Battle for Elites: Fewer “Virgins” Among 2008 Contenders

Scott Swenson

Here's an idea for Campaign 2008 .... Tivo the whole thing so you can fast forward past the boring parts. Like the Oscars, this campaign runs the risk of people tuning out too soon. This past week, from Hollywood to the Christian Right, its been a battle for the Elites, and more evidence that the cultural extremes are out of touch with reality.

At least the Oscars only lasts for one day. The campaign news gets recycled through multiple news casts, trying to make something out of nothing, like those interesting, but useless, Pilobus performances at the "green" Oscars. We salute the National Resources Defense Council's efforts to use the Oscars to promote more "green practices" knowing that every little bit helps, but not even Scorsese could have directed Leonardo DiCaprio's "green" lines to pass the laugh test amidst all the excess that is Oscar night. Al Gore and the triumph that An Inconvenient Truth is, was an authentic dose of reality against a backdrop of extravagance.

Here's an idea for Campaign 2008 …. Tivo the whole thing so you can fast forward past the boring parts. Like the Oscars, this campaign runs the risk of people tuning out too soon. This past week, from Hollywood to the Christian Right, its been a battle for the Elites, and more evidence that the cultural extremes are out of touch with reality.

At least the Oscars only lasts for one day. The campaign news gets recycled through multiple news casts, trying to make something out of nothing, like those interesting, but useless, Pilobus performances at the "green" Oscars. We salute the National Resources Defense Council's efforts to use the Oscars to promote more "green practices" knowing that every little bit helps, but not even Scorsese could have directed Leonardo DiCaprio's "green" lines to pass the laugh test amidst all the excess that is Oscar night. Al Gore and the triumph that An Inconvenient Truth is, was an authentic dose of reality against a backdrop of extravagance.

Leading up to Hollywood's self-indulgent glamfest, two other Democrats started "Elite Week" with the Clinton camp showing a little fang, the Obama camp showing it can be knocked off the high-road, and over what? Money and a Hollywood music/movie mogul's assessment of the horse race. Not exactly the lofty debate about progressive ideals most hope for.

Not to be outdone in terms of elitism, the self-annointed but allegedly divinely-inspired hierarchy of the Christian Right met at its annual off-the-record confab at the exlcusive Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, in Florida. Under the auspices of the Council for National Policy, founded by Tim LaHaye, an elite few but powerful right-wing leaders concluded they are being left behind. They are not happy with the purests their movement has churned up, Sam Brownback being the purest of them all is seen as weak, and Romney, Giuliani, McCain and others are paying for past sins as "untrustworthy." Christian Right leaders seem to struggle most with the forgiveness part of their faith. How far will McCain, Giuliani and others go to please this shrinking political force, and by doing so alienate the moderates they might otherwise bring home?

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Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is the best bet to emerge from the pack of pretenders to claim the far right's hearts and minds, and thus pocketbooks and deflated ground troops post-2006. He is a Baptist Minister who is pro-life. But here's the rub: while believing that life begins at conception, he does not believe it ends at birth, and takes a strong stance (realtively speaking within the GOP) supporting maternal health, child care, improved health care and education programs.

For that, he finds himself on the outs with the true agenda setters behind the conservative movement, the anti-tax crowd led by Grover Norquist. Huckabee, who as Governor understands balancing budgets and taxation issues unlike the current administration, is being pressed to sign Norquist's infamous litmus pledge to not raise taxes.

But Norquist offered all the GOP candidates the latest in what amounts to the far right's equivalent of the "green" Oscars …. "second virginity."

He argued that with the right promises, any of the four could redeem themselves in the eyes of the conservative movement despite their past records, just as some high school students take abstinence pledges even after having had sex. “It’s called secondary virginity,” Mr. Norquist said. “It is a big movement in high school and also available for politicians.”

"Second Virginity" is a pledge that doesn't mean much against the reality of teen sexuality, just as a no tax pledges means nothing in the face of mounting war debt. How much further removed from reality could either party, or either end of the cultural spectrum, really get?

