ACLU Reproductive Freedom In My State

Dear Superintendent,

In recent years, the number of programs and schools teaching reproductive health rights and abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula has increased. Research shows that these curricula, which deny young people crucial information they need to prevent pregnancy and protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are ineffective and dangerous. To ensure the health of young people throughout Missouri, we ask your assistance in keeping these unsafe programs out of our schools. None of us want students misled in the classroom – particularly when bad information can have lifelong consequences.

Records indicate that sex education programs in [state name] teach some of the most problematic abstinence-only curricula – including Choosing the Best; Me, My World, My Future; and A.C. Green’s Game Plan. According to a recent congressional report, these programs are among the many abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula that contain false and misleading information and perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

Perhaps most alarmingly, these curricula misrepresent the effectiveness of contraceptives, giving teens the false impression that condoms neither protect against STDs nor prevent unintended pregnancy. Such misinformation is particularly alarming given that each year in the United States, nearly 9.1 million 15-24-year-olds are infected with an STD and more than 800,000 teenagers become pregnant.

Despite these statistics, and discounting research by the Centers for Disease Control and others highlighting the effectiveness of condoms at preventing the transmission of HIV and other STDs, abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula send the message that condoms are not worth using. A.C. Green’s Game Plan, for example, falsely tells teachers: “[T]he popular claim that ‘condoms help prevent the spread of [(STDs)]’ is not supported by the data.” Choosing the Best and Me, My World, My Future is among the curricula that rely on a scientifically discredited study to dramatically understate the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Choosing the Best also misstates the effectiveness of condoms in preventing pregnancy.

Research shows that this kind of misinformation puts teenagers at risk. According to a recent study by researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities, 88 percent of teenagers who pledge to remain abstinent before marriage, break that pledge, and when they do have sex, they are less likely than other teens to use condoms or be tested for STDs.

Many of these programs also present harmful stereotypes about men and women. Choosing the Best, for example, teaches, “Generally, guys can focus better on one activity at a time and may not connect feelings with actions. Girls access both sides of the brain at once, so they often experience feelings and emotions as part of every situation.” These biased messages have no place in our schools.

We ask that as the superintendent of schools, you confirm that the health and life-skills curricula in your district present medically accurate, age-appropriate, unbiased information about sex and sexuality. Please let us know which curricula your school district uses and how the curricula address these issues. There is ample evidence that programs that include information about both abstinence and the effective use of contraception reduce sexual risk-taking and pregnancy among teens. If you would like assistance identifying comprehensive sexuality education programs to use in your district, please do not hesitate to contact me at the ACLU of [state name].

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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