Recently AltMuslimah published an article on “how to best teach American Muslim youth about sexuality”, written by Nadiah Mohajir, director of programs for the HEART Women & Girls Project. The article was in response to Part V of my Parenting series that dealt with sexual education at public schools.
Those who are familiar with my works are quite aware that I have a deep belief in communication between parents and children. I have always emphasized that parents need to empower themselves with the tools necessary to teach their children about all sorts of topics, but especially one that is so sensitive and a cause of so many adulthood problems— sex.
So, let me begin this article by explicitly stating two important points:
- Muslims can no longer keep their heads in the sand regarding sex. I have been consistent about this position in my articles, from discussion of sexual molestation of Muslim children, to my series on parenting. Part of not keeping heads in the sand is for Muslim parents to also understand the nature of sexual education at school.
- I strongly oppose exposing our children to “secular”, “religion-neutral”, “exploratory” sexual education at schools, but at the same time vehemently insist that such education be done at home by parents, or other “religion-enhanced” format. You have to REPLACE, not simply discard the education.
This article will of course speak to point two, as Nadiah unfortunately not only flatly disregarded all the facts presented in my previous article, but also made quite a few below-the-belt jabs, like claiming that “[a]dditionally, as illustrated so effectively by Umm Reem, many Muslims fear that open discussion on sexuality inevitable leads to promiscuity”.
Nadiah should have known (with proper research) that the last thing that I am interested in is closing discussions on sexuality. For Nadiah to conclude that my objection to sex education at school implies that the discussion should be totally closed, is not only disingenuous but also unacceptable coming from a community leader in Muslim affairs. We have to hold our community leaders to a higher standard, one that respects differences of opinions without subjecting others to unsubstantiated personal attacks.
Let's review Nadiah's main contentions:
I [Umm Reem] contend that sex education curricula in the US are based on three organizations
What I said in fact was that, “it is primarily based on PPF, AYF and SEICUS”. And this can be confirmed with some basic research. This is an important distinction because it leaves room open for some schools to NOT follow the curricula of these three organizations, and thus possible explaining Nadiah's own experiences.
It is equally important that we agree that these organizations SIECUS, PPF and AYF are some of the leading and influential Sex-Education Organizations in America, not just minor players.
Some facts about the leading sex education organizations in America:
While it is true that there is no “concrete” curriculum for sex education in USA per se, and that it can vary from school to school, one cannot deny the fact there are ideologies/beliefs promoted by influential organizations that are dedicated and funded by the government funds to educate and train professionals to deliver and design sexual education. Let's take a moment to review three of the main sex education organizations again:
Sex Information & Education Council of United States (SIECUS)
According to Janice Irvine, the author of “Talk about Sex: the Battles over Sex Education in the US” this organization has been “the pioneer of Comprehensive Sex Education”, and according to Dr. Grossmam, “it has been the nation's flagship sex education organization for nearly 50 years”[i].
This group has “trained hundreds of thousands of educators, worked with thousands of policymakers, appeared in the leading print and broadcast media outlets, and led the effort to advance sexual and reproductive health on 6 continents.”[ii]
It receives federal funding through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Adolescent and School Health.”
Planned Parenthood Federation (PPF)
“Planned Parenthood is proud of its vital role in providing young people with honest sexuality and relationship information in classrooms and online to help reduce our nation's alarmingly high rates of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Nearly 1.2 million youths and adults participate in Planned Parenthood educational programs every year.”
According to 2007-2008 annual report, PPF's “operating and other funds” totaled $1.038 billion, with over a third of that sum, $349.6 million coming from government grants and contracts.[iii]
Advocates for Youth (AFY):
Designed the popular “Life Planning Education”. Advocates for Youth works to educate Members of Congress, State Legislators and local elected officials on a variety of issues that impact the sexual and reproductive health of young people. Advocates believes that the time has come for a new approach to adolescent sexual and reproductive health that includes dismantling failed abstinence-only programs, implementing comprehensive sex education programs, addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS on youth, providing confidential access to birth control and removing the unnecessary age restriction on emergency contraception. They also support federal legislation that addresses discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Why am I pointing out these sex education organizations?
