Today we bring you the first part of a two-part interview with sex educator and sex-positive activist Ms. Ashley, as we talk about the value of evidence-based, scientifically accurate sexual education.
Ms. Ashley is a sex educator who teaches an adaptation of the Our Whole Lives curriculum. In part 1 of our interview, we discuss the various types of sex education, what the evidence shows about the effects of fact-based sex ed, and how continuing sex education can help not just students but everyone.
You can find Ms. Ashley on Facebook here, here, and here, and on Instagram here.
Transcript of the episode below.
Franklin: Hello! Welcome to a new episode of Skeptical Perverts, the podcast where we examine human sexuality through an evidence-based, skeptical lens! I’m your host, part-time mad scientist, and token cishet dude, Franklin!
Joreth: Hi! I’m your co-host and Renaissance cat, Joreth! I’m kinky, sopo, on the ace spectrum, chicana, feminist, my gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but I use masculine titles.
Eunice: And I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, ace-spec, bisexual, solopoly British Chinese woman, bringing my usual touch of genteel filth and depravity.
Franklin: Today we’re chatting with Ms. Ashley, a sex educator who does a lot of work with evidence-based sex ed. A quick note – today’s episode is US-centered because a lot of sex ed is wrapped up in politics and policies, so keep in mind we’re talking about US policies, politics, and attitudes.
Eunice: Well, mostly – I can’t help being British, folks!
Franklin: Wait, you’re British? Why wasn’t I informed?
Eunice: I know, shocking how I kept all the tea related paraphernalia hidden so well over, lo, these many years. How long have we known each other now, Franklin?
Franklin: We met at an orgy in 2010, so…about twelve years?
Eunice: Clearly I’m an amazing actor. (Note for the listeners, I am not an amazing actor.)
Joreth: So, back to the episode … We came across this amazing advocate for evidence-based sex ed that we really wanted to bring on the show. And we wanted to do something a little bit different than a standard interview. We thought it would be fun to invite her to talk about whatever she felt most passionate about, which was the struggle between abstinence only sexual education vs. what she called “comprehensive sex ed”.
Eunice: Yeah, one thing to notice is that there is no version of sex ed that doesn’t include abstinance-based sex ed, only versions which don’t include evidence-based sex ed. Which I think is an interesting…decision, let’s call it a decision, hmm?
Franklin: The United States still has a strongly Puritan attitude toward sex. The Puritans came to this continent a long time ago and didn’t stick around for all that long, but their ideas, especially about morality, have left a lasting mark on the American social fabric. Our weird, toxic ideas about sex trace directly back to Puritanism, which shows you just how stubbornly cultural values can persist. So it’s not really that surprising that all US sex ed includes abstinence.
Eunice: More than includes abstinence, Franklin, it requires abstinence. In contrast, when I was having a look at the UK National Curriculum for Relationships and Sex education for comparision, I only realised after we talked that as far as I can tell, abstinence-based education isn’t included as a requirement. I don’t think it’s even mentioned. Those Puritans really took some wild ideas with them when they abandoned British shores in a huff because they couldn’t persecute others, and I for one can only be grateful they didn’t stick around, honestly.
Joreth: I’ve been trying to finish uploading my pictures from my road trip to New England last summer, and just did a section of Puritan gravestones, which had some interesting rules on what could be put on a gravestone and what couldn’t because of their morality and some of that stuff persists to graves today, so it’s really fascinating to me how long-lasting the Puritans’ mark on our culture really is. (We will have a lot more to say about Puritanism in our Patreon out-takes, so sign up on Patreon to hear that conversation!)
Eunice: We’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent here, let’s haul ourselves back to topic. I’m aware that this is a losing battle, but let’s at least try to focus! We had a fantastic chat that we’re really excited to share with you, so Joreth, do you want to introduce the wonderful Ms Ashley to kick us off?
