Keep Them Dumb, Keep Them Pregnant
Part 3: Reviewing Teen-Aid's Book for High Schools
Sexuality, Commitment & Family
1990. 194 pages. ISBN: none.
Teen-Aid, Inc., 723 East Jackson, Spokane, Washington 99207.
An Anti-Abortion Tract
That Deals in Trickery
Sexuality, Commitment & Family is a ponderous, moralistic,
out-of-touch offering that I recommend for no one. It is a
thinly veiled, self-righteous anti-abortion tract, and it will
repel teenagers who are wary of being manipulated and who do not
trust coercive, adult authority figures.
This book is supposedly aimed at high-school students, but it
lacks the candor, warmth and down-to-earth style that are
essential in providing such students with information about sex
and about the personal and social consequences of sexual
The book also shows a gross disregard for intellectual integrity.
The writers calmly and steadily misrepresent facts, throughout
the book, to serve their purpose.
A schoolbook about sexuality must be organized so that an average
student will become engaged by some resonant idea or experience
that will lead the student to read further and to trust the
information that the book puts forth. The information itself
must be accompanied by some humor (for relieving tension) and
must include plenty of straight talk. In Sexuality,
Commitment & Family, straight talk is pitifully lacking. For
example: Instead of forthrightly explaining and analyzing the use
of condoms, diaphragms and coitus interruptus, the writers give
page after page to inventing tales about abstinence and the
"freedoms" that it allegedly confers.
The writers are sadly out of touch with their audience. On page
13, for instance:
Much of the subject matter in this course requires that we as
a class display a mature attitude toward sexuality. It is
assumed as we begin this area of study that you have reached a
level of maturity which enables you to enter discussions without
using inappropriate slang terminology or resorting to immature
This sets the chilling, judgmental tone that pervades the whole
book. The writers evidently don't know, or don't care, that a
course in sexuality must begin by considering examples of
attitudes and classroom behavior that will be helpful, as well as
attitudes and behavior that will be counterproductive. Teacher
and students have to work these matters out, with humor and tact,
before going any further.
On page 17 the writers assume that all students will agree with
the statement that self-value "begins with the knowledge that my
parents love and respect me." This shows us that the writers are
ignorant of some sad facts: Many teenagers don't feel
that their parents love and respect them. Many come from
dysfunctional families and from homes where no healthful
role-model exists. In Sexuality, Commitment & Family, the
chapter on "Family" is essentially an idealized list of some
factors that have contributed to the functioning of the "family"
in its "traditional" form. Do these writers imagine that they
can reach real high-school students with this approach?
I turn now to the heart of the matter: Sexuality, Commitment &
Family is, at bottom, an anti-abortion tract. If there has
been doubt about this, the doubt vanishes when we reach the
chapter about "Consequences of Adolescent Sexual Activity" (pages
137 through 155). The writers heretofore have avoided graphic
writing, and have even failed to describe coitus, but they now
become graphic indeed. They seem to delight in terrifying
descriptions of abortion techniques. For instance:
In the first trimester (first three months) of pregnancy, the
suction abortion is commonly used. The cervix (mouth of the
uterus) is dilated with instruments, a hollow tube is inserted
into the uterus, and a powerful vacuum removes the "products of
conception" (unborn baby and placenta) piece by piece. Another
method is the D and C (dilatation and curettage). After dilating
the cervix, a loop-shaped knife (curet) cuts the uterine contents
(fetus and placenta) into pieces small enough to be removed from
the uterus. . . .
Immediately under this clinical narration there is a picture of a
well developed fetus: the victim, you see. This is followed by
three more paragraphs about abortion technology, then by a long
passage about abortion's negative aftereffects -- not only
physical effects but also psychological ones that seem to be
limitless. Finally the writers provide a section that strongly
promotes adoption as the proper and happy alternative to
What we have here is an anti-abortion polemic, hardly veiled at
all. The writers, presenting a highly slanted view of a complex
problem that includes elements of both personal and societal
dysfunction, are trying to manipulate students by arousing fear.
