Canadian high school student Emily Dawson has a lot to celebrate this month. She and her mother, Kathy Dawson, filed a human-rights complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission last year after Emily completed a mandatory abstinence-only workshop that slut-shamed students and used scare tactics to enforce abstinence. Two weeks ago, the Edmonton Public School Board announced that Pregnancy Care Centre, the anti-choice, conservative Christian group that hosted the workshops, would not be invited back into Edmonton’s schools.
In 2013, Emily raised concern over the first day’s abstinence lessons and attempted to seek exemption from the second day, but she was told that she had to attend and pass the class in order to graduate. Her mother, a single parent, decided to sit in on the second day and was horrified by what she observed. The woman giving the lectures, Kathy said, ” … really ridiculed single-parent families, she made it sound like they all give birth to juvenile delinquents.”
Even after deciding not to invite the group back, the Edmonton Public School Board superintendent released a troubling statement countering the Dawsons’ claims:
When I became aware of the concerns about this class, I took immediate steps to look into the Pregnancy Care Centre’s presentation on sex ed. I had staff members, one of whom was a registered nurse, attend and observe the presentation unannounced. They found that the presentation met our standards and expectations on every level—information was presented in a scientifically sound way and students were observed to be comfortable in sharing their thoughts and feelings.
That does not match the Dawsons’ descriptions. The Edmonton Journal reported:
The Dawsons’ complaints allege the presenter taught students that 60 percent of boys carry the HPV sexually transmitted infection under their fingernails, that gonorrhea can kill you in three days [and] that girls should dress modestly to avoid inflaming boys.
Additionally, when one of Emily’s lesbian classmates asked about the consequences of engaging in non-heterosexual intercourse, she was told by the woman leading the course:
We’re not here to talk about that.
While the Dawsons’ allegations have not yet been verified, any class that involves, as Emily described, “basically shaming the girls and making them gatekeepers and meanwhile making it sound like the boys [have] no impulse control” clearly should not be required for graduation, or even permitted in schools. While these types of classes are ubiquitous in American schools, there have been several recent cases where students have reported and publicized these classes’ inaccuracies and harmful messages.
For example, a Tennessee high school student made national headlines after recording a school assembly that contained factually incorrect statements about sex. During the hour-long presentation,
[Instructors] told students that all medical textbooks confirm that life begins at conception, there’s a new STD spreading around the country that’s worse than AIDS, contracting STDs will leave women infertile and having sexual relations with eight different partners is the equivalent of drinking a whole classroom’s spit.
Additionally, a high school student in West Virginia filed an injunction against her principal last year for hosting a sex-shaming and (again) factually incorrect abstinence assembly. The story went viral after it was revealed that the principal threatened to call the student’s intended college, Wellesley, to try and convince them to withdraw their offer of admission. In response, Wellesley tweeted that they were excited to welcome the student.
Perhaps the actions of Emily Dawson and these American students signal a new student-led movement against ignorant and inaccurate sex education. It’s high time for only the real facts of life to be taught in schools.
Simone Lieban Levine is a rising junior at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and an intern for Ms. Follow her on Twitter: @though_she_be.