Expanding the Scope of Disease Prevention

Susan Cohen explains how reducing unwanted pregnancy can reduce HIV transmission, ex-gay ministries get exposed as deceitful, abstinence-only both misinforms and spreads sexist stereotypes, and Pat Buchanan tries to wave away women in politics.

Links in this Episode:

Guttmacher Study: Contraception Critical to HIV Prevention
Huckabee on SNL
Legal Momentum
Ex the gay away
Pat Buchanan vs. Hillary Clinton


This week on Reality Cast, an interview about how reducing unplanned pregnancy can reduce AIDS, why abstinence-only is wrong about sexism like it's wrong about condoms, and how ex-gay therapists aren't ex-ing the gay out of anyone.

Did anyone see Mike Huckabee on "Saturday Night Live" last week? He's basically out of the race now, but he just had to continue dazzling people with the fact that he has a sense of humor, despite having a severely rigid worldview that usually precludes a sense of humor in most people who share it. The Weekend Update anchor comically explained to Huckabee that staying in the primary is not going to get him the nomination, because it's a mathematical impossibility at this point.

  • insert huckabee snl *

Too bad he's not much of a science guy, either. He endorsed the Human Life Amendment in Colorado that would redefine a fertilized egg as a person, even though a woman isn't even pregnant when an egg is fertilized. It has to implant before she's actually pregnant, and many fertilized eggs don't. Can you have a baby without being pregnant first? I suppose if you rank miracles over reality, you can.


The organization Legal Momentum has put out a comprehensive report on abstinence-only education and how it's specifically harmful to women and girls. It's a great report and addresses the sexist nature of abstinence-only more in-depth than you usually get with reports on it.

I figured I could intersperse the reporting on the report with some interviews from abstinence-only proponents collected by magicians and skeptics Penn and Teller.

  • abstinence talks 1 *

Unfortunately, that's what you might call doublespeak. She's using the language of empowerment to hide the disempowering agenda of abstinence-only, that is especially aimed at disempowering women and girls, according to Legal Momentum. Many, probably most, abstinence-only curricula teaches that good, proper girls are passive, submissive agents who play gatekeeper, never instigator. As Legal Momentum argues, this just encourages girls to have low self-esteem, which leads to an inability to stand up for yourself. It's hard to demand that a partner wears a condom, for instance, if you're told that good girls don't even want sex in the first place.

Of course, kids having sex without protecting themselves doesn't seem to bother the proponents of abstinence-only.

  • abstinence talks 2 *

Quoth the Legal Momentum report: "Numerous studies have found that negative attitudes toward condom use—attitudes similar to those taught in many abstinence-only curricula—discourage condom use even when young people are aware of the risks of unprotected sexual activity."

Penn and Teller managed to get a camera into the abstinence-only classroom.

  • insert abstinence talks 3 *

Yes, she set a tissue on fire. As you can imagine, it burns up. The excuse for this exercise is that it's about "relationships", but as the Legal Momentum report notes, all this is going on in an atmosphere where it's already widely believed that women are "used up" by sex. Some other abstinence-only curricula is even more blatant. They give kids gum to chew and then ask them to swap, arguing that you don't want to have sex with a person who's had sex before. Or lollipops or toothbrushes. You get the idea.

Again, this is about lowering girls' self-esteem, which does make it harder for them to protect themselves when they do have sex.

According to the Legal Momentum report, boys are unfairly stereotyped as well. The curricula portrays young men as sex-crazed maniacs who can't control themselves and need girls to do it for them. The curricula that's misnamed "Facts and Reason" says, "women are more likely than men to be in love, want a mutually satisfying relationship, and are interested in what their partner feels and thinks….men, true to the stereotype, are more likely to engage in sex with a warning to the woman that there will be no commitment."

