By Greg Pfundstein
We have been receiving some nasty emails and a few comments at our Facebook page, most of which charge that we are stupid. Presumably people think we are stupid because they think they know something about comprehsive sex ed or abstinence sex ed that we don't know. In general, the implication is that any intelligent person would know that comprehensive sex ed works and abstinence education doesn't work. If you don't know that, you are stupid.
So, are we stupid?
I was looking again at the research today as I prepared to answer these charges. Turns out I had forgotten how much I already knew about how limited the effectiveness of comprehensive sex ed is and about how abstinence education has been shown to be more effective on several important metrics, such as teenage pregnancy rates. Here is what I wrote for another website, nyc41percent.com, several months ago, long before the sex ed mandate came down from on high
When well over half of pregnancies are unplanned, and 41% of pregnancies end in abortion, it is time to rethink the current approach to sex education in New York City.
Doesn’t New York City teach comprehensive sex education in its schools? If so, why are there so many unintended pregnancies amongst young people in New York City? According to the New York City Department of Education’s website, the City recommends Health Smart and Reducing the Risk for use as comprehensive sex education in New York City schools.1 But according to an evaluation of the Reducing the Risk program, the program is not effective in decreasing the rate of pregnancy:
“During the 18 months of follow-up, there was no statistically significant difference between the treatment and comparison groups in the proportion of students who became pregnant or made someone pregnant. This finding reflects the fact that the curriculum did not have a significant impact upon unprotected intercourse among all students; rather, it affected only those who had not initiated intercourse prior to the program, and in this group the pregnancy rates among treatment and comparison students were too small to be statistically meaningful.”2
But what is the alternative? Hasn’t abstinence education been proven not to work? Traci Perry, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, recently said that “Abstinence [education] by itself has been proven to be ineffective.” Unfortunately, this statement is misleading. It is true that one study of the earliest abstinence education programs failed to show effectiveness.3 But the authors of that study admitted that the four programs evaluated were not considered “state-of-the-art.” Furthermore, the four to six year follow up period used by the evaluation is far longer than the 18 month follow up period used to establish the effectiveness of the Reducing the Risk program used by the NYC Department of Education. A four to six year follow up period is a high standard for measurement of the effectiveness of an intervention.
The truth is that some abstinence education, or risk avoidance, programs do work: as of 2010, there were 17 different programs which were shown to have statistically significant results by independent evaluators, and in 15 of those cases the results of the evaluations have been published (publication is pending in the other two cases). One study conducted in Philadelphia by J.B. Jemmott using four different models for comparison (safer sex [contraception only], comprehensive [abstinence plus contraception], abstinence only, and control) found that while the abstinence intervention reduced the rate of sexual initiation among the sixth and seventh graders participating compared to the control group, the “safer sex” program actually led to a higher rate of sexual debut among participants compared to the control group. The comprehensive program had slightly better results than the control group. Perhaps more interestingly, while neither the safer sex intervention nor the comprehensive intervention significantly increased condom use, the abstinence intervention had no negative effect on condom use.4
Other studies of abstinence based risk avoidance programs show decreases in pregnancy rates in the schools or counties where the studies were conducted, and several show that participants who were already sexually active before the intervention were more likely to remain abstinent afterward, a result which Reducing the Risk was unable to attain.
Some argue that there is only one valid approach to sexuality education: risk reduction through contraception. But the evidence suggests that risk avoidance approaches can be at least as effective as risk-reduction approaches. With a situation as dire as the situation in New York City, maybe it is time to consider other approaches to sexuality education in New York.
Evidence is on our side. If people are willing to challenge their received assumptions, they will find that the party-line approach that has prevailed for nearly three decades is based on a false assumption: comprehensive sex education just doesn't work as advertised.
2 Douglas Kirby, Richard P. Barth, Nancy Leland and Joyce V. Fetro, “Reducing the Risk: Impact of a New Curriculum on Sexual Risk-Taking,” Family Planning Perspectives,Vol. 23, No. 6 (Nov. - Dec., 1991), pp. 253-263.
3 Christopher Trenholm, Barbara Devaney, Kenneth Fortson, Melissa Clark, Lisa Quay, and Justin Wheeler, “Impacts of abstinence education on teen sexual activity, risk of pregnancy, and risk of sexually transmitted diseases,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Volume 27, Issue 2, (Spring 2008) pp. 255–276.
4 J.B. Jemmott, L.S. Jemmott, and G.T. Fong, “Efficacy of a theory-based abstinence-only intervention over 24 months,” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Vol. 164, No. 2 (February 2010) pp. 152-159.
By Greg Pfundstein
The NYC Parents’ Choice Coalition is gaining traction! We have been hard at work reaching out to the media and to elected officials, and we are finding them quite receptive to our argument that there ought to be an alternative program for children of parents who have a different philosophy of sex education than the one represented by the Mayor’s mandated curriculum.
