Trump Wants To Put Millions Of Dollars Into Abstinence-Only Education And These Latinx Sex Educators Aren’t Having It

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President Trump’s proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year hasn’t been approved by Congress yet, but it’s already causing a stir. According to the proposal, Trump wants to put millions of dollars behind sex education, a program that teaches young people to not engage in sexual activity outside of marriage rather than educating them on contraception and safe sex practices.

There is significant research findings about the ineffectiveness and danger of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage (AOUM) programs. For instance, a 2004 investigation by the minority staff of the House Government Reform Committee found cases of abstinence-only curriculum that was inaccurate, blurred religion and science and contained unproven claims. Some of the lessons included falsehoods like abortions lead to suicide, HIV can spread through sweat and tears and people can get pregnant by touching someone’s genitals.

Some experts also believe these abstinence-only programs have a disproportionate impact on communities of color. A 2008 study from UC Berkeley School of Law found that this course of study increases the already-heightened risk of STIs, HIV and unintended pregnancy among Black and brown youth, and unplanned pregnancies — along with limited knowledge and access to abortions — can further compound low-income and immigrant teens from succeeding in school and building careers.

Despite criticism from public health and medical experts, Trump hopes to allocate $75 million toward funding abstinence-only education and cut resources on proven-to-work comprehensive sexual education, which arms young people with accurate, inclusive and culturally appropriate information on sexuality, sexual orientation, contraception, sexually-transmitted infections and healthy relationships.

The decision for Trump, who appointed abstinence-only advocate Valerie Huber to the HHS and cut funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs, to propose vast funding for AOUM programs isn’t surprising, but people are still pushing back.

Here, four Latina and Latinx sex educators discuss how abstinence-only programs hurt our young people.

Bianca I. Laureano, 39, Puerto Rican, New Orleans

While my sexual education work started in the classroom, I now train the trainers and write the curricula used in schools. These budgets for abstinence-only education have always been excessive, so it is not surprising when we have a Republican president to see these numbers increase. It’s expected. The premise is basically to choose abstinence, and it is defined in a narrow and rigid way: waiting to engage in any sexual activity until tying the knot. This definition isolates so many of us, like those who do not wish to be married, who are not monogamous, who do not want to engage in sex only for procreation and who define abstinence differently, such as “waiting to have sex” until your STI and HIV test results come in, until you are in love, until you have the house to yourself, until you have a relationship with a person you dig or, yes, until marriage. Even more, we know from decades of the legacy we’ve inherited that this route does not work and that it ends up costing us so much more in abortion care, pregnancy and birth support, and in the efforts to support and not stigmatize young femme parents.

Like former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, I consider abstinence-only education a form of child abuse. When we inform young people of only a few of their choices, we take their power away. We do not provide them with critical thinking skills or the support they need to find trusting and caring relationships or friendships. These curricula and programs set youth up to lose their self-determination and have blurry lines of consent. It normalizes violence, especially state violence and violence rooted in religion, and provides a warped sense of responsibility and accountability. The discussions of sexual assault and sexual violence are not clear if conversations of and about consent are not rooted in reality and everyday situations youth may find themselves in. There are a lot of things wrong with sexuality curricula in general, especially that they do not include queer, working-poor or working class and/or undocumented people of color. When we limit resources and information, we are limiting liberation and freedom.

Amy Quichiz, 22, Colombian-Peruvian, New York

As an adult sexual educator, I teach New York’s Latinx and Black communities about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), birth control annual exams, consent and communication in bilingual workshops. It is my responsibility to be as accurate as possible, leaving space for folk to process this information, and making sure that it is also being spread to their family, neighbors and children. Trump’s proposed budget is absolutely ridiculous and unrealistic. Abstinence-only education, which teaches the wrong information or no information about sex in order for youth to “avoid” sex at all costs, can be harmful to folks of color because their chances of getting accurate information outside of school is dramatically lower than white folks who live in suburban areas. When I reach out to the Latinx community, many Latinas do not know their birth control options. Some women even say that they thought tube ligation was their only option because doctors only talk about sterilizing women. Statistically, there are a lot of Latina immigrant women that go to hospitals and do not even know they have the right to have an interpreter in the room. Therefore, on top of inaccurate information, it’s also not even being communicated properly. When it comes to queer communities of color, they will likely get information that does not apply to their sexual behaviors or not receive information at all. If this is the information mothers are receiving, it’s what they will share with their children. Comprehensive sex ed in school is where young people can unlearn these myths and arm themselves with healthy, fact-based information. Our young people need the best information they can get — about emergency contraception, birth control, STIs, what healthy relationships mean and more. This is especially important for children growing up in abusive homes. Comprehensive sex education touches on partner violence, protection and what to do if you have an STI. It unpacks all taboos and myths about sexually transmitted infections, and this is all needed in our communities.

