Editor's Introduction -- This is the third part of a four-part examination of Teen-Aid, a religious outfit (based in Spokane, Washington) that promotes phony "sex education" materials to public schools.

from The Textbook Letter, January-February 1994

Keep Them Dumb, Keep Them Pregnant

Part 3: Reviewing Teen-Aid's Book for High Schools

Sexuality, Commitment & Family
1990. 194 pages. ISBN: none.
Teen-Aid, Inc., 723 East Jackson, Spokane, Washington 99207.

An Anti-Abortion Tract
That Deals in Trickery

Ricki Pollycove

Sexuality, Commitment & Family is a ponderous, moralistic, out-of-touch offering that I recommend for no one. It is a thinly veiled, self-righteous anti-abortion tract, and it will repel teenagers who are wary of being manipulated and who do not trust coercive, adult authority figures.

This book is supposedly aimed at high-school students, but it lacks the candor, warmth and down-to-earth style that are essential in providing such students with information about sex and about the personal and social consequences of sexual activity.

The book also shows a gross disregard for intellectual integrity. The writers calmly and steadily misrepresent facts, throughout the book, to serve their purpose.

A schoolbook about sexuality must be organized so that an average student will become engaged by some resonant idea or experience that will lead the student to read further and to trust the information that the book puts forth. The information itself must be accompanied by some humor (for relieving tension) and must include plenty of straight talk. In Sexuality, Commitment & Family, straight talk is pitifully lacking. For example: Instead of forthrightly explaining and analyzing the use of condoms, diaphragms and coitus interruptus, the writers give page after page to inventing tales about abstinence and the "freedoms" that it allegedly confers.

The writers are sadly out of touch with their audience. On page 13, for instance:

Much of the subject matter in this course requires that we as a class display a mature attitude toward sexuality. It is assumed as we begin this area of study that you have reached a level of maturity which enables you to enter discussions without using inappropriate slang terminology or resorting to immature behavior.

This sets the chilling, judgmental tone that pervades the whole book. The writers evidently don't know, or don't care, that a course in sexuality must begin by considering examples of attitudes and classroom behavior that will be helpful, as well as attitudes and behavior that will be counterproductive. Teacher and students have to work these matters out, with humor and tact, before going any further.

On page 17 the writers assume that all students will agree with the statement that self-value "begins with the knowledge that my parents love and respect me." This shows us that the writers are ignorant of some sad facts: Many teenagers don't feel that their parents love and respect them. Many come from dysfunctional families and from homes where no healthful role-model exists. In Sexuality, Commitment & Family, the chapter on "Family" is essentially an idealized list of some factors that have contributed to the functioning of the "family" in its "traditional" form. Do these writers imagine that they can reach real high-school students with this approach?

I turn now to the heart of the matter: Sexuality, Commitment & Family is, at bottom, an anti-abortion tract. If there has been doubt about this, the doubt vanishes when we reach the chapter about "Consequences of Adolescent Sexual Activity" (pages 137 through 155). The writers heretofore have avoided graphic writing, and have even failed to describe coitus, but they now become graphic indeed. They seem to delight in terrifying descriptions of abortion techniques. For instance:

In the first trimester (first three months) of pregnancy, the suction abortion is commonly used. The cervix (mouth of the uterus) is dilated with instruments, a hollow tube is inserted into the uterus, and a powerful vacuum removes the "products of conception" (unborn baby and placenta) piece by piece. Another method is the D and C (dilatation and curettage). After dilating the cervix, a loop-shaped knife (curet) cuts the uterine contents (fetus and placenta) into pieces small enough to be removed from the uterus. . . .

Immediately under this clinical narration there is a picture of a well developed fetus: the victim, you see. This is followed by three more paragraphs about abortion technology, then by a long passage about abortion's negative aftereffects -- not only physical effects but also psychological ones that seem to be limitless. Finally the writers provide a section that strongly promotes adoption as the proper and happy alternative to abortion.

What we have here is an anti-abortion polemic, hardly veiled at all. The writers, presenting a highly slanted view of a complex problem that includes elements of both personal and societal dysfunction, are trying to manipulate students by arousing fear.

What about prevention of pregnancy? Sexuality, Commitment & Family does not consider contraception, but the word condom finally appears in a little section titled "Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)." There is no practical discussion of how to employ condoms properly -- just a stream of scary statements about how condoms can fail. This is apparently intended to lend credibility to a passage in the section's summary:

With the skills learned in other chapters, all of you can be winners and enjoy the freedoms of the "no-risk" life-style. You are at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, cervical cancer, abortion, and HIV infection when your faith is in contraceptives for protection. You have no risk with premarital abstinence, being mutually faithful after marriage, and avoiding illicit drugs.