We have also launched 20,000 robo calls to NYC households to encourage them to contact them mayor to demand an alternative. We have been ignored by the mayor and Chancellor Walcott for nearly two months, but we aren’t giving up. Parents deserve the right to have a say in the education of their children on such a sensitive topic.
So please help us to continue to spread the word. Remember, there are over 20 abstinence programs that have been shown to be effective at delaying sexual initiation, the clear primary prevention objective which should be at the center of any sex ed curriculum that has the best interest of children in mind. And kids want this guidance too! In the recent Essence Magazine article we discussed recently, one 14 year old girl had this to say: “I wish instead of telling me not to have sex my mother would tell me exactly how to say no.” Kids want help to resist the pressure to have sex at a very young age, and they should get it both at home and at school. I can’t see how telling kids that they can start having sex when they “feel ready” is going to give them the tools they need to make the healthiest decision they can make: abstinence.
Thanks to all of you for your support, and spread the word!
The Parents’ Choice Coalition was launched to provide information to individual parents and interested organizations about the mayor’s sex ed mandate, which requires all NY public schools to teach sex ed and recommends the use of one particular curriculum. Given that over 20 curricula have demonstrated significant results through national, peer-reviewed studies, mandating a one-size fits all curriculum to the children and families of NY leaves the choice and education of our children in the hands of the mayor of NY. This is arbitrary, and, in fact, in direct conflict with existing Department of Education policy related to all other educational areas.
In 2007 the NYC school system was decentralized after principals signed a performance agreement with the cityallowing them to become the equivalent of a CEO of their school. [i] Each principal was given the authority to determine the curriculum and how it is implemented in their individual school with the expectation they meet state guidelines.[ii] The reasoning behind this move was that individual principals know what is best for their students at a more intimate level than the DOE. [iii] The role of the Department of Education is to provide support and resources so schools can achieve progress with their students as well as evaluate them to ensure they maintain state standards in all areas of education. Principals may choose any curriculum of any subject, as long as they comply with guidelines released by the NY State DOE. [iv] The Office of School Wellness provides classes for principals and teachers on the NY State guidelines for sexual education and how they can meet them. Principals can then take the guidelines and modify their selected sexual education programs as they see fit.
Before the August 2011 mandate requiring the teaching of sexual education in all middle and high schools, the NYC DOE encouraged parents who wanted their child to receive health education to directly talk to the classroom teacher at the elementary level and the vice-principal and principal at the secondary level about content to be taught in the classroom. At the elementary level, if health was not taught, the parent was encouraged to go to the PTA or principal. At the secondary level, parents were encouraged to contact the city DOE Office of School Wellness Programs. [v]
Even Planned Parenthood is well aware of the principal’s role in choosing the individual school’s curriculum. They launched the campaign “We’re Going to the Principal’s Office!” to encourage people in NYC to go to their local principals and persuade them to implement sex education in their schools.[vi]
It is up to parents to speak to their principals about the curricula that will be taught to their children. Parents and principals together have the right to choose that curricula. Let the mayor know that he cannot arbitrarily take that right away, and change the rules by which education happens in this city.
[i] “Performance and Accountability.” NYC Department of Education. n.d. Web. 31 May 2011. <http://schools.nyc.gov/Accountability/default.htm>; Caloir, Stephanie. Phone Interview. 23 May 2011.
[ii] “Performance and Accountability,” op. cit.
[iii] Caloir, Stephanie, op. cit.
[iv]“Health Education Frequently Asked Questions.” NYC Department of Education. n.d. Web. 23 September 2011. <http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/1560E2BB-2B3E-4089-AAC9-44047406F0EF/72785/FAQsforsecondaryhealthcurriculum.pdf>
[v] “Health Education Frequently Asked Questions,” op. cit.
[vi] “Ensure NYC Students Receive Sex Ed.” Planned Parenthood of New York City. Planned Parenthood. n.d. Web. 31 May 2011. <http://www.plannedparenthood.org/nyc/Ensure-NYC-students-receive-sex-ed-30385.htm>
By Michael Benjamin
This week, NYC Parents Choice coalition took its grassroots campaign for an alternative medically accurate abstinence-centered sex education curriculum to the steps of City Hall. We were joined by Greg Pfundstein (Chiaroscuro Foundation), Rev. Michel Faulkner (New Horizon Church), Chaplain Viviana Hernandez (United Chaplains of NYS), Rev. Myrna Calderon, Father Peter Pomposello, and others.