What about prevention of pregnancy? Sexuality, Commitment &
Family does not consider contraception, but the word
condom finally appears in a little section titled "Human
Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)." There is no practical discussion
of how to employ condoms properly -- just a stream of scary
statements about how condoms can fail. This is apparently
intended to lend credibility to a passage in the section's
With the skills learned in other chapters, all of you can be
winners and enjoy the freedoms of the "no-risk" life-style. You
are at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, cervical
cancer, abortion, and HIV infection when your faith is in
contraceptives for protection. You have no risk with premarital
abstinence, being mutually faithful after marriage, and avoiding
Such heavy-handed, simplistic prescribing is off the mark in
every respect, and there are no earnest, peer-to-peer discussions
aimed at problem-solving.
The writers' presentations of physical and psychological topics
are often false, misleading or deceptively incomplete. To cite a
- On page 37, a diagram of "Sexual Arousal" gives ambiguous,
misleading pseudoinformation while ignoring our modern,
professional understanding of the stages of arousal (as set forth
in the publications of William H. Masters and Virginia E.
Johnson). The diagram does not even mention the penis, the
vagina, or the nipples!
- The text on page 37 says, "During dating the young woman may
become emotionally attached or bonded while the young man is
experiencing more of a physical attraction or desire." That is
archaic stereotyping, now known to be wrong.
- Page 48: The uterus does not resemble "a thick-walled
balloon" and is not the passive vessel that the writers make it
out to be. The uterus is a dynamic organ that, after
implantation of an embryo, can grow to twenty times its original
size. One reason why such information is important is this: We
know that teenagers will take much better care of their bodies if
they have some appreciation of how wonderful those bodies are.
- Page 48: Even if vagina is the Latin for sheath, the
vagina is not a "sheath-like organ." And the book's definition
of clitoris is quite inadequate. It does not tell that
the clitoris is composed of erectile tissue, and it says nothing
about the role of the clitoris in a woman's achieving orgasm.
- Page 50: The description of conception is trash. Its
purpose is polemical, its content false. An embryo is not "newly
created life," does not "immediately [take] control of the
mother's reproductive system," and does not produce human
chorionic gonadotropin (which is made by the placenta).
[Editor's note: The false notion that reproduction is the
creation of life (i.e., that a zygote originates from non-living
material and embodies new life) is promoted regularly by
anti-abortion propagandists, who evidently seek to endow the zygote
with an aura of the supernatural. To read of a case in which a
schoolbook promotes the same nonsense, see "Glencoe's Insidious
Propaganda" in The Textbook Letter, May-June 1993, page
- Page 51: Although this is presumably a book about humans,
the diagram called "The Cell" shows not a human cell but a
- Page 53 says that there is no evidence that intercourse
induces a woman to ovulate. False. We know that, unfortunately,
the conception rate among women who suffer genital rape, or among
teenaged girls who begin genital intercourse, is higher than the
rate predicted by fertility data for the female population as a
whole. This suggests strongly that intercourse does
- Page 54: "During genital excitement, a man may deposit a few
little drops of seminal fluid without ejaculation; these droplets
contain a very high concentration of sperm. If deposited on or
about the vulva, pregnancy can result even without penetration or
ejaculation." The first statement is false: Most of the fluid
released before ejaculation is devoid of spermatozoa. The
second statement is colossally misleading: For a pregnancy to
ensue even from an extravaginal ejaculation, let alone an
extravaginal release of pre-ejaculatory fluid, is exceedingly
rare. So again, the writers are perpetuating myths and
concocting lies, apparently in an attempt to manipulate students
by arousing fear.
To summarize: This book's judgmental, high-and-mighty tone will
repel many teenaged readers; the "information" that the book
presents is often inaccurate or misleading; and the handling of
contraception and abortion is one-sided and exceedingly
distorted. Sexuality, Commitment & Family -- so removed
from real-life problems, so devoted to dictating pat answers and
to scaring students rather than informing them -- may work as an
adjunct to a Bible-study course, but it has nothing to contribute
to mainstream education.
