This year, a group of parents and administrators at the Dallas Independent School District embarked on pretty much the most thankless task there is: finding a new sex ed curriculum for the district's students. The job is thankless in large part because no matter what they do, someone's going to get pissed off. Also a problem: the Texas education code, which requires sex ed to emphasize abstinence as the first and best choice. The state's health code is also problematic. It still erroneously says that homosexuality is a "criminal offense," and that students must be taught that gayness is "not an acceptable lifestyle choice."
All of this adds up to an environment that doesn't really lend itself to teaching sex ed in a particularly forward-thinking fashion (if that's your thing). In this week's cover story, we outlined DISD's hunt for a new sex ed curriculum, as well as a few details on their current frontrunner, a program from Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas called Worth the Wait.
The program, which is in the process of changing its name to Wellness and Sexual Health, promises medically accurate information on condoms and STDS, as well as all the state-mandated emphasis on not getting it on before marriage. Worth the Wait was created by an OB-GYN named Patricia "Patsy" Sulak, and it does indeed have a bit of accurate information on STD rates, contraception and the like. There's also a lot of emphasis on drugs, smoking, obesity and a bunch of other things those crazy teenagers typically get up to.
Some of the information is pretty straightforward, and seemingly accurate. Other pieces, though, are profoundly and unsettlingly weird.
The 2008 curriculum of Worth the Wait, the most recent version we were able to view in full, is filled with bizarre, moralizing tidbits. Among them: how rap music will lead inevitably to pot smoking and unsafe sex, why condoms don't actually work and ruminations on why the sexual revolution of the '60s was pretty much the worst thing ever.
There's a reason for the program's ideological bent. Sulak, the doctor who created Worth the Wait, is a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Association, an organization that considers safe sex to be "a myth" and opposes homosexuality, claiming that it's a "voluntary" behavior that can be "cured." Sulak's work as a physician and researcher, paired with her apparent religious beliefs, creates a peculiar tension in what the program teaches.
After one phone conversation, a program manager with Worth the Wait didn't respond to repeated follow-up calls from the Observer. We wanted to see their most recent program in full, and we wanted to know whether the program has truly shifted from being abstinence-only to "abstinence-plus," as they claim. Although Worth the Wait became very shy about returning our calls, we were still able to obtain the 2008 curriculum, as well as a contraception PowerPoint presentation, written in 2011. Here's the weirdest information we found.
Baby Boomers are hard-working, while Gen Xers are pointless disaffected sexually perverted layabouts.
Worth the Wait's intro contains a history lesson of sorts. It says that Generation Xers, born in the '60s and '70s, "do not have a very good reputation," adding that they've been described as "a splintered and alienated youth culture in which social rules seemed pointless." The reason Gen Xers are so worthless? The Sexual Revolution, of course! The teacher background materials for this section states that before the Big Bad '60s, "sex was a private matter that usually occurred only in the context of marriage." People didn't get divorced, couples on TV slept in separate beds, and "products were not sold using sexual connotations." The Sexual Revolution (always in caps) led to birth control pills, divorce, promiscuity, abortion and general heartache, which presumably didn't exist back when TV couples slept in separate beds. The solution proposed is, of course, a return to 1950s sexual morality.
Safe sex doesn't exist. The 2008 curriculum encourages teachers to explore with their students whether "safe sex or protected sex actually exists." Spoiler: They don't think it does. "Safe sex" is never referred to without quotes around it. A 2011 PowerPoint presentation on contraception warns, "Condoms cannot protect your feelings."
Watching rap videos will lead to sluttiness, pot smoking, binge drinking, general ruination. A section on "risky behaviors" claims that exposure to "sexually degrading music" will likely lead teenagers into having multiple sexual partners. The most sexually degrading music is, predictably, rap, which WTW claims that it has "more sexual content than other genres of music and often shows women in a sexually degrading manner." (Unlike, say, those gentlemen in Mötley Crüe, who really know how to treat a lady.)
The "evidence" for these claims looks scientific enough, at first glance: The curriculum links to a study that purports to show the disastrous effects of rap music. In fact, a look at the actual study shows that it focused on a small group of low-income African-American girls in a high-crime neighborhood "characterized by high rates of unemployment, substance abuse, violence, and STDs." Maybe, just possibly, the rap videos weren't the problem?
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Ecstasy addiction will make you pawn your baseball cards and all your CDs. "Before you know it, you find you have to take about three pills a day just to function; otherwise you feel so down you cannot even get out of bed."
Couples who live together before marriage don't really love each other. Cohabitation means you "value marriage less," don't "want to be responsible" for your partner, aren't as happy, are more likely to cheat on each other and a whole bunch of other stuff that's not backed up with any evidence. But it's certainly something to consider the next time you're picking up your boyfriend's socks from the bathroom floor for the thousandth time: Perhaps he just doesn't value you as a human being.
The 2008 curriculum is, incredibly, a bit of an improvement from older versions of the program. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), a non-profit that focuses on encouraging evidence-based sex ed, reviewed a version of the program from 2005. It contains a lengthy, tortured metaphor about a beautiful golden statue, one which turns a "putrid shade of green" after the townspeople handle it too much. The story is, of course, turned into an analogy on sex: "Sex is special. When someone is able to save this gift for his/her wedding night, it is a gift that is irreplaceable. However, if a person has had numerous partners and numerous sexual encounters, sexual activity loses its special quality."
In summary: Rap music will make you hopelessly slutty, and everything was better in the '50s. If Worth the Wait becomes DISD's new curriculum, let's hope they've brought things up to date a little. Or at least made them less weird.