It can be hard to convey the danger of abstinence-only sex ed programs, but a new set of trading cards is hoping to do exactly that.
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), Advocates for Youth, and Answer, nonprofit organizations that promote comprehensive sex ed, have partnered to create a new campaign called #SRAisAbstinenceOnly.
The campaign calls out the rise of sexual risk avoidance (SRA) curriculum to teach sex ed. While “sexual risk avoidance” may sound nice, it’s really just a rebranding of abstinence-only-until-marriage, which the new trading cards effectively illustrate.
“These trading cards highlight some of the lessons that are actually used in abstinence-only sexual risk avoidance programs,” said Samantha Dercher, federal policy director at SIECUS. “They tell people things like, ‘If you have sex, you’ll be as undesirable as an already chewed-up piece of gum.'”
The trading cards, which are dubbed the “SRA Stigma and Shame Starter Kit,” contain examples of real lessons used in abstinence-only programs. Teachers, for example, compare people who’ve had sex to objects like an unwrapped piece of candy that’s been touched by everyone in a room, a cup full of communal spit, and a used toothbrush. The cards are easily shared on social media.
SIECUS, Advocates for Youth, and Answer recently delivered the cards to nearly 150 congressional offices to provide a counterpoint to the material that SRA lobbyists share with politicians. The groups also hosted a briefing in Washington, D.C., where sex educators, parents, and students shared their concerns with congressional staffers about the harm these programs can cause.
Research shows that abstinence-only programs aren’t effective because they don’t prevent pregnancy. These programs also often fail to educate young people about contraceptive use or how to avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The Trump administration, however, continues to promote SRA programs. In fiscal year 2019, the federal government has spent $110 million on funding such curriculum.
Often, these abstinence-only approaches are prevalent in places that need comprehensive sexual education the most. In the South, where there are high rates of HIV, STIs, and teen births, curriculum focusing only on abstinence is common, Dercher said.
“We wanted to make it clear to policymakers and to the general public that sexual risk avoidance is abstinence-only,” said Dercher. “We need to stop funneling millions of taxpayer dollars every year into these harmful programs that don’t work.”
Instead of sexual risk avoidance programs, SIECUS, Advocates for Youth, and Answer argue for inclusive programs that teach students about issues like healthy relationships, consent, abuse, and sexual assault, as well as contraceptives and STI protection.
“In a time when our sexual and reproductive health and rights are constantly under attack, we need to be providing young people with honest, accurate, and inclusive sex ed,” said Dercher.