Such heavy-handed, simplistic prescribing is off the mark in every respect, and there are no earnest, peer-to-peer discussions aimed at problem-solving.

The writers' presentations of physical and psychological topics are often false, misleading or deceptively incomplete. To cite a few examples:

  • On page 37, a diagram of "Sexual Arousal" gives ambiguous, misleading pseudoinformation while ignoring our modern, professional understanding of the stages of arousal (as set forth in the publications of William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson). The diagram does not even mention the penis, the vagina, or the nipples!

  • The text on page 37 says, "During dating the young woman may become emotionally attached or bonded while the young man is experiencing more of a physical attraction or desire." That is archaic stereotyping, now known to be wrong.

  • Page 48: The uterus does not resemble "a thick-walled balloon" and is not the passive vessel that the writers make it out to be. The uterus is a dynamic organ that, after implantation of an embryo, can grow to twenty times its original size. One reason why such information is important is this: We know that teenagers will take much better care of their bodies if they have some appreciation of how wonderful those bodies are.

  • Page 48: Even if vagina is the Latin for sheath, the vagina is not a "sheath-like organ." And the book's definition of clitoris is quite inadequate. It does not tell that the clitoris is composed of erectile tissue, and it says nothing about the role of the clitoris in a woman's achieving orgasm.

  • Page 50: The description of conception is trash. Its purpose is polemical, its content false. An embryo is not "newly created life," does not "immediately [take] control of the mother's reproductive system," and does not produce human chorionic gonadotropin (which is made by the placenta).

    [Editor's note: The false notion that reproduction is the creation of life (i.e., that a zygote originates from non-living material and embodies new life) is promoted regularly by anti-abortion propagandists, who evidently seek to endow the zygote with an aura of the supernatural. To read of a case in which a schoolbook promotes the same nonsense, see "Glencoe's Insidious Propaganda" in The Textbook Letter, May-June 1993, page 9.]

  • Page 51: Although this is presumably a book about humans, the diagram called "The Cell" shows not a human cell but a plant cell.

  • Page 53 says that there is no evidence that intercourse induces a woman to ovulate. False. We know that, unfortunately, the conception rate among women who suffer genital rape, or among teenaged girls who begin genital intercourse, is higher than the rate predicted by fertility data for the female population as a whole. This suggests strongly that intercourse does influence ovulation.

  • Page 54: "During genital excitement, a man may deposit a few little drops of seminal fluid without ejaculation; these droplets contain a very high concentration of sperm. If deposited on or about the vulva, pregnancy can result even without penetration or ejaculation." The first statement is false: Most of the fluid released before ejaculation is devoid of spermatozoa. The second statement is colossally misleading: For a pregnancy to ensue even from an extravaginal ejaculation, let alone an extravaginal release of pre-ejaculatory fluid, is exceedingly rare. So again, the writers are perpetuating myths and concocting lies, apparently in an attempt to manipulate students by arousing fear.

To summarize: This book's judgmental, high-and-mighty tone will repel many teenaged readers; the "information" that the book presents is often inaccurate or misleading; and the handling of contraception and abortion is one-sided and exceedingly distorted. Sexuality, Commitment & Family -- so removed from real-life problems, so devoted to dictating pat answers and to scaring students rather than informing them -- may work as an adjunct to a Bible-study course, but it has nothing to contribute to mainstream education.

Religious Opinion
Presented as Fact

David R. Stronck

Sexuality, Commitment & Family is animated by the religious views and the political program of the Far Right. It does not respect other perspectives or provide any serious discussion of them, nor does it show respect for scientific information or research. The text is an unattractive listing of definitions and "facts," with the message of the Far Right imposed on each topic. The suggested teaching method appears to consist of nothing more than having students memorize material and then answer "Review Questions."

Many of the "definitions" given in this book, even in the glossary, are colored by the Far Right's beliefs and prescriptions. For example, the glossary's entry for the word abstain is embellished with a sentence implying that only evil consequences can arise from premarital sex:

Abstain A choice to refrain from a certain activity. There are many advantages in abstaining from premarital sex (e.g., physical and emotional freedom that is lost with a sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy, or abortion).

Similarly, the glossary declares that sexual intercourse means "a very special physical and emotional union when a man and woman come together in order for a new life to begin and/or to strengthen the bond in their marriage commitment." This gives the reader no idea of what the "physical union" may be, and it creates absurdities. For example, rape is commonly defined as unlawful sexual intercourse, perpetrated through force or threat -- but if we were to accept this book's definition of sexual intercourse, rape evidently could not involve sexual intercourse at all.