Joreth: Ashley Robertson identifies as a feminine, ethically non-monogamous, doll. With over a decade of experience in the BDSM scene, she isn’t shy of perverse topics. She is a liberated educator who wishes to share with others the freedom of sexuality without shame. With three teaching degrees, she’s fed up with the idea that learning comes from a constrictive set of standards. She facilitates adaptations of the Our Whole Lives curriculum adapting the workshops to fit diverse audiences. This non-coercive, comprehensive approach to sex ed is what we all wished we had in high school.
Franklin: Ms. Ashley had quite a lot to say, so let’s jump right into the interview. We had a few technical issues with our recording, so just a heads up that the quality might not be as good as usual.
Joreth: So this is going to be fairly standard. We’ll have a bunch of questions to ask you. Mainly we wanted to have a conversation where you had the opportunity to talk about what you wanted to talk about.
You know, I’ve done my share as a podcast guest myself, and it’s usually the podcast has an agenda. They have a story they want to tell and you sort of fit into it. So then they ask the guest to talk about whatever the podcast wants to hear
But we wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about what you wanted as a researcher.
Joreth: So, science based, especially evidence based, sex ed…we are all so behind that.
Ms. Ashley: It’s very generous of you to share your platform, thank you. I appreciate that.
Eunice: We’re also just really excited to hear what you’re going to say.
Ms. Ashley: I have a couple of articles I’d love to share, and I have like some personal anecdotes about how this work goes, that kind of goes along with these articles. So I thought that was the content I’d like to share with you and your listeners today.
A little back story about me. I wasn’t planning to be a sex educator. That wasn’t what I went to school for. I’m learning this as an in the field researcher and in the field doing it.
I was trained to facilitate one particular curriculum called the our Whole Lives Curriculum. And what I found here in Indiana is that it’s hard to find opportunities for this kind of work, because the curriculum that I learned about, and that I am able to facilitate, is comprehensive. It’s not as much of a friendly place for that kind of learning here in Indiana.
I guess the main story I’d love to share is for all of your listeners to be advocates and allies for comprehensive sex education opportunities. I feel like if there’s any action item I could ask for for people with kids and without kids, it’s to rally behind this idea that more information earlier and often is better than the alternative.
Some of the research that I have to share this evening comes specifically from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Because I feel like, hey, that’s a reliable source. These are the people that we turn to when we are parents and trying to understand best practice and safest ways to do things. And so I was like, hey, I think this is a good. Source and also not that much of a controversial source, right?
Like if I was pulling from Planned Parenthood, or, you know, any other faith-based source, there could be conversation about like oh, this is very biased. But I felt like this is a real, rooted-in-science resource, so I wanted to start with that.
And I guess I’m curious from all of you, if you know what the two types of sex ed are that are available in the United States?
Joreth: Well, I’m assuming that one is going to be abstinence-based, which is probably rooted in in religion and faith, whether it says so upfront or not.
And then the other, I’m hoping is a more evidence based curriculum.That that’s what I would guess are the two main ones.
Franklin: Yeah, well, definitely abstinence-only sex education is all over the news pretty much all of the time. Which is a little scary when you look at the data and see just how much it doesn’t work. I would hope that the other one would be evidence based, but you know, considering the times we live in right now, I am not going to make that bet.
I mean, you know you say that pediatricians are an evidence based source that nobody would ever question, and, you know, obviously completely neutral, but we live in a world where people think that the Centers for Disease Control are part of some kind of conspiracy, so I’m not sure that’s necessarily true.
Eunice: I mean, I’ll be honest abstinence-only, at least I understand what that is. It is interesting, in the sense of how much it doesn’t include.
But when it comes to evidence based, I don’t know where the evidence comes from. I don’t know what evidence they pick to refer to when they talk about evidence-based. So that’s something that I’m interested in. What do they mean by evidence based? I mean, I’m assuming that there’s not one single source that all of the curricula that use evidence based sex ed will be looking to.
I’m assuming that different sources will potentially come up, and I’d be interested to know what’s the difference between them.