Nadiah took great umbrage to my claim that sexual education contributes towards the increased promiscuity. Again, I cannot emphasize enough that despite Nadiah's unfortunate generalizations, I am not referring to “education” in itself. I am referring to the certain type of education organized by leading aforementioned institutes that can lead increased promiscuity. One should not be afraid of teaching children about sex, but rather one needs to be afraid of what type sex education the children receive.
Since most reasonable people will agree that “wrong education” will lead to “wrong ideas” (doesn't take a rocket science to make the logical link!), we need to first see what type of education are these major sex-ed organizations promoting and teaching.
What better way to do so than to go to the horse's mouth! One has to simply visit the websites of sex-education organizations and the sites that these organizations endorse (endorse=agree) to appreciate that “wrong education” is putting it quite mild! One could ask “why not check with schools”, and my response would be that it is far more accurate to review the vision of the organization providing school materials than to visit the schools. For example, if we were interested in finding out what schools following a certain methodology of teaching math were doing, we would start with the developers and disseminators of that methodology of teaching in order to fully appreciate the style.
These sex-education organizations aforementioned may not be directly teaching their materials in classrooms of course, but one has to only click on their referrals to see what they would want taught. Let's review just ONE website recommended by our sex education organizations for our pre/teens's health related questions and queries:
GoAskAlice: University of Columbia's “health” QA service. It has very good information about HIV, STDs, diet, depression, drugs etc. but at the same time, at a click of a button, children can view information about phone sex, oral or anal sex, erotic techniques, trios, how to be more intimate and make it more pleasurable, how to buy vibrator, porn magazines DISCREETLY, and also information for UNDER 18 how to get contraceptives WITHOUT parents' knowledge. I have repeatedly encouraged the parents to visit their sites (linked in my original article) themselves, because I can't cut and paste all info!
Tell me, while these sites are recommended (GoAskAlice is one of many) to pre/teens for any questions about their “health” or “health-related issues” or “sexuality”, pre/teens will inevitably visit it (esp. those who have no communication with their parents). Once these kids get on these “highly recommended” sites by those that they trust (sex-ed educators), is it hard not to expect them to also read extremely sensual, erotic and licentious information. Consequently, will they not get aroused and will they not want to experience and experiment what they read, in other words will it not increase promiscuity?
Sometimes we let demands for empirical data get in the way of pure common sense and normal logic.
It is no doubt true that we are living in a hyper-sexualized society. TV, movies, magazines, books contribute towards the increased promiscuity but so do these sex education organizations.
Nadiah further claims that I :
carelessly proclaims that American public school sexual education programs are responsible for the high STI rate, claiming the “sex education industry is dedicated to promot[ing] radical, social ideologies that value unconditional sexual freedom above any health, science, or parental authority. The aim is to encourage promiscuity experimentation and unrestricted sexual behavior.” As a public health professional trained to appreciate the importance of empirical data, I ask Umm Reem for any evidence supporting such an outrageous claim.
First of all, I never claimed that sex education in of itself is responsible for sexually transmitted infections (STI). I hope Nadiah would care to share where I stated this cause and effect relationship.
