Teaching Fear

A. Sex Respect

The fear-based curriculum, Sex Respect, was developed by a Glenview, Illinois organization called the Committee on the Status of Women. This conservative, anti-choice organization was originally founded in 1975 by anti-Equal Rights Amendment activist Phyllis Schlafly, initially to "advocate for women's rights." Kathleen Sullivan, executive director of the Committee since shortly after its conception, is a vocal anti-choice activist. In 1992 and 1994, she made federal funding of abstinence education the centerpiece of her unsuccessful challenges to U.S. Representative John Porter for the Republican nomination in Illinois' 10th congressional district.

The curriculum Sex Respect, for use in grades 7-9, was written by Coleen Kelly Mast in 1983. In 1990, Mast developed Facing Reality, the counterpart curriculum for use in high school. Mast is also the author of Love and Life: A Christian Sexual Morality Guide for Teens, and features prominently in The Chastity Challenge, a Bible-based film for teens. She and her husband operate the for-profit organization Respect, Inc. to promote and distribute Sex Respect.

Sex Respect and Facing Reality send very hostile and critical messages to young people. The programs teach students that pre-marital sexual behavior of any kind will have extremely negative consequences ranging from selfish behavior to death. They use scare tactics, promote the message that birth control does not work, offer no information on sexual orientation (except common stereotypes of lesbians and gay men), and reflect a sexist, racist and classist bias. For example, out of thirty-nine illustrations of people in Sex Respect, only eight include people of color; in Facing Reality, only three illustrations show men and women of different races interacting. Ironically, Sex Respect has been implemented in school systems across the country that have a high percentage of economically disadvantaged and minority students. Reflecting the organization's racial insensitivity, Executive Director Sullivan has made such statements as "[T]he black community...[is] not going to learn to punch the time clock and to be there on time and produce a day's work if they can't even control their own emotions in the important area of sexuality."

Finally, the programs are filled with medical misinformation. For example, in a film, "No Second Chance," produced for use in the Sex Respect program, the following dialogue takes place in a sex education classroom:

    Student (to nurse-instructor in class discussion): What if I want to have sex before I get married?

Teacher: Well, I guess you'll just have to be prepared to die. And you'll probably take with you your spouse and one or more of your children.
The curriculum also relies on religious doctrine to promote the abstinence message, inappropriately defining religion for a diverse student population. For example, these excerpts from Sex Respect:

Spiritual values are an important aspect of human sexuality.

[N]o one can deny that nature is making some kind of a comment on sexual behavior through the AIDS and herpes epidemics.

Spiritually: Attend worship services regularly, seek out friends who have strong moral values, develop a love for other people and a hunger for truth.

In spite of their obvious flaws, however, these programs have been proposed and adopted in a growing number of communities.
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