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The Politics of Virginity: Abstinence in Sex Education

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Overview

Abstinence is currently taught as the only form of sex education in a third of public schools. Although most Americans oppose federal funding for abstinence-only education, the federal government has spent more than $1 billion on Title V and community-group programs that promote abstinence before marriage as the sole healthy and moral choice. Studies show that students in abstinence-only programs are no more likely to abstain from sex than their peers who are in comprehensive sex education programs. Moreover, argue Doan and Williams, abstinence-only programs perpetuate gender stereotypes that disproportionately constrain women, retail medical disinformation, and violate the separation of church and state.

Doan and Williams detail what abstinence programs teach students, expose the political and religious agendas behind them, and analyze the damaging effects to women of the resurrection of the chastity belt: including sexual disempowerment, distorted power dynamics in relationships, increased vulnerability to sexual assault, increased emotional vulnerability, increased risk of unintended pregnancy, and STD/HIV infection. By focusing on the marriage of morality politics with gender politics and of ignorance with chastity that underlies abstinence-only education, the authors fill a major gap in the literature of reproductive politics and policy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An indictment of abstinence-only curricula."

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Education Week

"The notion that the only sex education teenagers need are zippy t-shirt slogans like "Earn your right to wear white: ABSTAIN" would make many of us who remember being a teenager snort with laughter. It's hard enough to get a teenager to clean their room—forcing them to abstain from one of life's most pleasurable activities? Forget it. As The Politics of Virginity points out, a recent survey shows that, despite the preaching of abstinence, half of US teens engage in sexual intercourse. But while these school curricula, supported by America's religious conservatives, may not be stopping teenagers from having sex, they are far from benign. Alesha Doan and Jean Calterone Williams detail the insidious dangers of "morality politics" that is thrusting outdated notions of gender roles and sexuality on to young people under the guise of tackling disease and teenage pregnancy. Moreover, the decision not to educate teenagers about emergency contraception may mean that a young person ultimately finds herself having to choose between an abortion or an unwanted pregnancy. Many of these abstinence-only lessons tell teenagers that "normal" young women don't want sex outside of marriage and that girls do not have the same "biological urges" that boys have. Most repellent of all, several curricula exhort young women to dress conservatively so as not to provoke young men into a sexual frenzy that could lead to assault."

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The Lancet

"This book attempts to explain how conservative Christians have politically mobilized to support abstinence-only sex education policies in schools. Doan (Univ. of Kansas) and Williams (California Polytechnic State Univ.) show that the interest groups on the Christian Right are pursuing a stealth political strategy to achieve their goals by inserting abstinence-only provisions in omnibus congressional bills….Recommended. General readers, students of all levels, and research faculty."

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Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780275990091
  • Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/30/2008
  • Series: Reproductive Rights and Policy Series
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

ALESHA E. DOAN is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas. She is the author of Opposition and Intimidation: The Abortion Wars and Strategies of Political Harassment.

JEAN CALTERONE WILLIAMS is Associate Professor of Political Science and Department Chair at California Polytechnic State University. She is the author of "A Roof Over My Head": Homeless Women and the Shelter Industry.

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Table of Contents

1 Under the Radar: The Advent of Stealth Tactics in Morality Policy 1

2 Tightening the Sexuality Noose: Title V and Abstinence-Only Education 23

3 "Good Girls" or "Dirty Whores"? Images and Behaviors of Adolescent Women 60

4 Resurrecting the Chastity Belt: Lessons from Abstinence-Only Curricula 91

5 In Their Own Words: Sexuality, Knowledge, and Power 130

6 Whom and What Are We "Saving"? Morality, Sexuality, and Abstinence 162

Selected Annotated Bibliography 177

Index 181

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