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SUMMARY: SIECUS REVIEW OF A.C. Green’s Game Plan
 
A.C. Green’s Game Plan is a fear- and shame-based abstinence-only-until-marriage program for students in grades 7 through 10. A.C. Green is a professional basketball player who publicly announced his intentions to remain abstinent until marriage and became a nationally recognized speaker on this topic. This curriculum is produced and distributed by Project Reality, one of the original abstinence-only-until-marriage organizations.
 
In the new 2007 edition of Game Plan, some of the quotes and activities that SIECUS criticized in our review of the 2001 edition were removed or changed. Some of the most egregious messages of shame were removed, and the authors corrected or removed some of the misleading information about condoms and contraception that we pointed out.
 
While we are pleased that the authors appear to have taken our criticisms to heart and that students exposed to the Game Plan program moving forward will read fewer messages of shame and confusing statistics, the changes are far too insubstantial to make a real difference. The curriculum continues to rely on negative messages, distorted information, and biased views on marriage, sexual orientation, and family structure, and fails to provide important information on sexual health. And, the format and underlying biases of the curriculum, which ultimately remain unchanged, do not allow for differing cultural, community, and individual values, and discourage critical thinking and discussions of alternative points of view in the classroom.
 
Relying on Negative Messages
 
Messages of Fear—Portraying Premarital Sex as Inevitably Harmful
  • Students are asked to brainstorm about the negative consequences of sex outside of marriage in each of four categories. Suggested answers include:
Physical: Pregnancy, STDs, AIDS, Infertility, Cervical Cancer.
Emotional: Feeling used, empty, low self-esteem, loneliness, broken heart, anger, bitterness, depression.
Mental: Stress, worry, fear, regret, memories, pressure, confusion, distraction.
Social: Bad reputation, lose friends, rumor, gossip, poor grades, withdrawal, parental conflict (Game Plan, Coach’s Clipboard, p. 26).
  • “What about sex? In a marriage relationship, sex can be beautiful. Outside of marriage, it can cause serious harm” (Game Plan, Coach’s Clipboard, p. 11).
This focus on 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.
 
Messages of Shame—Instilling Embarrassment and Guilt
 
  •  “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).

 

  • “A person who demonstrates self-respect and confidence by choosing not to be sexually active is often respected by others as well. Why do you suppose this is?” (Game Plan, p. 47).
According to recent studies, forty-seven percent of all high school students have had sexual intercourse. It is therefore likely that an average group, to which this curriculum is presented, will contain at least several sexually active teens. 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. This can only be damaging to these students and serve to alienate them from their peers and the program.
 
Distorting Information
 
Sexually Transmitted Diseases—Misleading Students
 
  • Any kind of sexual activity can spread STDs from one person to another” (Game Plan, Coach’s Clipboard, p. 32).
 
  • “When some of my teammates went in for testing of HIV, I didn’t go. I knew I was disease free. The way I’ve chosen is the best way” (Game Plan, p. 39).
According to the curriculum, “sexual activity” includes any type of “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. In addition to providing little information on transmission, the curriculum seems to discourage testing by suggesting that those who seek testing should be ashamed of their past sexual behavior. Students would be better served by an open and honest discussion of the level of risks associated with a variety of sexual behaviors and an emphasis on the importance of regular STD screening.
 
Condoms—Exaggerating Failure
  •  “Condoms are hailed today as the answer to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unwanted pregnancies. The facts are, however, that condoms don’t always prevent pregnancy and are ineffective against some of the most common, and most serious, STDs, such as human papilloma virus” (Game Plan, p. 36). (In fact, the most recent research available suggests that young women who use condoms are 70% less likely to contract HPV.[1])
  • “Even more widespread than disease are the emotional scarring and deep wounds that come out of broken relationships. No matter how strong a condom is, it won’t protect you from a broken heart” (Game Plan, p. 36).
The discussion of condoms includes inaccurate information, and seems to be designed to discourage young people from using this important method of STD and pregnancy prevention. Condoms were never intended to prevent a broken heart; they were intended to protect against STDs and unintended pregnancy and we know from years of scientific research that they do a good job at that. Undermining young people’s confidence in condoms will not prevent them from having sex; it may however prevent them from using condoms thereby increasing their risk for unintended pregnancy and STDs, including HIV, when they do become sexually active.
 