After hearing from the assembled speakers, the City Hall press corps asked questions. A WNYC radio reporter tried questioning the effectiveness of an abstinence-based sex ed program by citing the out-of-wedlock pregnancy of Bristol Palin, daughter of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
The reporter seemed combative as he asked questions that seemed dismissive of abstinence as a sex education strategy. Another asked how likely are we to succeed given that NYC is a liberal bastion.
See the Your Free Press video coverage here.
Greg Pfundstein effectively described the city’s comprehensive sex ed program as a “wink and a nod” approval of teenage premarital sexual involvement. He described homework assignments requiring students to catalog condom varieties at local stores and to list services offered at family planning clinics as activities promoting – rather than avoiding— sexual involvement.
“We are not asking the city to stop offering sex education. We are asking the city to offer medically-accurate, evidence-based, abstinence-centered education as an alternative for parents who prefer it,” said Pfundstein.
Chaplain Viviana Hernandez scorned the sexualization of children in the popular media. Chaplain Hernandez said that the city’s comprehensive sex education program gives young people a false sense of security. She asked, “Would we use a parachute if it had a 15% failure rate?”
Rev. Faulkner warned that the “house is on fire” and our children need the kind of sex education that will save their lives. Give parents the best option and give our kids the best education possible. He cited young women in his church who want to know how to resist the pressure to have sex. These teens want their parents involved. The NYC Parents Choice campaign empowers parents to determine the outcome of this mandate.
WCBS News Radio’s Rich Lamb aired a fair and balanced report. He referred to our program as “sex education Plan B.” Listen to it here.
1010 WINS’ Stan Brooks reported Greg Pfundstein’s rebuttal of Chancellor Walcott’s earlier response that we are sticking our heads in the sand.
El Diario-La Prensa was the only news outlet to report, both online and in print, about our robocall campaign, in English and Spanish, urging parents to call the city to demand an abstinence-based sex education curriculum. El Diario reported that the Department of Education did not return their call for a comment.
However, in a statement released to WNYC Radio, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, said there needs to be a consistent curriculum across the city that teaches about the merits of abstinence and also instructs students "how to keep themselves safe."
"The city has been using its current program, called 'Health Smart' and 'Reducing the Risk,' for several years at some schools, but it only became mandatory district-wide in August," Walcott said. "It’s produced by a California-based company that gets funding from the National Institutes of Health, among others."
Chancellor Walcott failed to disclose that ETR, the California-based company that produces the city’s comprehensive sex education curriculum, was once the publishing arm of Planned Parenthood before it was spun off. ETR, like its parent company, is invested in Planned Parenthood’s condom education agenda.
The NYC Parents Choice Coalition is taking a stand against the New York City sex education mandate. We represent parents who don't want their children sent to the corner drug store to catalogue condom brands, or to visit the nearest abortion clinic to inquire about its confidentially policy, or to be referred to a sexuality-explicit website.
It has been a busy week for the Coalition, and we haven't been as active at the blog as we would have liked, but we will be back to business next week with some great content we have ready to go. In the mean time, you can watch Michael Benjamin and I on BronxNet Perspectives TV show here, and listen to us with Dr. Nanci Coppola on WLIB with Rev. Clenard Childress here. Enjoy the weekend!
By Gabrielle Jastrebski, World Youth Alliance
The NYC Department of Education considers their sexual education programs comprehensive, yet they contain significant gaps in the way of science and real information. Curricula should be based in science and biology, giving youth the facts, and calling them to high standards of excellence in their relationships and to future-minded decision making. We do a tremendous disservice to our young people by giving them condoms, contraceptives and the how to’s of sexual intercourse and intimacy without giving them the science, biology and character education to empower them to make future-minded decisions in view of their long-term goals and aspirations. We teach them to act according to their appetites and then lament the natural results of sky-rocketing rates of teen pregnancy and STD infection.
Despite the limited title of “Abstinence Education,” alternatives to the NYC mandated curriculum do not begin and end with the age old adage “just don’t do it.” These programs teach our youth the real science and biology of their bodies, information that will lead to a greater self-respect, and better inform their decision making. Equally critical, these programs provide a context for sexual activity as just one expression of their person and its context within the greater view of their whole lives. They encourage students to grow in their intellectual capacity to make decisions based not on their immediate pleasure, but which take into account their whole self, the persons whom their decision may affect, and how sexual activity fits into their goals and aspirations for their future.
Self-knowledge and self-confidence are essential for growth into maturity and adulthood, and do not come from an early sexual debut, or knowing how and when to use a condom. When young people know the full truth about their bodies and understand that they have the ability and responsibility to choose what is good for themselves and their futures, they are filled with self-knowledge and self-confidence. These are the strengths which will enable our youth to be empowered to choose and to act in a way that will lead to a brighter future.
Here is some of the coverage of yesterday's press conference at City Hall.
And of course: http://gothamist.com/2011/09/26/conservatives_insist_that_sex_ed_wi.php