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SUMMARY: SIECUS REVIEW OF Worth the Wait

Worth the Wait incorporates some of the important topics suggested by SIECUS' Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education; K-12, such as puberty, anatomy, sexual abuse, and legal issues related to sexuality, and the curriculum is based on reliable sources of data. Despite these strengths, Worth the Wait relies on messages of fear, discourages contraceptive use, and promotes biased views of gender, marriage, and pregnancy options.

Relying On Negative Messages

Messages of Fear and Shame—Trying to scare students and make them feel guilty

 

  • “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)

 

  • “Sex is special. When someone is able to save this gift for his/her wedding night, it is a gift that is irreplaceable.” (Worth the Wait, Section 2-27)

This focus on consequences is clearly designed to scare students rather than educate them. 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 are the cause of multiple societal problems.

Virginity Pledges—Asking students to promise purity

  •   Worth the Wait asks students to sign the following pledge: “Starting today, I _________ (name) pledge to abstain from sexual activity until marriage, as this is the only proven way to protect myself from out-of-wedlock pregnancy and STDs. I am Worth the Wait.” (Worth the Wait, Section 8-43)

  • “Research has shown that teenagers who sign abstinence pledges are much less likely to have intercourse.” (Worth the Wait, Section 8-43)

In truth, the research mentioned indicated that pledges only worked in situations where a limited number of young people participated. Pledges taken by an entire class did not work. Even when they did work, pledgers only delayed sexual activity for an average of 18 months longer than their peers who had not pledged. More importantly, pledgers were less likely to use contraception when they did become sexually active and were equally likely to become infected with an STD as their non-pledging peers. Contrary to Worth the Wait's suggestion, virginity pledges are not an answer to the problems of teen pregnancy and STD transmission.

Sexual Arousal—Portraying sex as an 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)

This is perhaps the most dangerous message teens can be given about sexual activity: by suggesting that teens have no control over their actions, it actually discourages them 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.

Distorting Information

Contraceptive Options—Emphasizing failure rates and discouraging use

  •  Worth the Wait's lesson on contraception is entitled “Why Contraceptives are not the Answer for Teens.”

  • “Condoms can never protect someone from the emotional problems that can result from multiple sexual partners and premature sexual activity.” (Worth the Wait, Section 6-20.41)

The author seems to assume that if adolescents believe that condoms and other contraceptive methods are ineffective, they will abstain from sexual activity. There is no reason to think that this is true. Such inaccurate information may instead discourage teens from using these important prevention methods when they do become sexually active, thereby putting them at increased risk for unintended pregnancy and STDs, including HIV.

Promoting Biases

Gender—Fostering myths and stereotypes

  • “Males will often have their first intercourse experience with a woman to whom he feels no particular attachment while females tend to have their first sexual experience with a man they love and may want to marry.” (Worth the Wait, Section 5-11)

  • “Males typically felt their female partners expected some form of materialism (e.g. dinners, entertainment) in exchange for sex.” (Worth the Wait, Section 5-11)

This lesson subtly reinforces a societal double-standard that suggests that men want casual sex from any and all women and that women do not desire sex as much as they feel the overwhelming need to be loved. In so doing the curriculum places all of the responsibility for refusing sexual activity on the shoulders of young women.

The Marriage Mandate—Promoting one lifestyle

  • “The purpose of this lesson is to encourage students to think about their future and what kind of individual they want to marry.” (Worth the Wait, Section 8-33)

  • “Couples who cohabitate: value marriage less; do not want to be responsible for one another; are less faithful to their partner than married couples; are not as happy; [and] are more likely to get divorced.” (Worth the Wait, Section 8-35.10)

This lesson seems based on the assumption that all students aspire to marriage, and in so doing discounts gay and lesbian individuals who are unable to marry, as well as the very real possibility that some students simply do not wish to marry. Although decisions about whether to move in with a partner are rarely relevant to high school students, the curriculum spends a great deal of time explaining why premarital cohabitation is wrong. It is not the place of an educational program to mandate relationship structures for young people.

Divorce and Family Structure—Depicting non-traditional families as troubled

  • For Better or Worse: Divorce has long-term effects ; People get hurt ; Children suffer the long-term consequences—More likely to live in poverty ; Don't do as well in schools.” (Worth the Wait, Power Point slide)

  • “Having children outside of marriage creates many problems, not only for the child, but for the mom and dad as well.” (Worth the Wait, Section 8-35.7)

Although this discussion is designed to make young people think of their future relationships, it would not be surprising if many students thought instead of their parents. It is unreasonable 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 a family that does not match the ideal model espoused by Worth the Wait . Suggesting that these young people will face a lifetime of difficulty will only serve to distress and alienate many students.

Pregnancy Options—Mandating choices

  •  “‘Some women have reported serious psychological effects after their abortion, including depression, grief, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, regret, suicidal thoughts and behavior, sexual dysfunction, avoidance of emotional attachment, flashbacks, and substance abuse.'” (Worth the Wait, Section 6-8)

 

  • “Women who make adoption plans for their children are heroes…a woman who chooses an adoption plan for her child should be seen as the most unselfish, courageous, loving person in our society'” (Worth the Wait, Section 6-9)

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 pregnancy options. Worth the Wait does not adhere to this standard of educational programming.