Presented as Fact
David R. Stronck
Sexuality, Commitment & Family is animated by the
religious views and the political program of the Far Right. It
does not respect other perspectives or provide any serious
discussion of them, nor does it show respect for scientific
information or research. The text is an unattractive listing of
definitions and "facts," with the message of the Far Right
imposed on each topic. The suggested teaching method appears to
consist of nothing more than having students memorize material
and then answer "Review Questions."
Many of the "definitions" given in this book, even in the
glossary, are colored by the Far Right's beliefs and
prescriptions. For example, the glossary's entry for the word
abstain is embellished with a sentence implying that only
evil consequences can arise from premarital sex:
Abstain A choice to refrain from a certain activity.
There are many advantages in abstaining from premarital sex
(e.g., physical and emotional freedom that is lost with a
sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy, or abortion).
Similarly, the glossary declares that sexual intercourse
means "a very special physical and emotional union when a man and
woman come together in order for a new life to begin and/or to
strengthen the bond in their marriage commitment." This gives
the reader no idea of what the "physical union" may be, and it
creates absurdities. For example, rape is commonly defined as
unlawful sexual intercourse, perpetrated through force or threat
-- but if we were to accept this book's definition of sexual
intercourse, rape evidently could not involve sexual
intercourse at all.
The introduction to Sexuality, Commitment & Family
includes this assertion:
Cooperation and communication among parents, church, and
school will be most beneficial to the students' self-worth and
their future contribution to the community. The teacher's role
is to transmit facts; the parents' role is to transmit
The second sentence seems to imply that this book avoids trying
to transmit values and seeks only to present facts. The opposite
is true. The book presents strong, idiosyncratic messages about
values while heavily distorting facts. It seems best suited for
use in a Sunday school that is directed by parents who are
uniformly committed to the Far Right's ideology.
For an example of how the writers deliver their moral messages,
look at page 29, where the writers quote one Patricia B.
Driscoll: "Chastity before marriage is a realistic and proven way
to find sexual happiness within marriage. Premarital fidelity is
the best practice for sexual fidelity after marriage." The
student evidently is expected to memorize this and to use it in
answering a "Review Question" on page 41: "What do you consider
to be the value(s) of postponing sexual gratification?"
On page 37, a diagram links "sexual intercourse" with "Relief of
sexual tension, increased self-pride or . . . Guilt, anxiety,
loss of self-esteem" (ellipsis in the original).
The writers do not identify religious opinion for what it is --
opinion. Instead, they present it as fact, as in this passage on
Fertilization, or conception, occurs when a single sperm
penetrates the ovum and a new life begins. . . . This new
one-celled human has 46 chromosomes, . . . . The only thing that is
left from this point on is growth and development, and
hopefully, in nine months, a change of residency called
This is just one of many instances in which the writers promote,
and depict as fact, the religious opinion that all the properties
and rights of a born human reside in a zygote. Significantly, I
believe, the term zygote seems to be entirely absent from
the book's text, and it isn't defined in the glossary. It is
used in passing, however, in the glossary's definition of
endometrium. The term embryo seems to appear only
once in the text, and it is absent from the glossary. Nor does
the book give any description of the early stages of embryogeny,
e.g., the blastula or the gastrula. Clearly, the writers do not
want to deal with anything that bears no resemblance to a born
The chapter on marriage mentions divorce but does not discuss it.
There is no examination of reasons why a marriage may be
dissolved. And while the text fleetingly notes that a couple
must consider "whether to have children," the writers explicitly
and implicitly urge the view that reproduction is marriage's
essential purpose. On page 59, for example: "From the social
perspective, marriage may be seen as bringing together two people
who should be responsible as parents."
The chapter on parenting has (on page 88) a list of "Some
Positive Qualities to Be Fostered in Both Parents and Children."
