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Sex Ed Debated

State Capital Bureau

March 15, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ "Teaching a comprehensive sex education course is hard, but burying a child is harder. I've done both," said Minerva Glidden, a St. Louis Red Cross AIDS educator and a former school nurse.

Glidden's son died of AIDS. In a fax sent to the House Education Committee, she voiced her opposition to a bill that would require schools to emphasize abstinence in sexual education classes.

Glidden complained that teaching abstinence emphasizing the dangers of sex does not work. "Let's not play politics with our children's lives."

Rep. Bill Linton, R-Grover, the bill's sponsor, said he wants to require schools to emphasize that abstinence is the only completely effective way to avoid sexually-transmitted diseases.

"It's this concept that caused me to run for the House," Linton said.

Armed with statistics, supporters of the bill stress the practical need for abstinence education.

"Adolescent sexual activity is not only a moral question, it has become a very serious health problem," said Bebe Kennedy, a retired counselor and an assistant professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "Safe sex is a myth."

Kennedy said teaching about contraception encourages students to engage in sexual activity.

"We are putting the youth of this state at risk by including instruction about contraceptive use," Kennedy said. "We need to be brave enough to unabashedly tell youth that sex before marriage is not only not moral, it is not healthy. Abstinence is the only 'safe' way to go."

Kennedy cited high success rates of several programs advocating abstinence. She said these programs combat the psychological effects of early sexual activity, like chronic low self esteem in girls and drug use in both males and females.

Although Linton said his bill does not provide for a specific curriculum, some at the bill's committee hearing offered suggestions.

Dave Drissell, who has taught courses in abstinence in different church and community groups, advocated a program called True Love Waits. It uses positive peer pressure to urge teens to abstain from sex outside of marriage, he said.

"The program emphasizes self control over birth control," Drissell said.

At the conclusion of True Love Waits, Drissell said students are given a pledge card that says that they are proud to "remain pure" until marriage.

Rep. Vicki Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, had another suggestion. Hartzler taught sex education for 11 years. She said some of her former students became pregnant, so she implemented an abstinence-emphasizing program called Sex Respect.

"I was amazed at the response," she said. "Of the kids who went through that course, none of them got pregnant or got someone pregnant."

Hartzler said the program taught students than being a virgin was normal.

"What I tried to tell the kids was that they were worth it," Hartzler said. "I thought they appreciated hearing that."

But Mary Mosley, legislative coordinator for the Missouri National Organization for Women, attacked the Sex Respect program after she attended a training for it.

"It is anti-birth control and anti-abortion, and it is based on the premise that if we could just go back to the good old days when men were men and women were women we wouldn't be having all these problems," Mosley said in a 1989 edition of New Directions for Women.

She said some of the data was outdated and that the curriculum was based on religion, particularly traditional Roman Catholic beliefs.

"Our argument is based on a separation of church and state," Mosley said.

Coletta Eichenberger, community affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri, said the bill's proponents ignore students with different value systems.

"While this approach might be appropriate for a private, sectarian school, public school education must recognize and respect differences in religious and cultural backgrounds," Eichenberger said.

She also said the proposed sexual education program does not provide students with all the information they need to make intelligent decisions.

"To only focus on abstinence is oversimplifying the issue," Eichenberger said. "We know the only 100 percent effective way is abstinence, but there are other healthy methods of birth control."

But Rep. John Loudon, R-Ballwin, said he interpreted the bill differently than several people who testified. He said the bill would not force schools to teach only abstinence, but to emphasize it as the only reliable way to prevent STDs.

Eichenberger presented Planned Parenthood's list of guidelines for choosing an appropriate sexual education curricula. She said the program must:

@ Involve parents as partners in the educational process.

@ Be comprehensive and reality-based.

@ Support abstinence as the wisest choice for most young people; however, abstinence should be included as one option in a range of healthy choices reflecting responsible behavior.

@ Teach critical thinking and decision-making skills.

@ Challenge stereotypes based on race, gender and sexual orientation in order to promote understanding and respect.

@ Recognize and value diversity in the backgrounds of their peers.

Eichenberger also questioned two clauses in the bill.

The first would require the course material to stress that students should abstain from sexual activity until they are ready for marriage.

"That is not based in reality," Eichenberger said. "People are not marrying as young. Some choose not to marry. Is being ready for marriage the only time we are ready for sex?"

The second clause Eichenberger questioned states that classes should teach students to honor monogamous heterosexual marriage.

"It is presenting value judgments of what is O.K. and what isn't from the standpoint of heterosexual marriage," Eichenberger said. "We cannot legislate morality."