November 28, 2012
Comprehensive sex ed is hardly comprehensive – Part One
Like many parents, those in the town of Princeton, New Jersey are concerned about the sex education in their schools.
They have reason to be worried. The HiTOPS/Teen PEP curriculum used in their district is seriously flawed.
This isn’t just my opinion – it’s also that of an internationally respected expert on STDs and HIV.
Jon Potterat was the director of STD/AIDS programs in Colorado Springs for almost thirty years, and is the author of 203 scholarly publications. I recently had a chance to show Jon some portions of the HiTops curriculum, and ask for his opinion.
One item we discussed was this Q&A:
HiTops Question: Who is at risk for HIV?
HiTops Answer: Anyone who engages in high risk behaviors: unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse, as well as sharing any kind of needles. Gender and sexual orientation are irrelevant as they relate to HIV infection. It is the specific behavior that may allow infectious body fluids to gain access to the blood supply that puts a person at risk for HIV infection.
Jon’s Perspective: “This is only half the truth”, Jon said. “Theoretically, yes, anyone can be infected with HIV, just like anyone can get lung cancer. But being a heavy smoker for decades increases the risk exponentially. In the same way, gender and sexual orientation correlate strongly with risk of HIV infection”
“They deliberately leave out the numbers, the different magnitudes of risk,” he explained, “and that’s a serious omission. The idea that everyone has the same risk is epidemiologic communism – it’s simply not true”.
To which numbers is Jon referring?
The rate of new HIV diagnoses among MSM (men who have sex with men) is more than 44 times that of other men. This is not because the virus discriminates based on sexual orientation, but because of risky behaviors that are more common among MSM: anal intercourse, earlier age of sexual debut, higher numbers of sexual partners, higher likelihood of using the internet to recruit sexual partners, concurrent partnerships, and infrequent condom use.
So being MSM does not in and of itself impact one’s risk of infection. But participating in specific sexual behaviors with another person who is a member of that group (and who has been sexually active with others in that group) certainly does.
The importance of this information cannot be overstated, yet “epidemiologic communism” is endemic to so-called comprehensive sex education. The dangers of this approach are discussed at length in my New York City Sexuality Education Report.
To its credit, the HiTops curriculum explains to students that anal sex is the highest risk activity. But it does not quantify: is it twice as dangerous, three times?
According to the New York City Department of Health, HIV is about thirty times more likely to be transmitted during unprotected anal, as compared to vaginal, sex.
Bottom line: parents must find out what their children are being taught about HIV transmission. Are educators telling the whole story, or promoting “epidemiologic communism”? We’re talking about life and death here. Find out what’s happening at your school, and join in the conversation.
1. CDC Analysis Provides New Look at Disproportionate Impact of HIV and Syphilis
Among U.S. Gay and Bisexual Men. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
10 March 2010 Web 31 May 2011 http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/Newsroom/ msmpressrelease.html
2. Levin, EM et al. “Characteristics of Men Who Have Sex With Men and Women and
Women Who Have Sex With Women and Men: Results from the 2003 Seattle Sex
Survey.” Sexually Transmitted Diseases 36.9 (2009): 541-546
3. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. NYC Vital Signs 9.2. (2010)