Ms. Ashley: I will do my best to answer some of those questions. I don’t know if I have all the answers. The two main types of curriculum available in the United States are abstinence only, which is known as a “sexual risk avoidance program. This means that they teach that abstinence from sex is the only morally acceptable option for you.
Or the second option, which is comprehensive. Comprehensive sex ed means it’s medically accurate, evidence based information about both contraception and abstinence. So the abstinence only curriculums will not talk about contraception.
Franklin: That’s really scary.
Eunice: Oh, right, Yikes, exactly.
Ms. Ashley: So then, within comprehensive there’s actually two other branches. Within comprehensive programs there’s an abstinence plus program, which means they are still teaching that sex abstinence is the only morally acceptable option for youth, but the plus means that they share about condoms.
And then with the full, expansive, comprehensive programs, this includes all conversations about medically accurate, evidence based information, contraception, abstinence being the safest form of risk avoidance, including also conversations about safer sex in lots of different varieties of sex, and healthy relationships. So that’s the whole shebang. This is an interpersonal conversation. This is not just about our bodies and our reproductive organs.
So there’s kind of 2 main branches of sex ed programs and then off of the comprehensive there’s two main branches. One is more palatable for a lot of school systems because it’s still abstinence based, but it adds this idea of condoms. And then our full shebang is the one I’m advocating for as a sexual educator.
So one of the coolest things I found as I was going through this information from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that they identify comprehensive sex education as preventative health care. I love this idea. No one talks about this and there’s so much validity in this idea of preventative health care when children are young and even for adulthood because it reduces the burden on our society fnancially, if we’re being preventative with our bodies. And so that just made me so happy. It’s like the pediatricians of our country are saying comprehensive sex ed is preventative health care.
Joreth: I mean, it makes sense, right? It is! Everything about sex ed is preventing bad stuff from happening.
Ms. Ashley: Yes, and they also made a very clear point to say sexuality education can be disseminated through three separate learning domains: cognitive, which is about teaching information; affective, which is about teaching about feelings, values and attitudes; and behavioral, which is about communication, decision making and other skills. So I loved this idea that our pediatricians are saying to the whole country, “when you talk about sex, with any age, with any kids, it should be all three parts. It should be, what information do they need to know, how can we identify their social emotional skills, and how can we empower them to make decisions with their bodies and communicate with others for healthy relationships?””
So yay! Instead of it just being this like weird and awkward, shame-based conversation about genitals, it’s supposed to be the whole thing that creates an awareness of a person’s whole self.
So I’m curious from you all. Since this is the podcast that people want to hear stories: of those three domains, cognitive, affective, and behavioral, what was your experience of sex ed growing up?
Franklin: Oh God. My experience of sex ed growing up was basically a 5 minute conversation in high school health class and a “don’t do it.” That was pretty much it.
But then I went to high school in Florida, which is not exactly a shining beacon for fact and evidence based progressive ideas about science and reality. And they certainly would not be swayed by any kind of approach that said, “look, we’re trying to do harm reduction or risk management,” because, I’ll be honest, what Florida is all about is, “well, if you break the rules you should suffer.”
Eunice: Uh, the interesting thing is that I’m based in the UK and the UK has a national curriculum that legally has to have evidence based relationships and sex education, right? So in primary school, that’s up to about the age of ten or eleven, it is mandatory to have relationships education. And in secondary school, which is up to 16 or 18 depending on the school, it is mandatory to have relationships and sex education. And this is just what is it.
And it should cover relationships. But also contraception and intimate relationships. Healthy relationships of all types, you know.
Looking at the National curriculum now for the sorts of sex ed that is expected in the UK, it is based on evidence. Whether or not the actual schools are any good at teaching it is a slightly different matter, but legally it is expected that you have evidence based teaching in a range of topics.
However, when I was growing up, I grew up under the auspices of Section 28, which specified that it was illegal to teach that homosexual relationships were acceptable, so I grew up in that era. And I think that law was only repealed in 2003 as I remember.
Joreth: That’s pretty recent.
Eunice: So yeah, yeah, that was like 80 something to 2003 I believe is when that law went into effect. God bless Maggie Thatcher.