Contraception—Denying Teens Information
  • Game Plan does not promote the use of contraceptives for teens. No contraceptive device is guaranteed to prevent pregnancy. Additionally, students who do not choose to exercise self-control to remain abstinent are not likely to exercise self-control in the use of a contraceptive device” (Game Plan, Coach’s Clipboard, p. 27).
The curriculum is discounting sexually active teens by suggesting that they lack self-control and will not be able to use contraception reliably. It is unconscionable for an education program to deny young people vital information about pregnancy- and disease- prevention simply because the authors disapprove of the decisions those students have made.
 
Promoting Biases
 
Marriage—Idealizing One Family Structure 
 
  • “It’s the big day. You have trained all your life for this day—your wedding day” (Game Plan, Coach’s Clipboard, p. 59).
 
  • “Marriage helps form a foundation for family life and has many benefits for individuals and society as a whole” (Game Plan, p. 58).
 
  • “Discuss with the students how a happy marriage can create a positive environment for raising children. List some benefits for children of being raised in a stable, loving home with parents who are married” (Game Plan, Coach’s Clipboard, p. 64).
The curriculum explores marriage in a limited and directive way that presents it as the only appropriate way of life and suggests that individuals who choose other relationships are making the wrong decision for themselves and society. It is not the place of education programs to mandate choices for students. Further, it is unfair to put the burden of family structure on students who, as children, have no control over their current family situation. There are many reasons—including divorce, death, desertion, cohabitation, and gay and lesbian partnerships—that students may live in families that do not match the ideal model espoused by the curriculum. Suggesting that these families are inferior will undoubtedly distress and alienate many students.
 
Virginity Pledges—Asking Students to Promise Purity
 
  • “In order to protect my future and help me accomplish my goals, I choose to be sexually abstinent from this day forward until marriage.” (Game Plan, p. 77)
Research has found that, while under certain circumstances virginity pledges can help a select group of young people delay intercourse, pledges taken by an entire class as part of a lesson were not effective. Moreover, even when they work, pledges only help young people delay intercourse for approximately 18 months (far short of marriage), and young people who took a pledge were 1/3 less likely to use contraception when they did become sexually active than their peers who did not pledge. Far from providing a solution to the complex problems of unintended pregnancy and disease transmission, these simplistic pledges undermine the use of contraception among teens, potentially exposing them to greater harm.
 
Sexual Orientation—Discounting Gay and Lesbian Students
 
  • “The only safe sex is in a marriage relationship where a man and a woman are faithful to each other for life” (Game Plan, p. 38).
 
  • If students say they do not plan to marry, teachers are told to “encourage students that it is wise to keep their options open. Our ideas often change as we mature. Also, even if the person doesn’t marry, abstinence is still the safest, healthiest lifestyle” Game Plan, Coach’s Clipboard, p. 11).
The curriculum consistently discounts gay and lesbian students. All references to sexual activity and arousal are specific to male-female couples and the focus on marriage ignores the fact that most gays and lesbians cannot legally marry in this country. By suggesting that the only safe sex is within the context of a male-female marriage and that adults who choose not to marry should remain abstinent, the curriculum is essentially telling gay and lesbian teens that they can never have a safe or healthy sexual relationship. Students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning their orientation often face a higher risk of unintended pregnancy and STDs, including HIV. Nonetheless, the curriculum fails to provide these students with realistic strategies for managing these risks.
 


[1] Rachel L. Winer, et al., “Condom Use and the Risk of Genital Human Papillomavirus Infection in Young Women,” New England Journal of Medicine, 354.25 (June 22, 2006): 2645-2654.