The list includes a number of things, such as faith, humility and
obedience, that are highly esteemed by the Far Right but not by
Obedience becomes a major theme in the chapter called
"Assertiveness Skills," where the writers advocate rejecting
compromise and conforming to authority. On page 130, they say
that a behavioral option should be eliminated if it fails any of
a number of criteria, including whether the option is "in line
with the authority in charge." These writers are not concerned
with helping students to understand things. They are concerned
with ensuring that students will just follow orders.
Sexuality, Commitment & Family provides no description of
condoms or of other contraceptive devices, and the chapter called
"Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)" depicts condoms as having
little value in controlling the spread of disease. Similarly,
the chapter on "Consequences of Adolescent Sexual Activity"
ignores scientific findings while presenting wrong "information."
On pages 139 and 140, for example:
For over two decades contraceptive education and availability
have been considered the key elements in preventing teen
pregnancy. This approach has not succeeded in reducing pregnancy
or the spread of STD's.
The writers cite no references to support that assertion, and the
assertion is false. Published studies have shown the opposite:
Where adolescents have had sound education in sexuality, and
where contraceptives have been readily obtainable, there have
been major reductions in the spread of STDs. There also have
been demonstrable reductions in the occurrence of unwanted
pregnancies. Reports of such results have been available since
the early 1980s, at least, and I cited a number of them in my
book Sexuality Education for American Youth, issued in
1983 by Network Publications (Santa Cruz, California).
I would recommend Sexuality, Commitment & Family only to
church groups that wish to dwell on their own religious views
while ignoring scientific information and the needs of most
Is a Fraud
William J. Bennetta
I can offer two definitive reasons why Sexuality, Commitment &
Family is unfit for use in schools:
First, this book is flimsy and poorly made. The pages have
merely been glued into a paper cover, and my copy began to fall
apart before I finished trying to read it.
Second, the book is a fraud. This point will be developed in the
rest of my review.
I've never before examined one of the Religious Right's phony
"sex education" books, but I find that Sexuality, Commitment &
Family rings familiar. I own a collection of books and
pamphlets issued by devotees of creationism and "creation
science," so I am well acquainted with the writings of religious
cranks and with the devices that such people favor: half-truths,
deceptive distortions, false definitions, logical fallacies,
pseudoscience, ignorant raving, and ideological fakery dressed up
as information. Sexuality, Commitment & Family has them
all, along with a heavy dose of cruelty.
Who wrote this book? I don't know. It has no title page, and
the preface, cast as a note to the student from "Steve Potter,
Nancy Roach and the Teen-Aid Staff," is cryptic:
This text was designed for you, in the hope that the
information will make a positive impact on the choices in life
that you make. Many professionals in their own field of study
wrote different sections of this book, and we as the editors put
it in the best form we could for your benefit.
"Many professionals"? Which professionals? Do they have
names? Just what is their "field of study"? And who are
Steve Potter and Nancy Roach? I find nothing to suggest answers
to those questions. In effect, the book is anonymous.
Sexuality, Commitment & Family is an anti-abortion tract,
and much of its content has been contrived to support
anti-abortion messages, by one means or another. For example, the
Teen-Aid writers glorify breeding, they continually equate sex
with reproduction, they depict sexual activity as purposeful
behavior that has reproduction as its goal, and they hide or deny
the aspects of sex that can't be linked, in some simple-minded
way, to the making of babies. In writing about abortion itself,
they employ falsity and gross distortion, and they promote the
impression that any woman who chooses to have an abortion must be
stupid or feckless.
While doing such things, the writers also project a view that is
manifestly absurd: Breeding is good, but mating is bad -- an
embarrassing thing that must be shrouded in double-talk.
Obviously, a book that deals in antics like those is not
providing any legitimate treatment of sexuality -- even if the
book carries a phony title that has sexuality as its first
word. To give you an idea of how Sexuality, Commitment &
Family shuns sexuality and submerges it under a heavy scum of
ideology, I quote (in full) some items in the book's glossary:
Breasts The mammary glands are the milk-producing
Sexual Arousal Sexual excitement. The progression of
sexual arousal can be stopped at any point.