Commentary Sexual Health

Marriage Promotion for Eighth Graders: Even Among Abstinence-Only Programs, Heritage Keepers Stands Out

Martha Kempner

A closer look at Heritage Keepers. This ridiculous program that was just given the Obama administration's seal of approval is clearly designed to promote marriage rather than educate young people or prevent pregnancy for that matter. 

See all our coverage of Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education here.

Yesterday, in an article written for Rewire by a number of my friends and colleagues I, like many of you, learned that the Obama administration had quietly added the Heritage Keepers abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum to a list of effective programs based on flawed, as-yet unpublished research.  I was horrified.  When Obama was elected, I had been sure, like so many other sex educators and advocates, that the days of these fear-based programs being taking seriously and given federal money were behind us.  This new administration, I assumed, would support science over ideology and these programs that are so clearly based on opinions and not facts would fall quietly (or better yet loudly) from grace.  I knew I was wrong about how it was going to be before yesterday but the fact that the abstinence-only-until-marriage program that earned the administration’s seal of approval was actually Heritage Keepers was an extra-bitter reminder of the way things still are.

I began reading abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula and writing reviews for SIECUS in 1998 when I got my first job there as part of the community advocacy project.  I can’t count how many curricula I read—cover-to-cover—in my 11 years with the organization and I have to admit that they all started to blend together and I have to check which one is which. I know that Sex Respect is the one that used to tell teens to take Jesus on their date and the early drafts of Choosing the Best were where one would find the suggestion to wash his/her genitals with Lysol after sex to prevent STDs.   But so much of what they say is similar if not exactly the same. 

The analogy about sex being like fire, safe if contained in the fireplace of marriage but dangerous if allowed to run free—appears in at least three of the ones I’ve read but I can’t tell you which three.  The story of the frog that jumps out and saves his life if put in hot water but is lulled into a sense of security and dies if the water is gradually made hotter is used to illustrate the danger of experimenting with other sexual behaviors like French kissing in at least two curricula but don’t ask me which two. I can’t even remember which ones contains my very favorite dramatization of pre-marital sex.  One in which a woman is rushed to the emergency room to find out that she has scarring in her fallopian tubes and will never ever become a mother.  I love this story because of its melodrama, its refusal to acknowledge the number of different ways a woman with blocked fallopian tubes could become a mother, and its completely unacknowledged irony—this woman saved herself for marriage and suffered anyhow because her fiancé had an affair and lied to her. It’s used as an example to show why abstinence is important but it’s actually an example that shows why condoms and STD screenings are important.  I can tell you why I love it but I can’t remember which curriculum I read it in.  As I said, they all blur together.

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But not Heritage Keepers.  I can tell you exactly where I was when I read it.  It was almost 6 years ago, after my oldest daughter was born.  I was technically still on maternity leave but had to write two curricula reviews before I returned to work in September.  My sister was in town on a business trip so I left the baby with the new nanny and holed up in her fancy hotel room across from Bryant Park.  As I read the poorly photocopied version we had finally acquired, I screamed out loud to no one (my sister was at meetings all day).  “Are you kidding me?” I asked that flat screen TV  (often with an expletive added).   “Are these people for real?” I yelled at the mini bar.

What struck me most about the curricula was that it wasn’t even trying to be sex education like so many of the abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum I had read which had whole lesson plans dedicated to the perils of STDs, pregnancy, and relying on condoms.  Though it included a tiny bit of information on body parts, said a few words on how condoms don’t work, and borrowed the Medical Institute’s slide show on outrageous STDs, it was barely about sex. This was about marriage. It tells students why (heterosexual) marriage is so important—for individuals, for children, for society.  And it explains in great detail, using lots of (sketchy) statistics, why no other relationship can possibly be as fulfilling or as important. It is essentially a marriage promotion curriculum for the under-15 set.  

