‘Between The Bills’ Episode Three: The Human Wreckage Left Behind In Sexual Education

“The Southern way of treating it is like a disease, like sex is something that once you catch it, you know, you’re just going to be carrying it around.”

November 8, 2019

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Collector’s Weekly


appy Scorpio season, babes!

We’re back with another episode of Between The Bills, a podcast highlighting reproductive justice advocacy in the Feminist South. I’m your host, Emily Rose Thorne, a journalist, feminist, and Southerner living in the heart of Georgia.

In our last episode, we talked about disparities in accessing reproductive health care. We discovered that what’s often left out of these discussions is the lack of fundamental understanding young folks have about their own bodies.

So, falling in line with the wonderful sexy overtones of Scorpio season, let’s talk about the intersection between sex, education, and the South: sex ed. Particularly, abstinence-only sex ed.

In today’s episode, you’ll hear from Avery Grillo, a college student from Peachtree City, Georgia; Julia Partain, a Mercer University graduate living in Florida; and PULP’s very own co-founding editor Katie Tandy.

We’ve also got clips from a TED Talk by Sue Jaye Johnson, an activist and journalist; a Cosmopolitan interview with Georgia mom and sex-ed reform advocate Jaime Winfree; an Education Week interview with sex educator Shafia Zaloom; and some wild vintage sex ed movies you’ve just gotta hear.

More than one-third of Georgia’s 450 high schools, including the largest school system we have, follow a curriculum called “Choosing the Best,” meaning, “choosing abstinence.”

Abstinence-only sex education, for the uninitiated, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: teaching middle and high school students that the best way to avoid sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy is to abstain from sex. In the South, it’s often taught by representatives from crisis pregnancy centers —religious organizations led by anti-choice folks whose sole aim is to discourage abortion and mislead pregnant people.

“The Southern way of treating it is like a disease, like sex is something that once you catch it, you know, you’re just going to be carrying it around.” — Julia Partain

As for nuanced discussions on sexual orientation, desire, safe sex for any and all genders, communication during sex, masturbation, foreplay, and all the rest? Most schools don’t even touch it.

Our modern sex education becomes increasingly problematic when said education is predicated on the binary that abstinence is right and having sex is wrong. It creates adversarial relationships with students and their bodies and of course, the trust of consensual sex isn’t ever part of the conversation.

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Advocates say virginity-first curricula do nothing to lower rates of teen pregnancy or STIs, and may encourage sexual behavior in youth while discouraging them from understanding or discussing what they experience. Those rates are skyrocketing in the South as I write this.

In fact, the University of Georgia found that states using abstinence-only sex ed have significantly higher teen pregnancy rates.

Sex-ed reformers are calling to ditch the archaic purity-culture-fueled, abstinence-only sex ed with comprehensive sex ed in its stead: a curriculum that includes lessons on healthy relationships, abortion, contraceptives, communication, pleasure, queer sex, and everything else you may need to know if you’re a sexual being with a body.

The data show that this more realistic approach works where it’s been implemented. In 2013, a study based on the National Survey of Family Growth found that teens who received comprehensive sexuality education were actually 50% less likely to report a pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education. They’re also more likely to delay their first sexual encounters and to have fewer sexual partners when they do.

So why isn’t comprehensive sex ed the norm? You can blame traditional attitudes about sex that linger in our collective consciousness today, the influence of religion on public education, and Southern expectations of gender.

Hit that play button — let’s talk.

If you enjoy Between The Bills, make sure to give PULP a follow here on Medium and on our social media. For the sake of transparency, we need to hit 1,000 followers on the site by the end of November to continue producing content like our podcast, so don’t delay, and tell your friends! All of them!

// go deeper //

Sources used to inform Episode Three and resources to learn more about the state of sexual education in Georgia and around the country…

Legal shit (Official Code of Georgia)

State Profile, Fiscal Year 2017: Georgia — Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, 2017

Science and research: prevalence & impact of abstinence-only sex ed

America’s Sex Education: How We Are Failing Our Students — University of Southern California Department of Nursing, 2017

Why Support Comprehensive Sexuality Education? — Planned Parenthood Arizona, Inc. & National Survey of Family Growth

Study: Abstinence-only sex education programs do not reduce teen pregnancy, birth rates — University of Georgia, 2012

Sex Ed In Georgia Schools Still Abstinence-Heavy — Sophie Peel, Georgia Public Broadcasting, 2018

Georgia health information: STDs, dating violence & teen pregnancy

Georgia Adolescent Reproductive Health Facts — U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2016

For Georgia Teens, The End Of Dating Violence Begins With Healthy Relationships — Virginia Prescott, Leighton Rowell & Emilia Brock, Georgia Public Broadcasting, 2019

Georgia ranks number one in the nation in teen dating violence — Mike Haskey, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, 2019

3 sexually transmitted diseases hit new highs again in US — Jenese Harris, News4Jax, 2019

STD Rates Reach Another Record High In Fulton, Elsewhere In U.S. — Geoff Dempsey, Patch, 2019

STD rates at a high in middle Georgia — Amaris Jenkins, WGXA, 2019

Abstinence-only sexual education funding

State Profile, Fiscal Year 2017: Georgia — Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, 2017

Abstinence Education Program — Division of Family and Children Services of Georgia

Vintage vids

Am I Normal, Human Growth, Human Reproduction, Miracles in Birth, Social Sex Attitudes In Adolescence, & The Miracle of Life — Archive.org

Sex Madness: Sex in Today’s World & Parent to Child About Sex — DuFoe Entertainment, Archive.org, 1938

Not-so-vintage vids

What we don’t teach kids about sex — TED Residency, Sue Jaye Johnson, 2017

Beyond the Birds & the Bees- What Comprehensive Sex Education Looks Like — Education Week, 2018

Virginity-Focused Sex Ed Shames Victims | The Sex Ed Crisis — Cosmopolitan, 2018

Sexual assault at college

Rape, assault at college: Why back to school is so dangerous for women — Alia E. Dastagir, USA Today, 2019

Prevalence Rates — End Rape on Campus

Sexual assault on college campuses — Office on Women’s Health

Organizations & additional information

Georgia Coalition for Advancing Sex Education

Bibb County School District Demographic Dashboard 2013–17 — National Center for Education Statistics

Adolescent Health Groups Warn of Risks Anti-Choice Crisis Pregnancy Centers Pose to Young People — Jo Yurcaba, Rewire News, 2019

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