Valueless Condoms for a Valueless School District

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District chooses the convenience of condoms over the values of dignity and restraint. 

There are two basic ways to avoid the spread of STD’s among high school students: teach them how to practice restraint or give them condoms.  The Philadelphia School District and Mayor Nutter have chosen to double-down on the latter.  In 22 high schools across the city, condoms are now available in clear dispensers outside the nurse’s office.

“The reality is, many of our teenagers, regardless of what adults think, are engaged in sexual activities,” Mayor Nutter said last week. “Discussion about whether or not they should be sexually active is an appropriate discussion, but if they are, then we need to make sure they’re engaged in safe sexual practices.”

The tragic part of this whole issue is that the discussion about abstaining from sex (practicing restraint) is not happening in Philadelphia public high schools.  In fact, the concept of abstinence has been branded as “religious” by those looking to inject politics into the issue of STDs.  A closer look at the idea of abstinence (or restraint) reveals it is a value or lifestyle philosophy, not a religious principle.  And values, such as approaching sex with dignity and reserving it for the most deserving of partners is something that should be taught in public schools.  Sexual promiscuity comes with consequences, such as HIV and out-of-wedlock births, both of which have a negative impact on education and quality of life.

Kids in public schools should be taught as much.  Distributing condoms is fine, but a lesson on restraint should be part of the package; perhaps there could even be a short Use Only with that Special Person on the condom wrapper.  But again, those looking to inject politics into the issue rail against any notion of abstinence or restraint.  Why?  Because abstinence and restraint are viewed as conservative and are frequently associated with those who support traditional, heterosexual marriage.

Earlier this year President Obama, who drastically cut funding for abstinence-only sex education programs in his first term, had a minor change of heart and decided to place Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education Program on the Office of Adolescent Health list of approved groups eligible for government funds.  Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Mark Weber said Heritage Keepers had met the criteria, “gone through a transparent, rigorous review process” and had “demonstrated outcomes.”

Progressive liberals heard the news and went berserk.  Accord to an article on Salon:

. . . over a dozen major organizations, including the ACLU and Human Rights Campaign, asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius to explain Heritage Keepers’ inclusion. They said the program “ostracizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth; promotes heterosexual marriage as the only acceptable family structure; withholds life-saving information from sexually active youth; and uses fear-based messages to shame youth who have been sexually active and youth living in ‘nontraditional’ households.”

A visit to Heritage Keepers website paints a more inclusive, holistic, and research-based picture of their sex education program, however:

The Heritage Keepers® Abstinence Education program encourages teens to develop a strong sense of personal identity and worth, set protective boundaries, resist negative peer pressure, determine and protect personal values and goals, and set high standards for themselves. A significant amount of the curriculum focuses on reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), specifically discussing STD symptoms, treatments/cures, and prevention (all with information provided by the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and approved for medical accuracy). Condom efficacy is also explained in relation to each STD.

The most recent publication of the Heritage Keepers® curriculum in 2008 was approved by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Population Affairs, for medical accuracy and sound referencing. Heritage ensures that the curriculum is research-based with over 80 references from widely accepted social science research to support curriculum information. The Heritage Keepers® curricula have long been approved by the National Abstinence Clearinghouse for adherence to federal A-H legislative requirements for abstinence education as set forth in Section 510(b) of Title V of the Social Security Act. The Heritage Keepers® program also meets all 66 standards of the CDC-funded SMARTool (Systematic Method for Assessing Risk-avoidance Tool).

Unfortunately, organizations that strive to help young people “develop a strong sense of personal identity and worth, set protective boundaries, resist negative peer pressure, determine and protect personal values and goals, and set high standards” are just too darn conservative for organizations such as the ACLU; regardless of research showing the program helps keep youth free of STDs and unwanted pregnancies, organizations like Heritage are on the wrong side of the political fence.

The Philadelphia School District, as evidenced by the fact that they are pushing condoms while refusing to promote values such as abstinence and restraint, has voiced its position loud and clear.  Who needs conservative restraint when we have the progressive convenience of condoms?

Again, this is unfortunate.  Abstinence and restraint are life skills that transcend politics—rise above race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation.  As Thanissaro Bhikkhu, a Buddhist abbot, published author, and noted scholar on Eastern philosophy wrote in his essay “The Dignity of Restraint”:

What’s good about it? Well, for one thing, if we don’t have any restraint, we don’t have any control over where our lives are going. Anything that comes our way immediately pulls us into its wake. We don’t have any strong sense of priorities, of what’s really worthwhile, of what’s not worthwhile, of the pleasures we’d gain by saying no to other pleasures. How do we rank the pleasures in our lives, the happiness, the sense of well-being that we get in various ways? Actually, there’s a sense of well-being that comes from being totally independent, from not needing other things. If that state of well-being doesn’t have a chance to develop, if we’re constantly giving in to our impulse to do this or take that, we’ll never know what that well-being is.

At the same time, we’ll never know our impulses. When you simply ride with your impulses, you don’t understand their force. They’re like the currents below the surface of a river: only if you try to build a dam across the river will you detect those currents and appreciate how strong they are. So we have to look at what’s important in life, develop a strong sense of priorities, and be willing to say no to the currents that would lead to less worthwhile pleasures. . . .

