Alice Dreger, a well-known speaker and author who has a background in medical ethics and sex research, sparked a media firestorm last week after she live-tweeted her 14-year-old son’s sex ed class. Her outraged tweets about the issues with the abstinence-focused presentation — which encouraged boys to seek out girls who say “no” and warned that condoms are full of holes — got picked up on several national news sites.
But the story doesn’t end there. The questions raised by Dreger’s widely-read tweets could lead to some policy changes in her home state of Michigan.
There’s a patchwork of varying sexual health requirements across the country. In Michigan specifically, state law does not currently mandate sexual education in public schools. When sex ed classes are provided, they’re required to stress that “abstinence from sex is a responsible and effective method of preventing unplanned or out-of-wedlock pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease and is a positive lifestyle for unmarried young people.”
Even before Dreger’s ninth grade son asked her to sit in on his health class, State Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D) was thinking about ways to update those standards. Hertel, who serves on the Senate Health Policy Committee, recently met with a student group at East Lansing High School to discuss the issue.
And now, according to the Lansing State Journal, Dreger’s tweets have given Hertel some new questions to consider. He said he’s particularly concerned about the group hired to provide the abstinence presentation that Dreger attended — called Sexually Mature Aware Responsible Teens, or SMART — because it has ties to an anti-abortion group. SMART is connected to the Pregnancy Services of Greater Lansing, a right-wing “crisis pregnancy center” that attempts to dissuade pregnant women from choosing an abortion.
Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) have a well-documented history of misleading patients about sexual health issues. Employees at CPCs often downplay the effectiveness of birth control, exaggerate the risks of having an abortion, and tell women that they shouldn’t be having sex outside of marriage. Nonetheless, it’s not uncommon for these groups to receive state funding to teach abstinence-only education programs.
“I think that those groups don’t have a great record when it comes to the truth, and I think that using them as a paid expert in our classrooms is a bad situation,” Hertel told the Lansing State Journal on Monday. “I don’t think we have to necessarily use the amount of scare tactics that were being used. I think kids are smarter than that.”
Hertel added that he’s still “very early in the drafting process” of his impending sex ed legislation, but his ultimate goal is to ensure that by the time his own kids reach high school, they’re receiving “accurate and helpful information” in their health classes.
And according to Dreger, who has written about the “overwhelmingly grateful, kind, supportive” comments she’s received in the aftermath of her viral tweets, high schoolers in East Lansing aren’t going to let the issue drop. “Local high school students coming over soon to talk sex ed reform,” she tweeted on Monday evening. “There is some unbelievably awesome stuff going on right now at my kid’s school,” she added on Tuesday.
Across the country, teenagers have started to stand up for their right to receive medically accurate sexual education — often by highlighting some of the same issues with abstinence-based curricula that Dreger pointed out. In 2013, a West Virginia high school student named Katelyn Campbell made national headlines after protesting against a “slut-shaming” abstinence education course. And last year, a Canadian teen convinced her school to drop a course on sexual purity after she filed a human rights complaint against it.
The Lansing State Journal reports that the East Lansing School Board will likely drop the speakers from SMART, now that members of the board have been made aware of the organization’s religious affiliation. The school board president, Nell Kuhnmuench, said that SMART has been a contractor with the school for the past 18 years but the details about the group apparently flew under the radar until Dreger’s viral tweets.