Activist to schools: Stop promoting sex
Never mind that a St. Petersburg Times survey showed about two-thirds of voters interviewed support teaching "abstinence plus" sex education in schools. Brandon activist Terry Kemple, president of a local Christian public policy group called Community Issues Council, wants the schools to stop at abstinence only. He intends to fight pending legislation that would expand the sex education curriculum "if it looks like it's going to get legs." And he's even advocating abstinence-only education in colleges and universities. Reporter Donna Winchester caught up with Kemple in her reporting on the issue and had this conversation with him:
What is your role with the Community Issues Council?
What I do is I advocate for Christian values in the community.
And how does that play out in the arena of sex education in public schools?
One of the things that's mentioned most frequently in the Bible is sexual immorality and how we are supposed to refrain from it. Much of the education that our kids get today in school would lead them in exactly the opposite direction. It actually encourages them to become sexually involved at earlier and earlier ages. It's bad for kids and it's bad for our society.
I'm old enough to remember when we weren't encouraged to have sex in school, and we didn't have sex. Certainly there were some who did, but compared to what's happening in the schools today, it's like a marble and a mountain.
Do we teach kids that they're basically animals who can't control their sexual urges, so go ahead and have sex, and oh by the way, be sure to use a condom? Or do we tell them they are actually rational human beings who can avoid early sexual activity? Let's teach them the coping skills to be able to effectively do that.
So are you saying that schools are encouraging kids to have sex?
Yes. There are really two divergent sex ed programs. One is called abstinence until marriage. It encourages kids to be abstinent until marriage. It promotes the merits of monogamous, heterosexual marriage, and it teaches the coping skills kids need to maintain their sexual purity in a society that's awash with blatant inducements to become engaged in sexuality. The other stream, they call it a variety of things. What it does is it says, 'Oh, yes, abstinence is the best way to make sure you don't get pregnant or you don't get a disease.' But a minimum of the focus is on abstinence and the majority of the focus is on contraception using condoms. It says to a student, 'We know you're going to have sex, so be careful.'
There are a couple of major flaws with that logic. The first is that for some diseases, condoms don't provide any protection at all. Plus, condoms have a built-in failure rate. I've heard different numbers, from a small percentage up to 15 percent. I think more important is that when you're talking to a teenager and you say, 'Go ahead, have sex, just make sure you use a condom,' even if they have a condom with them, are they going to be of the right mind when they're about to have sex?
One of the most important things that people who promote comprehensive sex education fail to realize is that irrespective of whether kids get pregnant or get a sexually transmitted disease, there are traumatic psychological effects that take place in kids when they engage in early sexual activity. Drug use goes up, alcohol use goes up, depression goes up, suicide goes up. All of those things come out of early sexual activity. Other high-risk behaviors like smoking cigarettes, violence, all have a direct correlation to the amount of sexuality that kids engage in.
So then I don't suppose you would agree with the proposed legislation called the Healthy Teens Act that would require school districts to emphasize abstinence while teaching students how to protect themselves from disease and pregnancy?
No. I remember reading similar legislation that was introduced last year. I'm sure legislation will continue to be introduced. The purpose of it, regardless of what fine-sounding name it has, is to change sex education information from abstinence until marriage to comprehensive sex education.
Do you plan to mobilize against this legislation?
We'll see what happens and what kind of legs it gets once it gets into the session. If it looks like it's going to get legs, then certainly we'll mount whatever level of campaign is necessary to derail it. Based on the current makeup of the Legislature, it isn't likely to go far because most legislators see through the ruse. This isn't about healthy teens, this is about promoting sex.
The St. Petersburg Times conducted a statewide poll recently that shows Floridians overwhelmingly support the teaching of more than just abstinence in sex education. Do you find that discouraging?
I'm not discouraged because I don't know the way the questions were asked. I'm also aware of the misinformation that is available through the primary learning vehicles people have. There have been several major stories both in the newspapers and on TV within the last year that say abstinence curriculum isn't successful. But what they fail to say in those stories is that the group that's being measured is students who may have started in an abstinence program when they were 12 and now they're 18 to 24. It ignores the fact that those students, from the time they were 12 to the time they were 17, were abstinent. You can see from statistics those programs are extremely successful in raising the number of kids who remain sexually pure during the time they are in those programs. Rather than saying we don't need those programs, what we need to do is develop a program for kids from 18 to 24 so they, too, can maintain their sexual purity until marriage.
So you're advocating abstinence only sex education for college students?
Why not? We need to turn that group around and give them some inducement not to be sexually active.
Couldn't a program that emphasizes abstinence but gives kids information about disease and pregnancy protection be a deterrent to kids having early sex?
I think almost all of the programs would provide that kind of information. It would be almost ridiculous to think that they didn't. The difference is what do the programs offer as the method for avoiding those consequences? One side says, 'Abstinence until marriage is the only 100 percent way, let us show you how to do that.' The other side says, ‘You're going to do that anyway, make sure you use a condom.'
So you're saying an abstinence until marriage program would tell kids about the consequences of early sex?
Without question. It would be hard to educate kids about why they should remain pure without telling them about the potential consequences. Again, it's a matter of how do I avoid the consequences? Unfortunately, some of the consequences, the psychological ones, they can't avoid. I wouldn't imagine that abstinence plus even goes into that. How can you tell people you're going to have remorse, but if you use a condom it won't happen? Abstinence plus is a dishonest program that's designed to encourage kids to have sex.