Sinking the Swift Boats Aimed at Obama on Sex Ed

Scott Swenson

The Swift Boats are coming ashore, hitting Obama on sexuality education. But the facts will sink them. Americans are very clear in their support for reality-based sex ed.

Ahoy, I see a Swift Boat on the horizon for Senator Barack Obama, but it is one he and every American, regardless of party or faith, who is interested in comprehensive sexuality education, should welcome. The truth will sink it once and for all.

When David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) appears on Meet the Press and other mainstream shows, his reporting is, well, mainstream. He is the very model of a thoughtful pundit, in tune with one small conservative slice of Christians in America. He, nor CBN, speak for all Christians, let alone all people of faith. But on his blog, his often breathless regurgetation of social conversative talking points, or, as in this case, just mere speculation about a new poll, undermines his credibility. My guess is the rumored poll is just as incredible, because of its topic: sex ed.

Without disclosing his source, the polling firm, any data from the poll, who contracted for the poll, or how the questions in the poll were framed, Brody is "reporting" that Obama, who supports evidence-based, age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education, has a potential problem with conservative Christian voters. Brody goes on to discuss problems — as he sees them — with "age appropriate sex ed" and provides select examples from Obama’s record.

Recently the National Abstinence Education Association announced its "Parents for Truth" campaign, a one million-dollar effort to shore up support for more abstinence-only funding at the expense of taxpayers, despite its failures, well-documented in this non-partisan report last year, and ample proof of abstinence-only misinformation.

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This is a battleground Obama should welcome. Unlike Brody at CBN, here at Rewire, we believe in using polls that measure real public opinion, not polls that are designed solely to test negative messages. In fact, we’ve debunked the abstinence-only polls of the National Abstinence Education Association, and written about their questionable (many ab-only leaders have been indicted) relationships, and their hiring of the firm that did the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry in 2004.

If Brody really wanted something to "report" on, he might take time to look within the glass house that is the abstinence-only movement, and their recent questionable grants of taxpayer dollars, as opposed to throwing stones at Obama.

Actual public opinion polling suggests Americans believe, overwhelmingly, in comprehensive sexuality education. The term "age-appropriate" is where the Swift Boaters will likely focus their energy, trying to make it sound like educators will be teaching kindergardners how to use condoms. But parents want their young children armed with facts, able to fend off unwelcome advances from adult predators, whether they come in the form of relatives, teachers, priests or clergy. Parents want young kids to know what to do if someone touches them inappropriately, and not to be so ashamed of their bodies that they are afraid to tell mommy or daddy if someone did something bad to them.

One study of elemetary school-age sexuality education, performed at two Catholic schools in Canada, examined curricula designed for grades K-2, grades 3 and 4, and grades 5 and 6, each with specific
age-appropriate content. I grant you that Canada is a bit more open than we are, but the fact this study was conducted in Catholic schools was most fascinating. It’s time people in the U.S. ask: if the rest of the world can figure this out — why can’t we? Why when it comes to sex do we allow narrow political agendas to blind us to reality? Which candidates, at all levels of government, will bring our policies more inline with reality?

According to the study, the "emphasis is on defining child sexual abuse in a way that is meaningful
to children and how to say ‘no’ to activities or instances of physical
touching that are inappropriate and make children feel uncomfortable.
The program also addresses what constitutes appropriate physical
touching so that the children will not become confused or anxious."

According to the study findings,

  • Participation in the program significantly increased students’ level of
    knowledge of inappropriate touching and slightly increased their
    knowledge of appropriate touching.
  • Parents of participating children reported no negative reactions to the
    program on the part their children, such as an increase in the
    children’s nightmares or discomfort with affection from family members.

Americans believe teens should have facts about abstinence, condoms, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and the consequences of sex, so that teen girls are empowered to speak up for themselves and not be pressured into having sex, and so that teen boys understand there is more to becoming a man than getting laid. According to a survey done by the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine,

Approximately 82% of respondents indicated support for programs that teach students about both abstinence and other methods of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Similarly, 68.5% supported teaching how to properly use condoms. Abstinence-only education programs, in contrast, received the lowest levels of support (36%) and the highest level of opposition (about 50%) across the 3 program options. Self-identified conservative, liberal, and moderate respondents all supported abstinence-plus programs, although the extent of support varied significantly.

And yes, in America today, most parents want to know that if their children are sexually active that they can and will have the good sense to protect themselves and their partners. According to a survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and NPR,

A majority of Americans (55 percent) believes that giving teens
information about how to obtain and use condoms will not encourage them
to have sexual intercourse earlier than they would have otherwise (39
percent say it would encourage them), and 77 percent think such
information makes it more likely the teens will practice safe sex now
or in the future (only 17 percent say it will not make it more likely).


Many parents also want to be sure that if their children happen to be gay or lesbian, they will not be stigmatized or bullied in school. But ab-only’s discussion of sex only within the context of heterosexual marriage is just that: exclusionary and stigmatizing. According to Gallup, acceptance of homosexuality is at an all-time high, and what little resistance remains, does so among older Americans. For people 18-34, 75 percent of whom believe homosexuality is acceptable, the issue is no longer controversial as they have grown up understanding, loving and supporting their gay family and friends. Fifty-eight percent of people 35-54, and 45 percent of people 55 and older agree being gay is now acceptable.

So in trying to Swift Boat Obama on comprehensive, age-appropriate, evidenced-based education, the abstinence-only crowd is, in reality, just trying to rally the narrow social conservative base for McCain. If they would look at objective polling, not message polling, they would realize that they chose to fight a losing battle.

Brody will parrott what the social conservatives want him to and he and others will use outlandish "examples," making it sound like comprehensive sex ed teachers are actually demonstrating sex acts in the classroom. They will likely make Obama out to be a hyper-sexualized boogie man, invoking not-so-subtle racial undertones.

This is what social conservatives do. And the fact that Brody is so eager to run with this story, quoting unnamed sources, laying the groundwork for a battle over sex ed that will slime Obama, leads me to believe that our reporting on the NAEA’s contracting with the Swift Boat firm, the questionable funding, and the well-documented political relationships between abstinence-only proponents and social conservative campaign hacks (can we really tell them apart?) is where the real story on this issue is.

As for Senator McCain, Americans can rely on him to continue promoting taxpayer funds for failed abstinence-only programs, not knowing much about HIV prevention, and continue cowtowing to social conservatives and their anti-sex crusade against comprehensive sex education and prevention policies promoted by public health experts.

The Swift Boaters and the ab-only crowd, along with compliant conservative media like David Brody and all the folks at Faux News, will do what they can to rally their base behind McCain. The other 75 percent of Americans will concern themselves with actual facts.


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