The introduction to Sexuality, Commitment & Family includes this assertion:

Cooperation and communication among parents, church, and school will be most beneficial to the students' self-worth and their future contribution to the community. The teacher's role is to transmit facts; the parents' role is to transmit values.

The second sentence seems to imply that this book avoids trying to transmit values and seeks only to present facts. The opposite is true. The book presents strong, idiosyncratic messages about values while heavily distorting facts. It seems best suited for use in a Sunday school that is directed by parents who are uniformly committed to the Far Right's ideology.

For an example of how the writers deliver their moral messages, look at page 29, where the writers quote one Patricia B. Driscoll: "Chastity before marriage is a realistic and proven way to find sexual happiness within marriage. Premarital fidelity is the best practice for sexual fidelity after marriage." The student evidently is expected to memorize this and to use it in answering a "Review Question" on page 41: "What do you consider to be the value(s) of postponing sexual gratification?"

On page 37, a diagram links "sexual intercourse" with "Relief of sexual tension, increased self-pride or . . . Guilt, anxiety, loss of self-esteem" (ellipsis in the original).

The writers do not identify religious opinion for what it is -- opinion. Instead, they present it as fact, as in this passage on page 52:

Fertilization, or conception, occurs when a single sperm penetrates the ovum and a new life begins. . . . This new one-celled human has 46 chromosomes, . . . . The only thing that is left from this point on is growth and development, and hopefully, in nine months, a change of residency called birth.

This is just one of many instances in which the writers promote, and depict as fact, the religious opinion that all the properties and rights of a born human reside in a zygote. Significantly, I believe, the term zygote seems to be entirely absent from the book's text, and it isn't defined in the glossary. It is used in passing, however, in the glossary's definition of endometrium. The term embryo seems to appear only once in the text, and it is absent from the glossary. Nor does the book give any description of the early stages of embryogeny, e.g., the blastula or the gastrula. Clearly, the writers do not want to deal with anything that bears no resemblance to a born human.

The chapter on marriage mentions divorce but does not discuss it. There is no examination of reasons why a marriage may be dissolved. And while the text fleetingly notes that a couple must consider "whether to have children," the writers explicitly and implicitly urge the view that reproduction is marriage's essential purpose. On page 59, for example: "From the social perspective, marriage may be seen as bringing together two people who should be responsible as parents."

The chapter on parenting has (on page 88) a list of "Some Positive Qualities to Be Fostered in Both Parents and Children." The list includes a number of things, such as faith, humility and obedience, that are highly esteemed by the Far Right but not by most Americans.

Obedience becomes a major theme in the chapter called "Assertiveness Skills," where the writers advocate rejecting compromise and conforming to authority. On page 130, they say that a behavioral option should be eliminated if it fails any of a number of criteria, including whether the option is "in line with the authority in charge." These writers are not concerned with helping students to understand things. They are concerned with ensuring that students will just follow orders.

Sexuality, Commitment & Family provides no description of condoms or of other contraceptive devices, and the chapter called "Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)" depicts condoms as having little value in controlling the spread of disease. Similarly, the chapter on "Consequences of Adolescent Sexual Activity" ignores scientific findings while presenting wrong "information." On pages 139 and 140, for example:

For over two decades contraceptive education and availability have been considered the key elements in preventing teen pregnancy. This approach has not succeeded in reducing pregnancy or the spread of STD's.

The writers cite no references to support that assertion, and the assertion is false. Published studies have shown the opposite: Where adolescents have had sound education in sexuality, and where contraceptives have been readily obtainable, there have been major reductions in the spread of STDs. There also have been demonstrable reductions in the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies. Reports of such results have been available since the early 1980s, at least, and I cited a number of them in my book Sexuality Education for American Youth, issued in 1983 by Network Publications (Santa Cruz, California).

I would recommend Sexuality, Commitment & Family only to church groups that wish to dwell on their own religious views while ignoring scientific information and the needs of most American adolescents.

This Book
Is a Fraud

William J. Bennetta

I can offer two definitive reasons why Sexuality, Commitment & Family is unfit for use in schools:

First, this book is flimsy and poorly made. The pages have merely been glued into a paper cover, and my copy began to fall apart before I finished trying to read it.

Second, the book is a fraud. This point will be developed in the rest of my review.

I've never before examined one of the Religious Right's phony "sex education" books, but I find that Sexuality, Commitment & Family rings familiar. I own a collection of books and pamphlets issued by devotees of creationism and "creation science," so I am well acquainted with the writings of religious cranks and with the devices that such people favor: half-truths, deceptive distortions, false definitions, logical fallacies, pseudoscience, ignorant raving, and ideological fakery dressed up as information. Sexuality, Commitment & Family has them all, along with a heavy dose of cruelty.