Sexual Intercourse (see Coitis [sic]) This is
(should be) a very special physical and emotional union when a
man and woman come together in order for a new life to begin
and/or to strengthen the bond in their marriage commitment.
That non-definition of sexual arousal says nothing, except
that arousal may be a synonym for excitement. The
non-definition of sexual intercourse underscores a key
feature of Teen-Aid's book: The writers never explain coitus, and
the student is left to guess whether "sexual intercourse" means
nose-rubbing, hand-holding or a dinner by candlelight. My very
favorite item in the glossary, however, is the entry for
breasts. Besides failing to tell what breasts are, it
exemplifies the writers' grinding preoccupation with breeding and
their refusal to acknowledge basic sexual functions. [See
"Just Say Moo" on page 12 of this issue.]
The matter of bogus definitions points to the next level of fraud
in Sexuality, Commitment & Family: The writers hold
themselves forth as experts in biology, but any educated reader
will see that these people are merely dispensing pseudoscience.
- Page 23: "As human beings we are unique in possessing
qualities that are not found in animals. We have intelligence,
an unlimited capacity to love, and an ability to make conscious
decisions. We do not merely act out of instinct as animals do."
All of that, starting with the notion that humans constitute a
category separate from animals, is anthropocentric superstition
left over from a century long past. Fundamentalists still cling
to it, but no one who has even a slight awareness of
20th-century science would deny that other animals possess
intelligence, nor would he try to deny or minimize the role of
instinct in human sexual behavior.
- On page 45 the writers claim that the "purpose" of the male
reproductive organs is "reproduction" and the sharing of "sexual
intimacy with one's wife," while the female organs serve to make
eggs for "the fertility process" and to share "sexual intimacy
with one's husband." The teleological notion that organic
structures have a "purpose" is more nonsense from the distant
past. It survives as a fundamentalist delusion, but it has no
standing in today's biology. And while the terms husband
and wife obviously refer to marriage, we know very well
that reproductive structures are not restricted to organisms that
get married. This is one of the various cases in which the
writers deny obvious facts and confuse the student by conflating
social practices with physiology.
- On page 52 the writers refer to a zygote as a "one-celled
human." This goofy phrase is one of several that the writers
have invented to support their anti-abortion ideology, in which
any postzygotic cell or mass of cells must be equated with a
free-living organism. Elsewhere, they call a fetus a "baby," and
they say that birth is a merely "the process by which a baby
changes residence." Well, a fetus is not a baby, and birth is
not just a change in residence -- if only because birth is not
reversible. The writers hide the fact that birth entails
dramatic physiological changes as the fetus turns into something
that it has never before has been: a free-living air-breather.
If you think that I'm giving too much attention to the book's
phony "biology," please ask yourself: How would you like to be
an educator who had to try teaching real science to students who
had been subjected to Teen-Aid's grotesque rubbish? How would
you like to be a student who had to try learning real biology
while your head was full of tommyrot about purposeful organs and
In some cases, the tripe in Sexuality, Commitment & Family
may merely reflect the writers' ignorance. (An example is the
diagram titled "Purposes of Dating," on page 35, which suggests
that the writers do not know that a cross surmounted by a circle
is the universal symbol for female. The diagram is full of
cross-and-circle figures that represent people who are dating,
engaged, or married. Hence the diagram shows dating, engagement
and marriage among lesbians only.) But various other items --
such as that nonsense about a "change in residence" -- seem to
signal that the writers are deliberately trying to delude or
mislead the student, or are trying to ensure that the student
will not understand the topic that nominally is being presented.