It’s important that we realize the role that restraint plays in overcoming the problem of suffering and finding true well-being for ourselves. You realize that you’re not giving up anything you really need. You’re a lot better off without it. There’s a part of the mind that resists this truth, and our culture hasn’t been very helpful at all because it encourages that resistance: “Give in to this impulse, give in to that impulse, obey your thirst. It’s good for the economy, it’s good for you spiritually. Watch out, if you repress your desires you’re going to get tied up in psychological knots.” The lessons our culture teaches us—to go out and buy, buy, buy; be greedy, be greedy; give in, give in—are all over the place. And what kind of dignity comes from following those messages? The dignity of a fish gobbling down bait. We’ve got to unlearn those habits, unlearn those messages, if we want to revive words like dignity and restraint, and to reap the rewards that the realities of dignity and restraint have to offer our minds.

9 thoughts on “Valueless Condoms for a Valueless School District

  1. I agree fully. Teachers are always complaining that students are too undisciplined, yet they keep treating them as if they do not expect students to exhibit any impulse control!

  2. I teach here in Philly and estimate 20 – 25% of my seniors are parents already. Some even have two children! I think condom distribution is a way to have them *think* about what they’re getting into, and hopefully prevent a disease or unplanned baby.

  3. I wish we lived in a world in which abstinence made a difference. I thinks teens would be far better off waiting until they were more mature. Sadly, that is not our world. Many of our kids need condoms, and for many reasons. Of course, pregnancy is a huge factor, but so are the less obvious ways that our students are damaged, which is through the multitude of STD’s that haunt many of these kids when they are ready to get their lives on track. Research has shown over and over that we can’t, unfortunately, scare kids into being responsible. We shouldn’t make the price of immaturity so high that it can’t be overcome in adulthood.

  4. It would be great if the students would use the condoms. Most of them just play around with them, attaching them to door knobs, making water balloons, etc

  5. I don’t see abstention returning to this generation or any future generations to come. We must continue to spread the word to our students that sex should be something meaningful that takes place between two people who really care about each other. But we must not turn our backs on the reality that our students are sexually active, so providing the means to preventing the spread of STDs and a possible pregnancy is worthwhile and necessary, and does not condone promiscuity. I see this as an educational issue, not a political one.

  6. I must respond with this from an article at Think Progress:

    “The 22 schools that have added the dispensers to their nurses’ offices were identified by the city’s Health Department as having the most serious rates of STDs, including HIV:
    It’s a pilot designed to address “an epidemic of sexually transmitted disease in adolescents in Philadelphia,” said Donald F. Schwarz, the deputy mayor for health and opportunity. Since April 2011, the city has given away about four million condoms, and now, STD rates are falling.
    But, Schwarz pointed out, 25 percent of new HIV infections in Philadelphia are teens, and that’s a major worry.
    Some city high schools — the dozen that have “health resource centers” — already dispense free condoms. And the Health Department also provides them at city high schools when they go in to test teens for STDs, as they do every year voluntarily with a parent’s consent.
    The pilot is the next logical step, Schwarz said.”

    Preventing STDs, educating students on realistic sexual practices, and generally accepting that young people have sex are better solutions than pretending these things don’t matter.
    The full article is here:

  7. I think it’s unfortunate that this school district feels the need to make condoms so openly available to students. Although it may not be the message they are trying to send, it’s almost as if they’re are giving these teens the okay to have sex. They may be trying to protect them, but in the long run I think they are really hurting them. If you’re going to give these kids a choice about their sexual activity, then make sure you present them all. It’s only right to give them the opportunity to choose abstinence. Besides preventing STDs, there is also the matter of teen girls getting pregnant. Teen pregnancy is a huge epidemic in the U.S. and school districts like this are ultimately contributing to those rising rates.

    Check out the book Life After Birth: A Memoir of Survival and Success as a Teenage Mother by Summer Owens, which has been featured on CNN Headline News and The 700 Club. She diligently works to encourage teen mothers and at the same time discourage teen pregnancy. She had a baby at the age of fifteen. She is now 33 and her son is 17, and she is what most people would consider extremely successful in spite of becoming a teen mother. You can check out her story and see how she’s combating issues like teen pregnancy and sexual practices among teens at

  8. A good article by Mr. Paslay especially in his defense of Heritage Keepers and abstinence programs and all the value that they bring to the issue of sex education and even more importantly to individuals! However, the one major flaw is that if the ‘condom promotion, ‘safe sex’ programs’ are actually held to the same research standards that abstinence programs are demanded (by the contraceptive folks in ‘authority’ in our govt. system), you quickly find that these programs are not fine as he stated in the article (“Distributing condoms is fine,”). They can not hold up to any truly rigorous, scientific research as none of them have been able to bring any positive results beyond 6 months and once you get beyond that the results are not only negative they are harmful at best and disastrous at worst! If people (govt., Planned Parenthood, ACLU, SIECUS and many other condom/contraception promotion cronies) really cared about youth they would quit hiding behind their manipulative research that only destroys youth and their futures, much less our families, communities and society/culture and would see the truth in the real research done in abstinence programs and outcomes and push to have them implemented. Thanks again for the good article and at least encouraging others to think about abstinence education.

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