Who wrote this book? I don't know. It has no title page, and the preface, cast as a note to the student from "Steve Potter, Nancy Roach and the Teen-Aid Staff," is cryptic:

This text was designed for you, in the hope that the information will make a positive impact on the choices in life that you make. Many professionals in their own field of study wrote different sections of this book, and we as the editors put it in the best form we could for your benefit.

"Many professionals"? Which professionals? Do they have names? Just what is their "field of study"? And who are Steve Potter and Nancy Roach? I find nothing to suggest answers to those questions. In effect, the book is anonymous.

Sexuality, Commitment & Family is an anti-abortion tract, and much of its content has been contrived to support anti-abortion messages, by one means or another. For example, the Teen-Aid writers glorify breeding, they continually equate sex with reproduction, they depict sexual activity as purposeful behavior that has reproduction as its goal, and they hide or deny the aspects of sex that can't be linked, in some simple-minded way, to the making of babies. In writing about abortion itself, they employ falsity and gross distortion, and they promote the impression that any woman who chooses to have an abortion must be stupid or feckless.

While doing such things, the writers also project a view that is manifestly absurd: Breeding is good, but mating is bad -- an embarrassing thing that must be shrouded in double-talk.

Obviously, a book that deals in antics like those is not providing any legitimate treatment of sexuality -- even if the book carries a phony title that has sexuality as its first word. To give you an idea of how Sexuality, Commitment & Family shuns sexuality and submerges it under a heavy scum of ideology, I quote (in full) some items in the book's glossary:

Breasts The mammary glands are the milk-producing organs.

Sexual Arousal Sexual excitement. The progression of sexual arousal can be stopped at any point.

Sexual Intercourse (see Coitis [sic]) This is (should be) a very special physical and emotional union when a man and woman come together in order for a new life to begin and/or to strengthen the bond in their marriage commitment.

That non-definition of sexual arousal says nothing, except that arousal may be a synonym for excitement. The non-definition of sexual intercourse underscores a key feature of Teen-Aid's book: The writers never explain coitus, and the student is left to guess whether "sexual intercourse" means nose-rubbing, hand-holding or a dinner by candlelight. My very favorite item in the glossary, however, is the entry for breasts. Besides failing to tell what breasts are, it exemplifies the writers' grinding preoccupation with breeding and their refusal to acknowledge basic sexual functions. [See "Just Say Moo" on page 12 of this issue.]

The matter of bogus definitions points to the next level of fraud in Sexuality, Commitment & Family: The writers hold themselves forth as experts in biology, but any educated reader will see that these people are merely dispensing pseudoscience. As examples:

  • Page 23: "As human beings we are unique in possessing qualities that are not found in animals. We have intelligence, an unlimited capacity to love, and an ability to make conscious decisions. We do not merely act out of instinct as animals do." All of that, starting with the notion that humans constitute a category separate from animals, is anthropocentric superstition left over from a century long past. Fundamentalists still cling to it, but no one who has even a slight awareness of 20th-century science would deny that other animals possess intelligence, nor would he try to deny or minimize the role of instinct in human sexual behavior.

  • On page 45 the writers claim that the "purpose" of the male reproductive organs is "reproduction" and the sharing of "sexual intimacy with one's wife," while the female organs serve to make eggs for "the fertility process" and to share "sexual intimacy with one's husband." The teleological notion that organic structures have a "purpose" is more nonsense from the distant past. It survives as a fundamentalist delusion, but it has no standing in today's biology. And while the terms husband and wife obviously refer to marriage, we know very well that reproductive structures are not restricted to organisms that get married. This is one of the various cases in which the writers deny obvious facts and confuse the student by conflating social practices with physiology.

  • On page 52 the writers refer to a zygote as a "one-celled human." This goofy phrase is one of several that the writers have invented to support their anti-abortion ideology, in which any postzygotic cell or mass of cells must be equated with a free-living organism. Elsewhere, they call a fetus a "baby," and they say that birth is a merely "the process by which a baby changes residence." Well, a fetus is not a baby, and birth is not just a change in residence -- if only because birth is not reversible. The writers hide the fact that birth entails dramatic physiological changes as the fetus turns into something that it has never before has been: a free-living air-breather.

If you think that I'm giving too much attention to the book's phony "biology," please ask yourself: How would you like to be an educator who had to try teaching real science to students who had been subjected to Teen-Aid's grotesque rubbish? How would you like to be a student who had to try learning real biology while your head was full of tommyrot about purposeful organs and one-celled humans?