Selling Marriage to 13-Year-Olds
Heritage Keepers explains to its middle school students that:

“The marriage is union is different from all other relationships in that it involves an intellectual, emotional, social and familial union.”*

In case they don’t get why this is so special:

“You could have a familial union with your parents, an emotional union with your best friend, a social union with a teammate, and an intellectual union with a chess partner. But in marriage you share all of these unions, and are bound to each other and the children you have together by a lifetime commitment.”

I suppose marriage can have all of these components (though I know a few marriages that are lacking at least one) but I refuse to believe that it’s the only relationship that could have them all.  Even leaving aside the possibility of a committed relationship with a partner (same-sex or opposite sex) to whom one is not married, I firmly believe that my relationship with my children, my parents, my sister, and even my niece and nephew contain each of these components.  And while I might not legally have a “familial” relationship to my best friend we are closer and take better care of each other than many siblings.

Heritage Keepers isn’t interested in helping young people develop the skills to have numerous good relationships—romantic or otherwise—in their lives, the program is only interested in promoting marriage.  To this end Heritage Keepers spends an equal amount of time criticizing cohabitation as it does defending marriage:

“When couples live together outside of marriage, the relationships are ‘weaker, more violent, less [equal], and more likely to lead to divorce.”

It goes on to say:

“People who live together before marriage experience ‘significantly more difficulty in their marriage with adultery, alcohol, drugs and independence [not wanting to depend on each other for anything] than those who do not live together.’”

These exact statements are repeated four pages later, indicating that they are very important. Heritage Keepers then uses statistics on divorce and infidelity to prove that cohabitation is a very bad idea. According to the curriculum: 

“…only 3 percent of people who did not engage in premarital sex were unfaithful to their spouse, but 18 percent of people who engaged in premarital sex ‘fairly often’ with someone other than their spouse were unfaithful to their marriage partner.”


“The divorce rate of women who live with their partners before marriage is eighty percent higher than the rates for women who do not.”  

I am pretty sure that the goal of these statistics is to convince students that having premarital sex causes infidelity and that cohabitation causes divorce. In fact, the curriculum states:

 “Actually, practicing sex outside of marriage increases the chance of infidelity within marriage…it establishes a pattern.”

While this may sway the average eighth grader who isn’t paying attention in Algebra, we all know that even if statistics are accurate, correlation does not mean causation. Statistics on the number of previously cohabitating couples who divorce, for example, don’t prove that living together causes divorce but they may show that people who think living together is socially acceptable also think it’s okay to use divorce to get out of a bad marriage.

More troubling thought, without ever mentioning the possibility of same-sex relationships, this focus on marriage completely dismisses them as an acceptable option. After all, cohabitation without the legal bonds of marriage (which, if you missed the point, is bad) is all that’s open to same-sex couples in most states.  Young people who are gay or lesbian or questioning their sexual orientation do not need yet another voice telling them that a happy life with a fulfilling relationship is just never in the cards for them.

Selling marriage to a those who are more than a decade away from their potential wedding days has another set of side effects as well.  I would have to imagine that many kids in this class are more likely to apply the messages they’re hearing to the family they currently live in rather than the one they may or may not build someday.  What about the kid whose parents live together but aren’t married, the kid who has same-sex parents, or the one (or ten) whose parents are divorced? A middle school student has absolutely no control over his/her family structure and yet they will be told more than once that their parents are less committed or more likely to cheat on each other.  

The curriculum has this to say about family structure:

“In a familial union, you live in one household, and typically share the same name. Children born to the two of you will be part of your new family.”  

My daughter has friends and relatives whose parents don’t live together and, hell, I don’t have the same last name as her.  What would she think of their families or ours if she were subjected to this program?

Condemning Pre-Marital Sex
After telling young people that marriage is the only morally and socially appropriate relationship, the curriculum argues that a happy marriage is only possible if one avoids all premarital sexual activity. 