They also state that men are ruled by their hormones, and basically can't be bothered with the love and thinking stuff. This stereotype cuts two ways, arguing that women don't have sexual desires, which I can tell you right now is untrue and men, at least young men, don't have what you'd call relationship desires. Turns out that's untrue, too. (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/15/inside-the-mind-of-the-boy-dating-your-daughter/?scp=1-b&sq=inside+the+mind+of+the+boy+&st=nyt)

In a report published in the Journal of Adolescence, researchers from the State University of New York surveyed 105 10th graders, average age of 16, which the abstinence-only curricula would dictate is the prime age for guys to think of girls as nothing but walking penis sheaths. What did they find? Well, they found the majority of the boys wanted a relationship, that they enjoy girls' personalities, and they enjoy being or the idea of being in love. Whoops. Abstinence-only can't get anything right!


insert interview with Susan Cohen


Thanks to Pam Spaulding for digging up this Box Turtle Bulletin expose of some of more bizarre ex-gay ministry practices. Jim Burroway went undercover to an ex-gay workshop, conducted by Love In Action Director John Smid, on why the person trying to turn from gay to straight needs to quit masturbating. See, having a sexuality seems to be indistinguishable from being homosexual in Smid's view. His advice to people trying to un-gay themselves is baffling.

  • insert ex-gay 1 *

He means his homosexuality, of course. Something to keep in mind, because remember people go to these seminars looking for advice on how to be straight, not for advice on how to not have a sexuality.

  • insert ex-gay 2 *

I suspect what he's getting at here is that if a guy can scrub himself of effeminate characteristics and start embracing NASCAR, Old Spice, and barbeque, then he'll somehow be less gay. But all that will happen if you do that is you'll be a gay man who likes NASCAR, Old Spice, and barbeque. And while there's nothing to be ashamed of if you're gay, if you do start wearing Old Spice, then you have brought shame onto your family.

  • insert ex-gay 3 *

If visual stimulation and masturbation somehow turns you gay and away from being straight, then I wonder how he explains the multi-billion dollar porn industry aimed at straight men. It seems to be something of a flaw in his argument.

But that doesn't even begin to touch how strange this workshop gets.

  • ex-gay 4 *

At this point, it becomes clear that he doesn't seem to understand that straight people have a sexuality, too. Feeling sexy doesn't make you gay or straight. Where your sexuality is oriented seems to be the real definition. But in case there's any doubt that he's arguing that being straight is not a sexuality at all, but more like the booby prize for someone who has squelched his own sexuality, he confirms it with this.

  • ex-gay 5 *

Yes! Now we see what the ex-gay program is. They claim to turn gays to straights, but in fact, what they do, is convince gay people to squelch their sexuality to the point where they're so desperate for some release that they'll have sex with someone they find deeply unsexy. Basically, quick and unsatisfying masturbation with your spouse's body. That's not becoming straight. That's what you call getting back into the closet.

I'm sure when he let himself be gay, masturbation wasn't a threat to his sex life with men.

Misogyny alert for what he says next.

  • insert ex-gay 6*

Believing that your wife is basically a penis sheath, a jerk sock made out of flesh is honoring and respecting her? Really? But seriously, he makes straight sex sound like eating a hated vegetable, this dutiful thing you do because you have to, not because you want to. Which I suppose it is for him, since he's gay. But he seems not to get that actual straight people feel about straight sex how he feels about gay sex, which is that it's fun and pleasurable.

Jim Burroway, who made the video, reports that many in the workshop saw the giant flaw in this argument, which is that for a lot of gay people, the idea of straight sex is so unappealing that they'd rather go without sex altogether.

  • ex-gay 7 *

So the ex-gay ministries are pulling a bait and switch. They advertise themselves as a place where gay people can go to become straight, but when you get there, you find out your options are either to be nearly celibate, with a handful of rare and unsatisfying sexual encounters with someone you don't find appealing, or to be completely celibate. What you don't get to be, however, is straight. They're taking advantage of desperate people, people who by and large would probably be a lot happier getting out of their homophobic communities and joining communities where their real sexuality was acceptable.


Now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts. We have Pat Buchanan on Morning Joe on MSNBC explaining why it is that women will never get a fair shake in politics, with the implication being it would just be easier for us to stay out.

  • insert pat buch women's voices *

Oh those sexists oppressing women, keeping us down. Isn't it just so adorable? I mean, except for the oppression of half the human race, it's kind of cute.

Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte