of the power of oxytocin when trying to convince young people that their ability to bond with another person will be forever damaged by premarital sex. Students would be better served by an open and honest discussion of condoms, STDs, and relationships that relayed actual scientific information.

Promoting Biases

The Marriage Mandate—Promoting One Lifestyle

  • Students are asked which life decision—college, career, or marriage—will have the most impact on their life. The answer is marriage because “College is for a few years, and you may have a number of careers. But marriage is for life.” (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 60)
  • “Marriage serves as a protective barrier around a relationship. It’s like being at home by the fire on a cold rainy day. Inside the house you can play games, roast marshmallows in the fireplace, drink hot chocolate, and have fun. It’s possible to do these things outside of the house, but you’re exposed to the elements—you’re not protected.” (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 20)  
  • “Marriage is giving yourself rather than guarding yourself. In marriage, a person says, I am giving you all that I have, and all that I am.” In contrast, “Cohabitation is guarding yourself rather than giving yourself. In cohabitation, a person says, I will give you some of myself but not all of myself.” (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 61)
  • “That person [of your dreams] will be looking for someone with strong positive character qualities as well. If you don’t have them, they may well prefer to be with someone else.” (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 56)

The curriculum is predicated on the unwavering belief that all people should aspire to marry and that all sex outside of marriage is wrong. Every discussion and activity is designed to ensure that young people reach the same conclusion. By declaring marriage to be the ultimate goal and then suggesting that teens who have been sexually active can’t reach that goal, the curriculum once again sets up a dichotomy between good and bad people. Moreover, the curriculum fails to acknowledge that gay and lesbian young people in the class are not legally permitted to marry. It is not the place of education programs to dictate goals or future relationships for students.

Pregnancy Options—Mandating Choices

  • “… in this case while adoption many not be easy consider that others may benefit. There are many couples and families eager to adopt children. This choice can be positive for others.”
  • It’s best not to focus only on negatives but also to consider the benefits especially in adoption.” (Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 18)

In its one brief conversation about pregnancy options, Aspire subtly promotes adoption while including negative ideas about parenting and attempting to avoid any discussion of abortion.  It is important for educational programs, especially those used widely in public schools, to respect the diversity of opinions and provide unbiased information on all options available to a woman confronting an unintended pregnancy as a teenager or an adult. Aspire does not adhere to this standard of educational programming.