And that meant that it was illegal to teach kids about homosexuality in a way that suggested that it was healthy or reasonable or normal or acceptable, And therefore they just basically didn’t teach anything that wasn’t heterosexual monogomous relationships.
So yeah, there’s two parts to this, right? They’re kind of contradictory, because I came out as bisexual when I was in my teens in high school.
Joreth: Right in the middle of that?
Eunice: Yeah, like that was that was smack bang in the middle of it. I did not get any sex ed that related to anything other than heterosexual monogamous relationships.
Ms. Ashley: I hear that a lot and I’m sorry for that, because it invalidates you as who you are or you become invisible. And that’s not how it should be. You are absolutely wonderful and valid, exactly as you are.
Eunice: I’m so glad that is no longer in place, and that they specifically require you to teach about LGBTQ issues now in the national curriculum.
Ms. Ashley: Yeah, in the UK that is not happening in the US
Eunice Yes, in the UK.
Franklin: I don’t see that happening in the US anytime soon. To be honest, I mean the US is still struggling with the idea that anybody who is not a cishet white dude is actually a person.
Joreth: Yeah, we we have a terrible track record with evidence based anything, really.
Now, my experience is contradictory in a lot of ways, because I went to public school up through age 12/13, which is junior high, and I went to a private Catholic school for high school. The contradictory part is that I had an amazing sex ed through high school, but only for the medical stuff.
We covered a little bit of the relationship, only so much as I had a a marriage section in one of my classes, where we had the we had to plan our wedding. We had to have a household budget. We had to carry around the flower sack baby. So it’s all very heteronormative, but it wasn’t a whole lot of of a relationship communication work. It was just, “eventually you’re going to get married and have kids. So this is how you do a budget and this is what it’s like to walk around, carrying five pounds on your arm every day.””
Franklin: Seriously, wow.
Joreth: Oh yeah, I should show you pictures. My flower baby was named Jacob.
Franklin: Oh man. That’s a good biblical name.
Eunice: There was actually a book I read about this, like a fiction book. I read fiction books about this thing and I didn’t realize it was a real thing that happened.
Joreth: Yes, it’s a real thing. And part of my project was I had to have pictures, so I walked around town as a teenager, pushing a baby carriage.
Franklin: Good Lord.
Joreth: And people thought I was a teenage mother. So that one of the things that I was reporting on, the societal response to me as what they thought was a teenage mother. My teacher was not expecting that as part of my report.
But for the biology part of it, I had fantastic sex ed. We had some form of sex ed every single year in my 4 years of high school, although one of the semesters was not so much sex ed as it was a self defense course because we were an all girls school.
So our priest, our schools priest, was a black belt in some martial art. One of our health classes, the entire semester was all self defense. So I learned how to flip people over my shoulder and break grips.
Franklin: Oh my God.
Joreth: Explains a few things about me! But then, I was also a sociology major. We didn’t really have majors like in college, but we could get started early on college prep courses. So in high school I was already planning to go from my marriage and family counseling degree and I had planned to specialize in problem teenagers.
So through my psychology courses, I got a lot of the relationship and the communication stuff through that, all through my private Catholic school.
So I had a really strange, contradictory sort of experience with sex ed growing up.
Ms. Ashley: Quite a variety of experiences represented here in this in this group. Mine was very much the sexual risk avoidance model. I was part of the evangelical purity culture.
Franklin: Oh God.
Ms. Ashley: We got most of our sex head through through church, and there was this big ceremony of, like, professing that you will wait until marriage, and your parent came up and gave you a purity ring and put it on your wedding ring finger and like this whole thing.
Franklin: Oh my God. You actually did the purity ring thing.
Ms. Ashley: I did! That was very serious. And my personal experience led me to find out later that having some autonomy of your body and ownership of your body and experience of some kind actually helps you find a better mate or understand your needs to communicate what you desire and how you act.
Joreth: Imagine that. Surprise!
Ms. Ashley: So it didn’t serve me either. And interestingly, in 2012 there was a national campaign to prevent teen and unplanned pregnancy, where they surveyed 1200 high school seniors. Many of them were girls, some of them were boys and they had mixed feelings about their first time that they had had sex. Also called “sexual debut.” That’s one of the nice ways of saying that.
Joreth: Oh, I have feelings about that.
Ms. Ashley: Yeah, “sexual debut.”” More than 3/4 responded that they would change the way that their first sexual experience occurred. So there we have it, more than 3/4 of them said “I would have liked this to go differently,” and I feel like the only way that that could go differently is with more information, right?
That’s how we don’t drop our children into the deep end of a pool having never had any swimming lessons.
Franklin: Well, some people do…
Ms. Ashley: Yep, without an instructor there?
Franklin: Yes, Yep.
Ms. Ashley: Wait! Okay, I’m gonna need this story.
Franklin: That’s a thing! That’s a thing that happens. You know, it’s the whole sink or swim right? That’s literally what that means.
Joreth: I was just talking with with a friend. It’s certain areas more than others, but I was just talking with a friend who that was how she learned. Her father just dropped her in the water and said, you know, learn to swim, make it to shore.
Ms. Ashley: I feel like that’s probably not the recommended practice, right? The same thing with a knife. Most people wouldn’t give their children a knife at the age of 16, having never had any experience with a knife before.
I remember coming home once and just like making sandwiches and cooking, turning around with a knife in my hand and my friend who’d come back to my place afterwards looking down and was like, “your parents let you use those knives?” And I just looked down, like “yes. My family is Chinese. I see my parents regularly holding bigger knives than this. This is a bread knife. I am not going to be able to stab anyone with this.”
Ms. Ashley: So, there! You had more information than your peer, because your parents had exposed you to information. Your peer probably didn’t even know there was a name, “bread knife” as opposed to “steak knife” as opposed to “chef’s knife.”
Joreth: You know, you’re probably less likely to stab someone unintentionally than your friend.
Ms. Ashley: Yeah, because you’d already had some experience with the knife, and so that’s a good explanation for exactly what we are talking about here, which is giving youth and children more information earlier on, in a comprehensive way.
One thing that the American Academy of Pediatrics also highlights is this idea that families and primary caregivers are the main source of potential information for their children and the children in their care. What they find is that conversations that a pediatrician can have with a family early on can help any parents that potentially feel awkward or discomfort or shame or embarrassment surrounding some of these topics.
And so they’re also advocating for parent education and caregiver education, which is saying things like, “it’s absolutely normal for children and youth to desire self stimulation and safe touch. This is part of them being sexual being,s and it allows them to later explore them their own bodies in safer ways.
So teaching parents that like it’s normal for your 2 year old to masturbate, you don’t need to pathologize that. That’s absolutely part of natural curiosity and the way that our bodies work.
So any parent who’s listening who feels like squicked out or a little uncomfortable or unable to access doing this with their child in a way that’s useful and calm and cool and collected, there are lots and lots of resources out there for you to use as a parent to educate yourself and to feel more informed and more capable of having these conversations.
One of the resources that I love to share is sexetc.org. There you can find crazy vocabulary lists for things in case like your teenager comes home and says a word and you don’t know what it is, organized by alphabet. So sexetc.org.
Weknowship.org is an organization out of Maine. They do virtual workshops three to four times a year. Some of them are specifically for parents. They have presenters that come in. So weknowship.org. It’s all sorts of things. It’s like, how has the pandemic affected my child and what can I do to reverse some of its effects? Or pornography and my teenager, or shame-free potty training. You know, there’s like all sorts of things like that.
I also like to recommend amaze.org, which is a site full of videos, and these videos are organized by topic so you can look one up and watch it before you share it with your child. It gives you some of the words to say to your child, like a like a script. So if a topic comes up, you can research and see if there’s a video there that could help you navigate the words yourself.
There’s also Sex Positive Parenting, which is full of blog posts and resources.
But the American Academy of Pediatrics is absolutely saying the parents and caregivers are the best place for this information to come from, not necessarily schools, so don’t rely on your child’s school for this information. Take every opportunity that you have for it to layer upon itself and build, so that your child has access to a more complete understanding of these topics.
Franklin: All of that kind of assumes that you have parents who are active and involved and engaged with their kids, and who want their kids to have factual information, and who are not themselves surrounding sex with layers of shame and guilt. I’ll be honest, in the US, that kind of seems like a big ask.
Ms. Ashley: I feel that way too and so if we can get this conversation out more to more people and one parent says to another parent, you know, even if they’re like, out having drinks or if they’re texting about a situation they’re dealing with with their kid., if one parent says to another parent, “I heard that being sex positive and body positive is probably a better way, instead of like punishing your child for pooping in their pants again.” Even just that one little thing from one parent to another could spark that curiosity in that parent to say, “wait, what is this ‘sex positive?’ Does that mean I want my kid to have sex?” And then that other person who was like, “Well, I don’t really know a whole lot about it, but from what I understand, it means I’m saying there’s nothing wrong with their body because they have genitals.” It’s not dirty, it’s not gross. It’s just like a nose or an ear. It just happens to be an area that we say is private.
If one parent can say a tiny thing that they learn to another parent, which sparks curiosity, and then if there’s pushback, then that parent that said the thing might go back and do a little more research, and then it sort of snowballs. I would love for that to be more of a thing.
Joreth: It sounds like we also could use a strong curriculum for sex ed for adults.
Ms. Ashley: Which is exactly what the one I teach is. The Our Whole Lives curriculum spans the lifespan of a human, which is really amazing. It starts in kindergarten and there’s a curriculum for the younger elementaries. Then there’s a curriculum for the mid elementaries. Then there’s a curriculum for the middle school, which is very puberty heavy content. There’s a high school curriculum. There’s a younger adults curriculum. There’s an adult curriculum and an older adults curriculum.
It actually grows with people, and so we’re not ignoring this idea of menopause. And we’re not ignoring this idea of death of spouses and having to redefine our lives independently once we’re older. It grows with us, which is one of the reasons why if anyone can get access to an Our Whole Lives facilitator, get ’em. Do it. It’s great stuff.
Eunice: Yeah, I love that idea of the older adults, because I practically never see any sort of relationship or sex ed that’s directed at somebody who, you know, maybe they’ve been married before. They’re starting to approach menopause, or their their post0menopause or whatever. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that out there.
Joreth: I’ve been talking lately that we basically have The Golden Girls and Grace and Frankie and that is pretty much all of the information. Both educational and in media, we have those two sources for anybody who is in the menopausal or after range. While it’s entertaining, and while I’m glad to see this in popular media, that cannot be the only exposure we have to what it’s like for seniors to have sex.
Franklin: Oh man.
Eunice: How old are the Sex and the City actors now? Like, Sex and the City is getting older, and I guess they just carry on going.
Joreth: Yeah, they’re in their 50s now, ’cause they’ve got the new show out. That’s right, that just came out. And because now it’s the comparison that the actors from Sex and the City are now the same age as the characters from The Golden Girls. So what is that? That’s the 50s.
Yeah, three shows now that even broach the subject of what sex is like for people who are a little bit older. And we need so many more avenues to discuss those topics, because if all the fortunes are in our favor, we are all going to be in that position someday. So this is a subject we need to have more information on.
Ms. Ashley: I have a question. Have you ever seen a condom used in either of those shows, or discussion of a condom used in either of those shows?
Joreth: Yes, Sex in the City definitely covers condom use. They have several episodes about it.
Ms. Ashley: Oh, I meant Golden Girls or Grace and Frankie.
Joreth: Grace and Frankie. I want to say that they did discuss it, that they did mention it.
Ms. Ashley: My only remembering about that, was that they were trying to develop and market easy-open condoms for arthritic hands.
Joreth: That might have been the context that I saw them. ’Cause most of what it is, you know, two senior women who are trying to enjoy pleasure and, you know, being physically hampered by it. So that’s why they create the female masturbation device for older women with arthritic hands, which I think is a fabulous idea.
Ms. Ashley: I don’t feel like there’s a whole lot of discussion there, and that’s one of the demographics where we’re having the higher rates of STI’s because there’s no real discussion, and that wasn’t part of how they grew up in negotiating sex.
Joreth: Yeah, I mean wasn’t that entire generation basically married during the AIDS crisis, so why would they? They wouldn’t have needed to have known that.
Eunice: Right, I was actually quite bemused when I realized that old people homes are apparently the location for the fastest transmission of STI’s.
Joreth: Yes, in fact The Villages here in Florida is particularly notorious for that. And it’s also in a red area. They’re highly conservative. They’re all Trump voters, and among the senior living facilities, they have one of the highest rates.
Ms. Ashley: So this is furthering this idea that comprehensive education with more information about how to communicate your desire for someone to wear a barrier and use a barrier is going to be healthier.
Yes, one of the things this article says is that if comprehensive sex ed programs are offered in schools, positive outcomes can occur, including delay in the initiation and reduction in the frequency of sexual intercourse. A reduction in the number of sexual partners and an increase in condom use.
So wow, those are like 3 massive things we would love to have for all of our children and youth: reducing how many partners they have, increasing their use of condoms ’cause hey they know how to use them, and waiting.
So that’s one of the biggest things that I hear from people is, like, well, if you want to do comprehensive sex ed and if you want to be advocating for this idea of sex positivity and family cultures, all you’re doing is giving kids permission to do it earlier. I hear that so, so much and I just want to be very clear that is not the case.
Joreth: Yeah, I like to laugh every time that comes up. I’m like, how long has it been since you were a teenager? Because I remember being a teenager. Like, not having a lot knowledge didn’t stop anyone. My cohort was all about having sex at the time. So you know they don’t need to have this information to have sex, but having the information having that information is going to make it safer.
That’s a huge argument that Florida had, though, when the HPV vaccine came out and Florida actually tried to prevent people from getting it because they’re like, “o”h yeah, this is the vaccine.””
Joreth: Oh yes.
Franklin: What did they call it? There was an editorial in the paper that I read. They called it the “slut vaccine,” because, you know, you give people this vaccine and now all of a sudden they’re going to run around and be promiscuous because there’s no penalties. This comes from a mindset that says the way you prevent people from doing things that we consider bad is to punish them if they do.
Franklin: And STI prevention and harm reduction, they actually act against that philosophy.
Joreth: That’s the punishment.
Franklin: If you can prevent people from getting sick, if you can prevent people from having babies, you make them more immoral. That’s the mindset. And I don’t know how you counter that mindset.
Eunice: I don’t know. The guidance in the UK for the national curriculum specifically states outright that effective relationship and sex education does not encourage early sexual experimentation. They put it out there in those words and they’re just like moving on. Let’s just, let’s just ignore it, just moving on.
Ms. Ashley: I literally have this highlighted in this in this article. It says we know that abstinence is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy and STI’s, right? However, research has conclusively demonstrated that programs promoting abstinence only until heterosexual marriage occurs are ineffective. It doesn’t work.
Joreth: Like I said if that’s what I always tell, ’cause I work with so many conservative people ’cause I live in Florida. And every time this comes up, well, you know it’s just giving them permission. If there aren’t any punishments attached, then it’s just giving you permission. Like honey, you were a kid too and it didn’t stop you. So we know that not having the information does not stop them. We know this. We don’t need the studies. I’m glad we have them, but we don’t need them. We all know that not having the information doesn’t stop it.
Franklin: But I think that the fact that it doesn’t work is actually OK with a lot of people, particularly religious people who oppose sex ed, because they’re like, “we would rather see 20 wrongdoers punished ththan 18 wrongdoers not suffer harm for what they’re doing wrong. Like the fact that it does not prevent people from having sex or having kids or whatever, that’s fine. Because where they’re coming from is: yes, people will do this anyway. They need to suffer. They need to be punished.