Aurora Chavez, 25, Mexican, Los Angeles

Excessive abstinence-only funding is something the sex ed community has long had to deal with. Being in California, where public school sexuality educators must provide medically accurate, age-appropriate, LGBT-friendly information as well as lessons on abortion, consent, sexual assault and harassment, it won’t impact us as much. However, it will be harmful to so many young people in other states throughout the country. It’s very frustrating because data shows that abstinence-only education doesn’t work, is not effective and is taking away power from our youth to make the best decisions for themselves and receive the best education on things that impact them. It’s particularly dangerous for Latinas. Growing up in a Latino community, it’s pretty normalized to not talk about sex. Everything you learn, you learn from school or friends, so implementing abstinence-only education does a disservice to our youth. Even if sex was something we spoke openly about in our homes, our elders often didn’t receive a comprehensive sexuality education, either. This is true even in my own family. One day, I was talking to my sister about the Diva Cup, a reusable menstrual cup worn internally that collects rather than absorbs menstrual flow. I was telling her about it, and she asked how one could pee while wearing one. I pulled out my diaphragm, which, as an educator, I always keep handy, and showed her that menstrual blood and urine come from different holes. She’s 40 and has three children, and she did not know this. But it’s not her fault. We come from a culture where we are not supposed to talk about our bodies and sex. It doesn’t prepare us to take care of our bodies. This is why it’s so important to have these conversations in schools. Comprehensive sex ed empowers us. It’s not about having sex or not having sex. It’s giving young people tools and resources they need to make the best decisions for themselves and the skills to build with their partners, whether they be straight or queer, healthily.

Aida Manduley, 28, Puerto Rican-Cuban, Boston

Trump’s proposed $75 million budget for abstinence-only sex education is not just ridiculous but also actively harmful and part of a larger set of budget decisions that cut access to services and education in ways that don’t support the long-term health of our country or its citizens, regardless of one’s political orientation. This hurts us all, and will end up costing us so much more in both money and human lives than it purports to save. There is a great body of research debunking the utility and efficacy of abstinence-only in many domains, so it’s clear that Trump is not doing this for any scientifically validated reason. It is clear that the Trump administration does not have the best interests of this country at heart, because even the most privileged of all are harmed by this kind of faulty education.

Though it comes in many guises and flavors, the core tenets of abstinence-only education are that abstinence is the only valid and valuable method of preventing pregnancy and infections, that heterosexual marriage is the destination of all moral humans and that people don’t need to really learn or understand many of the mechanics that actually affect their sexual health. It treats sexuality like a huge ticking time-bomb, a danger zone and also this strange magical prize one can unlock after marriage (but without much information about how to handle it when the time comes). As someone who also works as a therapist, I see the effects of deep-seated sexual shame in my clients on a daily basis, and it’s toxic. This kind of education both creates and taps into core psychological messages that leave people feeling undeserving of happiness, undeserving of good relationships, undeserving of love and even undeserving of existence.

Abstinence-only education harms all of us, but especially uterus-bearing Latinxs — who are often stereotyped (if even included) in abstinence-only education as uncontrollable baby-making machines that cause a burden on society. We deserve a more holistic message of who we are and could be. There is so much psychological harm and pain that could be avoided or diminished through early intervention in the realm of sexuality education and support. Rather than leaving our world to focus on intervention and addressing traumas that have already come to pass, what would our world look like if we could avoid many of those things from even happening in the first place?

Read: 5 Things To Know About Latina Girls And The Sexual Abuse-To-Prison Pipeline

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