The XX Factor

Christians Still Teaching Sex Is Dirty in Public Schools

Volunteers separate condoms to give away during a free HIV testing event on Feb. 7, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

Photograph by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images.

One of the great pleasures of following the anti-choice movement in America is marveling at the widespread audacity when it comes to bald-faced lying. Their world is an inverse of mine, a world where sex is deeply shameful but lying like you’re getting paid for it isn’t. The realms of politicians and public relations have nothing on the anti-choice movement when it comes to telling a lie with a straight face, even in those situations where it’s completely obvious that you’re lying. Take, for instance, the whopper dropped by Brad Seng, anti-abortion activist with a side gig of going into Colorado schools to push a Christianist anti-contraception agenda under the guise of “abstinence-only education”: 

“One of the first things I say is that it’s not that sex is bad or is a dirty activity to be engaging in,” [Seng] said. “That’s not it at all. It’s about encouraging young people to make healthy lifestyle decisions. Our method is grounded in truth and nonjudgmental.”

The totally “nonjudgmental” way he goes about teaching that sex isn’t “bad” or a “dirty activity”? He gets the kids to chew some food, put it in a glass of water, and offer it to the other kids to drink. This is meant to represent having sex, which caused me to wonder if Seng learned all he knows about sex from the chewing gum incident in the most recent episode of Mad Men. Naturally, the kids are uninterested in drinking water with backwash in it, which causes Seng, no doubt, to triumphantly suggest that having sex with someone befouled by previous sexual encounters is the same thing. Perhaps Seng thinks this is a “nonjudgmental” way to avoid saying sex is dirty because he doesn’t throw actual dirt into the glass. While abstinence-only educators invariably say that they’re not pushing a sexist agenda alongside their anti-sex agenda, it doesn’t really pass notice that the symbol of disgusting nonvirginity that Seng chose is a wet cylinder that you put things in. Not that it would have been any more pleasant to have the kids pass around a banana that’s already been chewed on.

The parents who are upset at the sex-is-dirty-water demonstration are also concerned that the abstinence-only courses are in violation of the separation of church and state, because Seng works out of an explicitly Christian anti-choice center in Boulder, Colo., one that claims also to be “nonjudgmental”, even while making it very clear that they’re focused on why women specifically shouldn’t have sex. (From the website: “A review of these infections shows that women frequently have more to lose when engaging in casual sex than men do.” Also, hilariously: “Though certainly not an infection, unexpected pregnancy also demands more physically from a woman than from a man.” You don’t say!) Seng and his defenders in the school administration claim that he’s not pushing a religious agenda in his presentations, but this is coming from people who also claim that putting chewed food in a symbolic vagina to represent sex isn’t judge-y or misogynist. There’s just a point where you stop trusting the authority of shameless liars.

Of course, the religious liberty violations are a problem with abstinence-only education that extends far beyond the Boulder area. It’s really not enough to scrub the Jesus-y stuff out of anti-sex texts and claim that they’re now irreligious and appropriate for school settings. The fundamental belief being pushed with abstinence-only—that sex is shameful and dirty and that you should only do it within marriage—is a religious belief. The secular rationales for the belief don’t hold up under scrutiny, leaving us with the unavoidable conclusion that a religious belief about sex is being pushed on kids in schools, even those who don’t come from religious traditions that hold that sex outside of marriage is unclean. In the Kitzmiller v Dover case in Pennsylvania, the judge dismissed the idea that creationist curriculum was made secualr merely by removing the direct references to God, and pretending the whole thing was “science.” Abstinence-only should be regarded in the same way. Just because you erect a lot of secular-sounding language around a religious belief doesn’t mean that it’s not a religious belief, which means it has no place in public schools.