Joreth: Right, but the point is that with the education they won’t be doing the wrongdoing.
Franklin: You can’t get them to believe that though. This is a fundamental identity sort of belief, and my mother always used to say when I was growing up, “information by itself almost never changes attitudes.” If you believe that sex ed gives people permission to have sex and that sex ed will cause promiscuity, no study, no table, no chart is going to change that, because that’s fundamentally a belief that comes from religious identity, not from fact.
Joreth: You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.
Eunice: And original sin. You’re already a Sinner. Is it such a surprise if you then go and sin?
Ms. Ashley: So none of that is rooted in evidence.
Ms. Ashley: It’s all rooted in myth. They are very preciously held myths from stories that people have chosen to put on a pedestal, and, you know, believe as fact. And so it’s important for us to say like that’s not real, that didn’t actually happen, but they’re great stories. If they’re important to you, I’m happy to respect that they’re important to you.
But what we actually know is that considerable evidence shows that sexual education programs can be effective in delaying sexual initiation among teens and increasing their use of contraception, especially condoms.
One study in 2007 found that there was no difference in the mean age of a first sexual encounter or the number of sexual partners between two groups when they looked at one group that had abstinence only education and another group that had abstinence plus education, meaning they had they learned about contraception as well.
So no effect. There was nothing positive in the abstinence only group. There was no difference in mean age of starting. So giving them more information about contraception did not make them go out and be crazy right?
Currently in the US, roughly 1/3 of high schools teach condom use. 1/3.
Franklin: Wow, that’s disappointing.
Ms. Ashley: It is. It is very disappointing, especially considering that is our front line of defense against all the STI’s. And I do not have this statistic right now, but the number of youth that experience an STI is rising, because they’re like uninformed about what the warning signs are that they might have something, or that they might be carrying something. And so then they don’t know what their body is telling them in order to go seek medical advice. So those that idea of like, hey, a condom could have prevented this had they have known about it or how to use it, is something I would love for parents to be specifically asking within their their children’s sex ed programs. Like, “Does this include condoms?”
Because it’s really hard to find out this information. I’m doing this right now with my own child program in their own school, and I had to like talk to the director of the program to get this information. It wasn’t anywhere online.
So if that’s another action item that families might want to go with, is just can you get to the bottom of whether or not your high schools in your area include this very important information?
Franklin: We had a lot to say, way more than we could fit in this episode, so we’ll be back next month with part 2 of this interview. And does it bother anyone but me that it takes so much work to find out what’s in the high school sex ed courses your kids might be taking?
Eunice: Yeah, it’s such a great point that she makes, and I don’t understand why there isn’t a clearly laid out curriculum for people to be able to look at? I mean, so many parents are getting so het up about what their kids are learning in sex ed, and it turns out most of them don’t even know?
Joreth: I can kinda understand if you think of it from the point of view that most of the super nosy busybodies wanting to check up on their kid’s sex-ed course are the conservatives who might get pissy at any accurate information included, that I could see a sex-ed provider being a little bit cagey about what’s in their course.
Eunice: Oh yeah, that’s a fair point.
Joreth: But that’s why we really need a robust, national, standard sex ed curriculum – so it can be transparent but also not subject to pressures from non-evidence-based, values-laden complaints, which we’ll also get to in the second half of the interview.
Franklin: So that’s this month’s episode! As before, you can find show notes and a transcript on skepticalpervert.com. Next month, we’ll also include all the links Ms. Ashley referenced during the interview in the show notes. Comments or ideas? Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like the show, give us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or wherever you found us. And don’t forget to join our patreon, which is linked on the website.
Eunice: And remember: be skeptical about your abstinence, not absent with your skepticism!
Joreth: I can’t turn that into a dirty joke or a way to torture Franklin, it’s just kind of an important message.
Franklin: That doesn’t sound like you.
Eunice: Don’t get used to it!
Joreth: We have plenty of other ways to torture you.
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