We Must Say “Know” to Abstinence-Only Sex Ed “Choices, Decisions, Outcomes”

Your children have a right to sex education. This right is a component of their sexual rights, themselves a subset of the human rights guaranteed to them in international laws, human rights documents and other consensus statements.

But don’t cry out for joy or fly off the handle with rage just yet. Because whatever abstract entitlement our kids have to accurate, relevant and age-appropriate information about sex, relationships and reproduction in the classroom, most aren’t getting any. Education, that is. They are getting plenty of sex, some of it unwanted, as well as sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies and, if they are same-sex attracted, a worrying dose of suicidal thoughts.

Yet, despite such incontrovertible evidence of need, Australia lacks a comprehensive national sexual and reproductive health strategy. We don’t even have basic minimum standards for what our kids can be taught. Into this policy vacuum comes Choices, Decisions, Outcomes, CDO for short, an “innovative value-based education program for adolescents” that “encourages responsible decision making regarding sexuality”.

CDO uses foetal models and flip books to instruct year seven and eight students about “self worth” and self “respect”. In later years, free giveaways such as comics and friendship dolls help teach kids that peer pressure causes teen sex, which unavoidably results in pregnancy, infertility, sexually transmitted infections and diseases that kill.

CDO is the brainchild of Jane Power. Jane’s background is as counsellor at Pregnancy Help Geelong, an approved Right to Life organisation. CDO’s core values are “to respect human life from conception” and “to encourage saving sexual intimacy until marriage and then only between husband and wife”. Interestingly, this statement of values is not available on CDO’s website, to which students undertaking the course and their parents are directed.

CDO’s partner organisation, Real Choices Australia, says the program has been delivered to more than 100,000 Australian children. Real Choices Australia’s affiliation is not apparent from its website, but it seems to have links to the Catholic Church. Certainly, the funding for CDO is coming from somewhere. A new education team’s kit costs $3000, and their audio-visual requirements another $2000. Thankfully, we’re all contributing to the cause. Donations to Real Choices Australia are tax deductible.

One mother first heard about CDO was when her daughter came home from school to report that pashing makes you pregnant. The girl attends a public school in country NSW.

Pro-life, abstinence-only sex education crosses the line, pushing religion into the secular school system where it doesn’t belong. It can also be duplicitous, presenting false information about the “side-effects” of abortion and either refusing to talk about contraception, or mentioning only (inflated) failure rates.

But the biggest problem with abstinence-only sex ed is that it doesn’t work. A report on the effectiveness of the US Government’s significant investment in abstinence-only sex education found that youth delivered the program had as much sex with as many partners, and started having sex at the same time, as other adolescents.

Worse, when kids are taught CDO they miss out on abstinence-plus approaches that really work, reducing sexually transmitted infections without increasing rates of teenage sex.

State and federal politicians have questions to answer. They need to explain why ineffective abstinence-only sex education is being taught in public classrooms, and why they won’t put a strategy in place to make sure our kids get the facts.

Publication history

We must say "know" to sex education  Sydney Morning Herald