In Mississippi, 76 percent of teenagers will have sex before they leave high school. But until this year—when the state finally implemented a policy requiring schools to teach sexual education in class—many teachers refused to discuss the topic with students. Now, some parents are worried that Mississippi’s new sex ed curriculum is more damaging than just not saying anything at all.
A curriculum adopted by over 60 percent of Mississippi school districts instructs teachers to put on purity preservation exercises, like one that prompts students to “unwrap a piece of chocolate, pass it around class and observe how dirty it became.” As Marie Barnard, a Mississippi public health worker and parent, told the Los Angeles Times: “They’re using the Peppermint Pattie to show that a girl is no longer clean or valuable after she’s had sex—that she’s been used … That shouldn’t be the lesson we send kids about sex.”
Comparing women to disposable foods or personal hygiene items is an old abstinence-only scare tactic that’s still occasionally passed off as education in schools around the country. Last year, a school district in Texas instructed teachers to compare people who have had sex to dirty toothbrushes and sticks of gum. “People want to marry a virgin, just like they want a virgin toothbrush or stick of gum,” the guide read. Kidnapping victim turned advocate Elizabeth Smart spoke out against this damaging analogy last year, saying:
I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence. And she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?’ Well, that’s terrible. No one should ever say that. But for me, I thought, ‘I’m that chewed-up piece of gum.’ Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.
Luckily, the teenagers of Oxford, Miss. have parents like Barnard to advocate for a more useful and less insulting sex ed curriculum in their school district. She and other mothers have already successfully lobbied the Oxford school district to keep these chocolate-based lessons out of the classroom. Barnard says that their activism has made such a splash that kids around town have begun calling them “the sex moms.”
But until sex moms manage to revise the curriculum in the rest of the state, students should use their own logic to dismantle lecturers who compare humans to disposable candies and pristine toothbrushes. Passing around a piece of chocolate is an evocative image, but it doesn’t ultimately make much sense as a sexual metaphor. Sure, nobody wants to eat a dirty piece of candy, but why is anyone passing around an unwrapped chocolate anyway? You just eat it, and then it’s gone, so I’m not sure what the problem is. And clean toothbrushes are great, but do you really want to use that same toothbrush for the rest of your life? Doctors recommend replacing it every three to four months. And about that pristine stick of gum we keep hearing about: If having sex with a woman leaves her like a chewed-up gob of polymer, why would you ever want to have sex with a woman more than one time, ever? Much less marry her? Marriage sounds disgusting! Until Mississippi starts teaching true facts instead of mounting shaming stunts, I look forward to teachers being forced to answer questions such as these. Have fun!
Correction, April 8, 2014: This post originally stated that the Peppermint Pattie exercise was taught in Oxford, Miss., schools. While the curriculum is taught in other Mississippi school districts, Marie Barnard and other parents successfully lobbied for it not to be taught in Oxford. This post has been updated to reflect this.