In some cases, the tripe in Sexuality, Commitment & Family may merely reflect the writers' ignorance. (An example is the diagram titled "Purposes of Dating," on page 35, which suggests that the writers do not know that a cross surmounted by a circle is the universal symbol for female. The diagram is full of cross-and-circle figures that represent people who are dating, engaged, or married. Hence the diagram shows dating, engagement and marriage among lesbians only.) But various other items -- such as that nonsense about a "change in residence" -- seem to signal that the writers are deliberately trying to delude or mislead the student, or are trying to ensure that the student will not understand the topic that nominally is being presented. Here are more examples:

  • The "Fetal Development/Childbirth" chapter doesn't have pictures of the first stages of development, and the few pictures that it does have are arranged in a weird, incomprehensible order: first, "Fetus at Two Months"; then "Fetus at One Month"; then "Fetus at Four Months"; then two uncaptioned pictures of infants; then two of older children; then "Fetus at Three Months"; then "Fetus at Seven Months"; then a picture of fetal twins (with no age stated). Obviously, the writers don't want the student to get any clear idea of how development starts or proceeds.

  • The book's treatment of marriage is nothing but junk. These writers provide no anthropological perspective, and what they call "marriage" is really just their own, narrow, idiosyncratic notion of marriage. That notion pivots around reproduction, and the text says that "From the social perspective, marriage may be seen as bringing together two people who should be responsible as parents." Just where does that "social perspective" come from? It surely isn't evident in the United States. In this country, marriage is regulated by laws of the states -- and no state, as far as I am aware, requires the applicants for a marriage license to pass any test that is even remotely related to predicting whether the applicants are going to be "responsible as parents." No state even attempts to assess the applicants' fertility.

  • The book promotes the notion that individuals risk pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections if they engage in "premarital sex" (which is never defined and is treated as a bogey-man), but that no such risks pertain if the individuals are married. Students may well wonder how marriage can be a safeguard against pregnancy if marriage is focused on breeding, but the book doesn't say. The writers again confuse students by conflating social practices with physiology.

The section dealing directly with abortion is as cruel as it is false. It also provides an especially clear exhibition of the Religious Right's view of women: Women are meant to be used for breeding, and they must be indoctrinated accordingly.

As many of my readers know, pregnancy and childbirth pose major dangers. For a woman under the age of 40, the risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth are greater than those associated with any other events except accidents. Abortion, on the other hand, poses little risk and is far less hazardous than carrying a fetus to term.

Sexuality, Commitment & Family hides all of this and leads students to believe the opposite. The writers give more than two pages to listing dangers, complications and "aftereffects" that allegedly are related to abortion, but nowhere in the book do they provide any analogous list pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth. What a vile trick!

The writers try a similar stunt as they offer (on page 148) some clinical descriptions of abortion methods. Accounts of surgical procedures can be expected to arouse disgust and discomfort in persons who are not accustomed to reading such things, and arousing such feelings is just what the writers are trying to do. They are trying to manipulate students by instilling revulsion, and this becomes clear when we compare those detailed accounts of abortion with the breezy little passage (earlier in the book) about a cesarean section. Where is the information about the instruments used in a cesarean section, about the tissues that are cut, and about the fluids that flow? That information is nowhere to be seen.

The Teen-Aid text sometimes purports that persons who disobey its prescriptions suffer guilt, anxiety and self-loathing. The section on abortion makes conspicuous use of such suggestions (or threats) and it employs falsity, distortion, selective omission and gross absurdity to urge the Religious Right's usual formula for dealing with an unwanted pregnancy: The woman should carry the fetus to term and then surrender the baby for adoption. In the course of promoting this view, the writers give a list some questions involved in a decision about a prospective adoption. But the book never tells that the very same questions arise during a decision about a prospective abortion -- in fact, the writers give no hint that abortion can be assessed rationally and can be elected thoughtfully. By entirely ignoring those points, the writers project the false, cruel impression that a woman who chooses an abortion must be too stupid to know what she is doing, or too feckless to care.

To conclude: Sexuality, Commitment & Family is a an anti-abortion tract, a cascade of propaganda, and the sort of book that can give deceit a bad name.

Ricki Pollycove is a physician and a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is the chief of the Division of Gynecology at the California Pacific Medical Center (in San Francisco) and the director for education and program development at the CPMC's Breast Health Center.

David R. Stronck, a specialist in science education and in health education, is a professor in the Department of Teacher Education at California State University, Hayward.

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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