As yesterday’s article mentioned, Heritage Keepers compares sex to fire.  The teacher is told to narrate a scene about fire in a fireplace in the present tense to make it seem like the students are there.  She’s told to use “highly evocative” words like “cozy,” “comfy,” “toasty,” “warm,” and “nice.” Students are asked to add to the scene describing the fire and how it makes them feel. The teacher then changes the scene to discuss the possibility of creating a fire in the middle of the living room.  The teacher’s manual explains:

“Although building fire in a room without a fireplace is, of course, a ridiculous idea, the tone of your delivery and the details and explanations you include should treat it as reasonable. Mention sensible-sounding precautions, such as opening the windows for ventilation, building the fire in a trash can….”

Already we can see where they’re going with this, right?  These sensible-sounding precautions are akin to, say, birth control and condoms because, you know, opening the window to contain fire has a similar efficacy rate (98-99 percent) when done correctly. (I don’t actually know much about fire but aren’t you supposed to cut off its oxygen supply not give it more?)

Anyhow, the teacher is supposed to keep this silly story going and begin to tell the tale of what happens when this fire set in the middle of the room escapes from its “insufficient, provisional boundary.”  The curriculum’s authors suggest the teacher uses adjectives like “dangerous,” “painful,” “devastating,” and “scary” as she describes the room and all its contents burning to the ground.

The punch-line of this exercise is simple:

 “Sex is like fire. Inside the appropriate boundary of marriage, sex is a great thing! Outside of marriage, sex can be dangerous!”

This concept of appropriate boundaries is emphasized again and again throughout the curriculum. Students are essentially told that outside of marriage sex can lead to painful STDs, emotional scars, the inability to bond, and, of course, the shame of knowing you did something morally wrong.  Those wedding rings must be made of some powerful stuff though (stronger I’m guessing than my own choice of platinum) because once you slip them on, sex is wonderful and completely worry free. 

My favorite Heritage Keepers’ illustration of why waiting for marriage is so important is when the students are taken on a guided—or two separate—guided journeys of their wedding day. One for the girls and one for the boys.  To set the mood, the boy’s starts like this:

“You are standing in front of everyone looking good in your tuxedo, but wishing your collar was not so tight.”

It continues:

 “The doors swing open and there stands your bride in her white dress, looking more gorgeous than you have ever seen her. Even though every eye in the place is on her she is looking at you. This is the woman you have waited for who has waited for you…This woman loves you and trusts you with all that she is and all that she has. You want to be strong, respectful and courageous for her. With all your heart, you want to protect her, and by waiting you have.”  

Note that his motivation for waiting is to protect her.  You’ll see in her story, that her motivation is very different.  The girl’s story starts with this:

“Everything is just as you have seen it in a million daydreams…The flowers you spent so much time choosing fill the room like soft perfume.”  

Because, of course, all girls spend a lifetime planning their wedding, but I digress. It sounds remarkably similar to the boy’s story but the roles are reversed.  She wants him to protect her and cherish her and, by not making her have sex before this day, he has proved he does. But it gets so much better or at least more ridiculous:

“Finally it’s your matron of honor’s turn to go…it reminds you of her wedding. How strange it felt when she told you, long ago, that she was marrying your first boyfriend.”

When the doors open and she sees her groom, the bride realizes that she can’t even remember her ex-boyfriend’s name and she is pleased because:

“There is no guilt in your past, nothing you did with that ex-boyfriend makes you cringe. You never let yourself forget that the promise of love cannot fill the place of a vow and a ring.”

Putting aside the fact that in this oddly detailed story, you, the bride, can’t remember the name of your best friend’s husband, the message to girls is clear.  You can enjoy your wedding day if, and only if, you’ve never had sex because if you had an ex-boyfriend and you’d done dirty sex things with him well, then obviously you would be standing there in your nice, white, duchess satin dress, turning beet red with embarrassment and cringing as every sordid detail of your past sex life came flooding back in sea of shame and regret.