Here are more examples:
- The "Fetal Development/Childbirth" chapter doesn't have
pictures of the first stages of development, and the few
pictures that it does have are arranged in a weird,
incomprehensible order: first, "Fetus at Two Months"; then "Fetus
at One Month"; then "Fetus at Four Months"; then two uncaptioned
pictures of infants; then two of older children; then "Fetus at
Three Months"; then "Fetus at Seven Months"; then a picture of
fetal twins (with no age stated). Obviously, the writers don't
want the student to get any clear idea of how development starts
- The book's treatment of marriage is nothing but junk. These
writers provide no anthropological perspective, and what they
call "marriage" is really just their own, narrow, idiosyncratic
notion of marriage. That notion pivots around reproduction, and
the text says that "From the social perspective, marriage may be
seen as bringing together two people who should be responsible as
parents." Just where does that "social perspective" come from?
It surely isn't evident in the United States. In this country,
marriage is regulated by laws of the states -- and no state, as
far as I am aware, requires the applicants for a marriage license
to pass any test that is even remotely related to predicting
whether the applicants are going to be "responsible as parents."
No state even attempts to assess the applicants' fertility.
- The book promotes the notion that individuals risk pregnancy
or sexually transmitted infections if they engage in "premarital
sex" (which is never defined and is treated as a bogey-man), but
that no such risks pertain if the individuals are married.
Students may well wonder how marriage can be a safeguard against
pregnancy if marriage is focused on breeding, but the book
doesn't say. The writers again confuse students by conflating
social practices with physiology.
The section dealing directly with abortion is as cruel as it is
false. It also provides an especially clear exhibition of the
Religious Right's view of women: Women are meant to be used for
breeding, and they must be indoctrinated accordingly.
As many of my readers know, pregnancy and childbirth pose major
dangers. For a woman under the age of 40, the risks associated
with pregnancy and childbirth are greater than those associated
with any other events except accidents. Abortion, on the other
hand, poses little risk and is far less hazardous than carrying a
fetus to term.
Sexuality, Commitment & Family hides all of this and leads
students to believe the opposite. The writers give more than two
pages to listing dangers, complications and "aftereffects" that
allegedly are related to abortion, but nowhere in the book do
they provide any analogous list pertaining to pregnancy and
childbirth. What a vile trick!
The writers try a similar stunt as they offer (on page 148) some
clinical descriptions of abortion methods. Accounts of surgical
procedures can be expected to arouse disgust and discomfort in
persons who are not accustomed to reading such things, and
arousing such feelings is just what the writers are trying to do.
They are trying to manipulate students by instilling revulsion,
and this becomes clear when we compare those detailed accounts of
abortion with the breezy little passage (earlier in the book)
about a cesarean section. Where is the information about the
instruments used in a cesarean section, about the tissues that
are cut, and about the fluids that flow? That information is
nowhere to be seen.
The Teen-Aid text sometimes purports that persons who disobey its
prescriptions suffer guilt, anxiety and self-loathing. The
section on abortion makes conspicuous use of such suggestions (or
threats) and it employs falsity, distortion, selective omission
and gross absurdity to urge the Religious Right's usual formula
for dealing with an unwanted pregnancy: The woman should carry
the fetus to term and then surrender the baby for adoption. In
the course of promoting this view, the writers give a list some
questions involved in a decision about a prospective adoption.
But the book never tells that the very same questions arise
during a decision about a prospective abortion -- in fact, the
writers give no hint that abortion can be assessed rationally
and can be elected thoughtfully. By entirely ignoring those
points, the writers project the false, cruel impression that a
woman who chooses an abortion must be too stupid to know what
she is doing, or too feckless to care.
To conclude: Sexuality, Commitment & Family is a an
anti-abortion tract, a cascade of propaganda, and the sort of book
that can give deceit a bad name.
Ricki Pollycove is a physician and a fellow of the American
College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is the chief of the
Division of Gynecology at the California Pacific Medical Center
(in San Francisco) and the director for education and program
development at the CPMC's Breast Health Center.
David R. Stronck, a specialist in science education and in
health education, is a professor in the Department of Teacher
Education at California State University, Hayward.
William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the
California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook
League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes
often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and
false "history" in schoolbooks.