Secondly, my “careless” (partly imagined by Nadiah) proclamations comes from a board certified, adolescent & adult psychiatrist's intensive research on sex education in US, whose experience and education far outweighs. Dr. Grossman states, “There groups [SIECUS, PPF, AFY] claim to provide “comprehensive access” to “accurate” sex education. Take a look, though, at their curricula, their guides for teachers and parents, and-most disturbing- the websites to which they direct your kids: you'll see how young people are infused with a grotesque exaggeration of the place of sexuality. Promiscuity, experimentation, and fringe behaviors are encouraged. For them, these are personal choices, and judgments are prohibited. At all ages, sexual freedom is a “right”, an issue of social justice. In short, they are dedicated to promoting radical social ideologies, not preventing diseases.”[iv]
To illustrate why “sexy” sexual education could lead to increased promiscuity, let's take the example of a parent who teaches her child about eating healthy and keeps him from gaining weight, buys him the membership to the gym, and educates him about all the harms against obesity BUT at the same time she keeps cooking unhealthy food, keeps baking cakes, keeps buying junk food and leaving it around him, then will she not share the blame if her child keeps giving into his temptation of “delicious” food and keep gaining weight?
Sex education organizations are doing very well in educating our children about STDs, STIs, contraceptives, and even providing condoms. But, in the schools, they also teach about sex-acts other than copulation and promote licentious, sensual and extremely provocative information & techniques on their websites. In addition, they offer free contraceptives and teach our children HOW to get them DISCREETLY without parental knowledge!
In other words: Eat healthy, watch your diet, but we would like to show you some pictures of delicious cakes and deserts, and you can find out the recipes on our websites, and in case you need we will provide you with numbers how to order ingredients free and discreetly!
Yes, with promiscuous message sex education organizations are promoting, frequency of promiscuous activity will increase, and this would suggest that they take responsibility of increased STIs.
Can health-based information mixed with promiscuous messages protect children?
- Will the pre/teens be in their “senses” to use condoms/contraceptives when the time comes to try out all those great ideas on GoAskAlice and other recommended sites by sex-ed organizations?
- How effective are the condoms/contraceptives?
The “neurobiology of decision-making”[v] indicates that when we make choices, we rely on at least 12 different brain regions. These areas include cognitive and affective circuits, meaning decisions are based on both thought and emotions.
PCF is the “thinking” brain, Amygdala is the “feeling” brain. These are parallel systems and evolve with time. Emotional system is present early in life where as cognitive system develops with age and time. “It has been suggested that because the emotional system is more mature than the cognitive one in teens, it sometimes contributes more to decision-making, resulting in less-than-optimal choices.”[vi]
“HOT” and “COLD” conditions: “Dr. Laurence Steinber, an expert in adolescent psychology, draws a distinction between “cool” and “hot” conditions, referring to the intensity or level of emotion at the time a decision is made. To summarize his research, under “cool” conditions a teen might appear to have excellent “executive function” in making a choice and logical thinking. In a hypothetical dilemma, he might resolve: being sexually active is a big decision, I'll talk it all over with my “partner”, dicuss STDs and contraceptives, use condoms.
Place the same boy in an unexpected situation, an unsupervised party with a cute and willing girl, other friends making out around him; functional MRI says that under “hot” conditions he is more likely to rely on his “Amygdala”, to be shortsighted, emotion-driven, and susceptible to coercion and peer pressure.[vii]
It is not lack of information, but lack of judgment: “In real life, his strong emotions and drives can “hijack” his ability for self-control and smart decision.”[viii]
Effectiveness of Condoms:
When a panel of 28 experts was asked in 2001, “what is the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of latex male condom-use to prevent STD transmission during vaginal intercourse?” the answer was, and still is, “IT DEPENDS!”[ix] There is a lot more research available on this subject. Due to restricted space, I would encourage readers to search on their own.
Undermining Parental Authority
I posted a prime example of “unconditional sexual freedom above parental authority”, the case in California's Elementary School, where a survey of extreme sexual nature was passed out without parental discretion. Parents were denied the right to object.
To that, Nadiah responded, “There are ethical implications to collecting data from minors, which is why respectable research with publishable data are subject to Institutional Review Boards. Unfortunately, it sounds like these researchers did not go through the IRB – had they gone through – they would have been required to have parental consent before administering the survey.”
