SIECUS challenges abstinence-only sexual education

Brianna Stapleton

Lawrence students, faculty and local school teachers had a flashback to the awkwardness of sex education class Saturday afternoon during the presentation “Lesson Plans for Homophobia: Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs, Anti-Gay Harassment, and HIV Stigma in Schools.”
Presenter Maxwell Ciardullo of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States opened the talk with a “mock lesson” taken straight from an abstinence-only-until-marriage program.
Ciardullo, information coordinator for SIECUS, said he wanted his listeners to experience an abstinence-only classroom so the audience could better understand some of the issues with abstinence-only sex education programs.
SIECUS is an organization that monitors sexual education programs across the United States. SIECUS promotes comprehensive sex education that includes lessons on sexual orientation, gender identity and the effective use of contraceptives.
Additionally, when parents and students challenge school districts to provide more comprehensive sexual education, SIECUS assists them in bringing legal action against the school administration.
Ciardullo covered the basic tenets presented in abstinence-only sex education programs. SIECUS prefers to refer to these programs as “abstinence-only-until-marriage” programs because they state that individuals should only have sex within heterosexual marriage.
Using clips from presentations by abstinence-only motivational speakers, Ciardullo illustrated some of the tactics used by abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Messages based on fear and shame, medical misinformation, promotions of heterosexual marriage and perpetuation of stigma are common in the lesson plans.
In a clip Ciardullo played at the presentation, an abstinence-only speaker, Pam Stenzel, said, “If you have sex outside of marriage, you will pay. No one has ever had more than one partner and not paid.”
The federal government gives $176 million each year to these abstinence-only-until-marriage programs without realizing, as Ciardullo says, that they are inappropriate for most adolescents.
Ciardullo said that the same video clips that the audience watched Saturday have been shown to legislators on Capitol Hill to help them better understand the often negative message of abstinence-only programs.
Senior Michael Lott, who interned with SIECUS, was instrumental in bringing Ciardullo to campus. Lott, a member of GLOW, suggested that the group invite Maxwell Ciardullo as their spring speaker.
Lott was pleased with the response to the presentation. “The attendance was great, and everyone I’ve talked to since then has been really positive in their responses about how they found it interesting and well done.”
Much of Ciardullo’s presentation painted a bleak picture of sexual education in the United States, but he ended on a positive note. “I feel that things are moving in the right direction,” he said, citing SIECUS’s many legal victories in local controversies over abstinence-only sexual education and over schools that ban gay-straight alliances.
Ciardullo said that change needs to come at the local level. He shared ideas for how college students could help promote comprehensive sexual education and tolerance in local schools by assisting parent advocacy groups in setting up e-mail list servers and Web sites, as well as mentoring high school students.
Visit the SIECUS Web site,, for more information about how to support comprehensive sex education.