In 2009, when I was a freshman in high school, my health teacher held up a crisp, red apple.
“This is you,” she told us. “You were born pure and beautiful like this apple.”
Then she held up an apple that had several bites taken out of it, shriveled and browned.
“This apple,” she said, “has had many partners, each one of them taking something from it. This is what will happen to you if you have sex before you are married. Every time you sleep with someone, it is like they are taking a bite out of you. Do you want to look like this on your wedding night? Or do you want to look like the beautiful apple that has never been bitten and is still whole?”
At the time, I sat at my desk, nodding, happy to see “evangelical Christian morals” being upheld in the public classroom.
Years later, I relayed this incident to one of my college professors as an example of abstinence-only education.
“That’s not abstinence-only education,” my professor said, frowning, “that’s shaming.”
The reality of his statement crashed down around me. The apple analogy did nothing to educate me or my peers about sex. It didn’t even teach us the benefits of choosing abstinence, only that we were lesser people if we didn’t remain abstinent until marriage.
That is the most un-Christian message we could teach. Jesus loves every individual equally and unconditionally. Nothing we can do can make us any less of a person or less worthy of love. Choosing to stay abstinent until marriage doesn’t make someone more holy or more whole than someone who experiments with many sexual partners.
This kind of education is not unique in the United States. As of Feb. 1, only 24 states and the District of Columbia require any kind of sex education in their public schools, and only 13 mandate that information taught in those classes be medically accurate. Washington State does not require any kind of sex education to be provided in public schools, but when it is, state law requires that abstinence be stressed in the curriculum.
To help fill in the gaps in young people’s education, many non-profit organizations across the country strive to reach teenagers who wouldn’t otherwise receive sex education. The federal grant program Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP), initiated in 2010, funds many of these programs, giving $89 million each year.
This program had been approved to continue receiving funds until 2020, but in July 2017, the Trump-Pence administration unexpectedly cut its funding. Funding for TPPP is now expected to end in June of this year, setting back the progress that has been made in sex education and teen pregnancy prevention in the past several years. In response, several organizations, including Planned Parenthood and King County Health Department in Seattle, are suing the Trump-Pence administration for dismantling this program.
Jesus’ followers ought to be on the front lines of this fight. We should be writing to our state leadership, demanding that quality, non-discriminatory sex education be required in our public schools. We should speak up at school board meetings and support organizations like Planned Parenthood that are striving to reach young people with the information they need. Parents ought to teach their children about sex without using shaming language, even if they choose to stress abstinence. And pastors ought to preach that those who have engaged in sexual activities outside of marriage are not bad people beyond the scope of God’s love or neighbors’ love.
Sex education is more than an anatomy lesson or a platform for punishing extramarital sex. It is an opportunity to teach young people about their bodies, created with love by God; to invest in students’ abilities to make informed decisions, trust their feelings, and assert their needs; and to teach students to love and honor themselves – messages that truly honor the teachings and heart of Jesus.
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