Based on the response, Nadiah has obviously missed the main point. It is not about respectable research or data collection, it is about undermining PARENTAL authority. According to the judge in the California case, “public schools have the right to administer sex instruction to any children, at any time and in any manner, notwithstanding the objections of their parents.”
In Massachusetts, one school passing out condoms to even elementary students, “Under the policy, any student requesting a condom from a school nurse must first receive counseling, which includes information on abstinence. The policy does not require the school to contact parents.”
Another example is the Sex-Ed controversy in Helena Montana, where parents are fighting the sex-ed curriculum, “The document covers everything from nutrition to injury prevention, but the section titled “Human Sexuality” is drawing the most concern. It lays out sex education topics for each grade, K through 12. In the first grade, children would be taught that human beings can love people of the same gender; in second grade, kids are taught not to make fun of people by calling them “gay” or “queer.”
By fifth grade, they are taught there are several types of intercourse, and by the sixth grade, the draft document states that students should, “Understand that sexual intercourse includes but is not limited to vaginal, oral, or anal penetration; using the penis, fingers, tongue or objects.”
Yet, another example from a sites endorsed by our sex education organizations, a question was asked by a young girl:
“My boyfriend and I are thinking of having sex. Can I get the pill without my mom knowing?
Answer: Generally, yes. There is no law that requires a parent's permission for the pill…A good place to start is a place that receives money from…they can't tell your mom if you got the pill. You can find a [clinic] near you through [website provided]…
(I am not providing the website link as some parents complained on the previous article regarding links to what most of us would consider promiscuous information, but to others is “education”)
They also teach children how to order porn magazines, masturbation tools etc. discreetly, without parental knowledge.
To conclude: I don't believe proper sex education will be a contributing factor towards increased promiscuity but “wrong” sex education in present form, as incorporated by the major sex-ed organizations will. And that can be well seen on the official & award winning websites. I encourage the parents to please browse through them.
Young minds are especially vulnerable; in addition they are surrounded by an environment (TV, magazines, books) with increased sexuality. Moreover, when they are exposed to information that is being taught by sex education organizations, we don't need an empirical data to come to logical conclusion that when youth reads encouraging statements about “exploring their sexuality”, along with the techniques how-to, it will contribute towards increased promiscuity?
My main point, throughout the series, is to encourage parents to become the sex educators and be the primary source of information. Not only parents can offer vulgar-free, pure and beneficial information to their children, but they also live with their children and can be approached at any time (unlike a health profession), will best watch and observe, in real life, the situation and the difficulty of the child, and will offer the most sincere advice. Not to mention how much it will help open communication and strengthens the bond of parent-child relationship.
I pray that may Allāh reward Sr. Nadiah for all the effort and good work she is contributing towards our youth.
Further reading/listening: Here is an excellent lecture on the subject.
[i] Grossmna, Miriam MD, “You Are Teaching My Child What”, who is teaching your children, pg. 19
[iii] Grossman, Miriam MD, “You Are Teaching MY Child What, who is teaching your children, pg. 19
[iv] Grossman, Miriam MD, “You Are Teaching MY Child What, pg. 4
[v] Monique Ernst and Martin P. Paulus, “Neurobiology of Decision Making: A Selective Review from a
[vi] Adriana Galvan et al, “Earlier Development of the Accumbens Relative to Orbitofrontal Cortex Might Underlie rist-Taking Behavior in Adolescents,” Journal of Neuroscience 26, no. 25 (2006): 6885-92
[vii] K. Kersting, “Brain research advance help elucidate teen behavior,” Monitor on Psychology (July/August 2004): 80: John Merriman, “Linking Risk-Taking Behavior and Peer Influence in Adolescents,” NeuroPsychiatry Review 9, no.1 (2008).
[viii] Ronald e. Dahl, “Adolescent Brain Development; A Period of Vulnerabilities and Opportunities,” Annals of the New Yourk Academy of Science 1021 (2004)
[ix] Miriam, Gorssman MD, “You Are Teaching My Child What, pg. 85