The Lady is a Tramp: My Adventures Defending Sex Education on Far Right Radio

Martha Kempner

The other day, I was called a tramp on a national radio show with 3.5 million listeners. I was not the least bit offended and only a little outraged. In truth, it was the first moment in the hour long live broadcast in which I relaxed.

The other day, I was called a tramp on a national radio show
with 3.5 million listeners.  Contrary to what you might expect, I was not the least bit
offended and only a little outraged. 
In truth, it was the first moment in the hour long live broadcast in
which I relaxed.

I was a guest on the Michael Medved show.  In case you’re not familiar with him,
he guest hosts for Rush Limbaugh on occasion, and the pre-recorded introduction
to his show calls it another afternoon “in this greatest country on God’s green
earth.” I was on to provide a counterpoint to Dr. Miriam Grossman, a
psychiatrist who has written a book called You’re
Teaching My Child What?:  A
Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Education and How They Harm Your Child

We were there to talk about sex education. Ostensibly.  In truth, she was there to promote her
book, in which she mentions SIECUS on just about every other page, and I was
there to give her someone to yell at. 
At the beginning of the interview, our host mentioned that he and his
wife had written a book in the nineties on the loss of innocence of youth and
that in it they discussed the problems with sex ed. So much for any hope of
impartial mediation on this particular subject.

SIECUS has been attacked by the far right for 45 years now.
We’re used it.  Most of the time,
we don’t bother responding to attacks. 
Okay, when Robert Rector wrote a piece in the National Review which claimed SIECUS promoted incest, we responded.  But when the twelfth book this year
comes out claiming we have a radical leftist agenda and want to hand out
condoms to five year olds on the playground, we pass it around the office and
chuckle.  You see, that book was
written for a certain audience—an audience that already believes that sex
educators are liberal intellectuals out to undermine parents and corrupt
children.  An audience of people
whose minds I will not change no matter how charming, smart, or interesting I
am in writing or on the radio.  Moreover,
that book will likely only get noticed by its intended audience; calling it out
risks bringing more attention to it, buying it free media, and ultimately
selling more copies.

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This is why we were prepared to let Dr. Grossman’s book slide
by the wayside.  But, because we’re
human, we could not resist the offer of 3.5 million listeners.  She would have the audience with or
without us, and, with numbers like that, the odds were in our favor that one or
two of them would be part of the infamous moveable middle.  So we agreed to debate.

In preparation for the debate, one of my coworkers, a brand
new intern, and I sat down to read the book.  I don’t know where to begin except to say this, like so many
attacks on sexuality and sex education, it has very little to do with sex.  As far as I can tell, Dr. Grossman is
not a big fan of 2009.  She does
not like today’s reality in which sex is part of the popular culture, women
pursue education before families, and premarital sex is no longer verboten.  (This sentence from her website summed
it up best for me: “Women complete their PhDs at 35, and realize the hardest
challenge lies ahead: getting their Mrs., and becoming an Mo.M.”)  In the book, she goes into great detail
about the dangers that lurk around every sexual corner for young women and her
desire to protect them from STDs, infertility, and heartbreak.  And she throws around a lot of blame –
liberal organizations like SIECUS with our post- 1970s feminist agendas are apparently
the cause of the downfall of society. 
(There are so many inaccuracies, misstatements, and downright lies in
her book that it would be difficult, and seems almost pointless, to go through
and try to correct each one.)

What she doesn’t do is offer any solutions. She’s not a
proponent of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. She claims to want to
provide young people with accurate information, but the only examples of such
information are the scary ones (on the show she chastised SIECUS for not saying
HPV leads to throat cancer in all of our literature), and she doesn’t explain a
forum or format she would use that would be preferable to sex education
classes.  She also says she
realizes young people will have sex regardless of what we tell them.  It is truly hard to know what she

It gets even harder to figure it out because some of the
exchanges she recommends having with young people sound very much like those we
(the liberal sex educators she’s bashing) would have.  After saying we’re wrong for suggesting kids should use
proper body part names like vulva and penis, she describes a model conversation
with a five year old about where babies come from.  Her suggestions: 
don’t give too much information, ask what he/she thinks, don’t have one
“talk,” provide one new item at a time, and make it a dialogue, not a
lecture.  Gee, where have I heard
this before?  Wait, I think I’ve
written it.   Similarly she
suggests that we tell teens that they alone are responsible for their sexual
health.  I’m all for that—as long
as they’ve been given the tools and information to take on that responsibility,
of course. 

I actually started our hour together saying that I thought
she made a number of good points about young people and that some of her
suggestions sounded just like what I would suggest.  She called me a liar. 
Okay, she didn’t use that word. 
She said I was duplicitous. 
That SIECUS would represent itself as “rational, down-to-earth, and
common sense” in public forums like the radio show but that really we have a
liberal agenda.  She accused us of
this at least four times during the show, including once when she said we would
be common-sense in our publications as well.  (I wanted to ask her, “If we’re rational in the media and in
everything we produce, where is it that we carry out this liberal agenda?”  I didn’t.)

So begun the first segment; she made some points and I
countered them, apparently in a rational way, because that’s when she called me
duplicitous the first time. In the second segment, the two of them ganged up on
me in a discussion on anal sex that I tried (but failed) to talk my way out
of.  Then came the callers, who
all, for some reason, insisted on shouting into their phones as if they were
tin cans on a string.  One
discussed how happy he was to have his daughters in private school if I was in
control of the public school curriculum (if only, I thought).  The second called me a tramp—I believe
the exact words were an “intellectual fool” who “must have been a tramp back in
her day.”

And, as I said, that’s when I calmed down.  Because that’s when I realized who was
listening to me.  Sure, maybe a few
people in the moveable middle were listening and maybe one of my rational
points made it through to them. 
But the people who were glued to their radios and moved to call in were
individuals who were willing—in the same breath in which they accused me of
corrupting their daughters—to call a perfect stranger a slut.  And to do so without realizing how
ironic, hypocritical, and downright uncivilized it was. 

Dr. Grossman’s book didn’t provide any answers because her
audience doesn’t want any.  They
want to be mad.  The world is a daunting
place.  The rules have
changed.  And they are scared and

I get it.  I
worry about it for my daughter growing up in this world.  That’s why, I, like the rest of the
liberal sex educators I work with, are trying to fix those things that are
clearly problems (like the STD epidemic), and help young people navigate the
rest of today’s reality—without turning back the clock or relying on fear.  The truth is, we really are common
sense and down-to-earth, and we have no hidden agenda. We just want to make
sure that young people will have the information and critical thinking skills
they need to make good decisions throughout their lives.

But if Dr. Grossman and her followers seem content to just
yell about it, so be it, and, if, for one hour, they want to yell at me; I’ll
take it.     

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