These were the messages that made me scream the loudest into the void of my sister’s empty hotel room. I had new baby girl.  I was now the mother of a daughter who might—heaven forbid—one day be subjected to a program like this that told her that a “real woman” knows herself, is confident, sends a clear message, and is caring. That clear message that is being alluded to, by the way, is that she will not put out until marriage because while boys will horny boys, it is her job to be the keeper of the purity. 

It’s almost six years later, said baby is sitting next to me (home sick) actually reading this article over my shoulder and she has a little sister who (thankfully) is at daycare right now.  But more importantly, it’s six years later and we have what I had hoped was going to be an administration that was more supportive of my daughters’ futures—one that would not try to promote marriage, perpetuate restrictive gender roles, or suggest that purity was the most important thing my girls could strive for. 

Needless to say, I am very disappointed.

* Note:  All of the quotes from Heritage Keepers come from a review I wrote while at SIECUS.  You can find this review and many others on SIECUS’ Community Action Kit website. 

Roundup: Driehaus Sues for “Lack of Livelihood”

Robin Marty

The Ohio Congressman, after losing his reelection bid, is suing anti-choice groups for his "loss of livelihood."

He may have lost his reelection bid, but Ohio Democratic Representative Steve Driehaus isn’t done fighting.  Now, he’s suing anti-choice action groups for “loss of livelihood” for lying about him in campaign attack ads.

Via The Hill:

Driehaus (D-Ohio), who lost his reelection bid last month, announced Friday that he was suing the group for knowingly misleading voters about his position on public funding for abortion. The SBA List asserted that the reform law provided for taxpayer funding of abortion.

During the campaign, Driehaus had issued a complaint with Ohio’s election board against the SBA List to prevent the group from posting billboards that claimed the one-term congressman voted in favor of public abortion funding by supporting the reform law. However, the billboards never went up, and Driehaus dropped the complaint.

Susan B. Anthony Group has responded to his suit via press release:

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“Counter to his claims, the voters of Ohio’s First District are the ones that cost Steve Driehaus his livelihood. Congressman Steve Driehaus’ problem is not that the Susan B. Anthony List allegedly lied about his vote for taxpayer-funded abortion in the health care bill. It’s that he caved when it counted, took the wrong vote, and paid the price on Election Day.
Now he wants exclusive rights to describing that vote to his constituents and, in a democracy, that just isn’t possible. All major pro-life organizations along with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who speak on behalf of the Catholic Church, came to the same conclusion: that the health care bill Congressman Driehaus voted for allows taxpayer funding of abortion.
Despite his best efforts to criminalize the SBA List’s free speech, Driehaus’ constituents heard the truth about his pro-abortion vote and have already determined whose description of that vote is true. The SBA List will continue to defend that truth and the right to criticize our elected officials.”

The usual conservative groups are rallying together to state that even if SBA’s claims weren’t entirely true, they were…well, true enough.

Was the SBA’s criticism of abortion funding in ObamaCare “untrue?”  You may recall the infamous moment in the health-care debate when supposedly “pro-life” congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI) cashed out his insistence on firm language against such funding.  The few paper-thin restrictions on abortion funding in the massive ObamaCare law are all tied to the Hyde Amendment, which must be re-authorized yearly, and could be repealed by executive order.  No Hyde-related restrictions are applied to the billions in funding directed to “community health centers,” many of which happen to be owned by Planned Parenthood.  High-risk insurance pools created by ObamaCare in Pennsylvania and New Mexico were caught red-handed funding abortions, to the great consternation of congressman John Boehner… who was the House minority leader at the time, but has since received a promotion to Speaker.

At the very least, the Susan B. Anthony List’s assertion is debatable.  A strong case could be made that insisting ObamaCare would not fund abortions is more like an outright lie.

Still, Driehaus isn’t backing down.

“A lie is a lie,” Driehaus’ lawyers wrote in his federal defamation lawsuit. “The First Amendment is not and never has been an invitation to concoct falsehoods aimed at depriving a person of his livelihood.”

Mini Roundup: As if they don’t already have enough problems, gay teens are apparently being punished more than straight teens, either by police or other authority.

December 6, 2010


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