Monday, May 4, 2020

The Fifteen Problems with Teen Talk, by Skip Hellewell

Review of Teen Talk Sex Ed Curriculum for Compliance with CHYA and CHYA Purposes

The author (R. Skip Hellewell) worked the last two years as a citizen volunteer to improve sex
ed curricula in CA secondary school districts, beginning in the Capistrano USD (CUSD) where his
family have gone to school. Skip served with parent on the CUSD citizen sex ed task force to
provide guidance as the district developed their own curriculum. The CUSD curriculum, though
an improvement, fell short of the CA Healthy Youth Act (hereafter CHYA) purposes so he helped
develop the HEART sex ed curriculum. HEART is offered as a free public service for use by CA
secondary school districts at their discretion.

A telling observation by the author from reviewing many sex ed curricula is that they reflect the
viewpoint of the author(s) regarding the role of sexual self-restraint. In the traditional view,
sexual expression should be delayed until adulthood (codified in laws protecting minors) and
ideally to a single lifetime partner (referred to as the only medically certain protection of sexual
and reproductive health). A contrasting viewpoint became common in the sexual revolution of
the ‘70s that advocated unrestrained sexual expression. As the saying went, “If it feels good, do
it.” The viewpoint of curriculum author(s) becomes obvious as the curriculum addresses the
CHYA requirements. It should be noted that CHYA aligns with the traditional viewpoint.

On 1/29/20, at the invitation of the Downey USD, the author reviewed the “Teen Talk” middle
school sex ed curriculum, 2018 Edition. The standard reference for this analysis is compliance
with the purposes and requirements of the CA Healthy Youth Act, as guided by the Center for
Disease Control and Prevention (hereafter CDC). The purposes of the CA Healthy Youth Act
(expressed in Ed Code 51930, paraphrased here by author) are:
1. Provide knowledge and skills to protect student’s sexual and reproductive health.
2. Provide knowledge and skills for healthy attitudes regarding adolescent growth and
development, body image, gender, sexual orientation, relationships, marriage, and
3. Teach sexuality as a normal part of human development.
4. Teach pupils to protect their sexual health, including prevention of HIV infection.
5. Provide knowledge and skills for healthy, positive and safe relationships and behaviors.
Conclusion: Teen Talk (2018 Edition) does not meet the CHYA-modified Ed Code purposes for
sex ed in CA secondary schools.
Discussion: The conclusions is mainly based on the following 15 compliance problems in the
twelve Teen Talk sessions (lessons).

Session 1: Introduction, Values Clarification, Parent Communication, and Resources
Problem #1: This opening lesson, in the reviewer’s reading, offends the purposes of CHYA and
the laws protecting minors from sex by injecting confusing details. It introduces 7th graders to
sex and infers they can consent to sex—seems to even ‘groom’ them for sex—rather than lay a
foundation for CHYA’s five protective purposes.
Discussion: Two issues are confused in this lesson: intricacies for mandated reporting by
responsible roles such as teachers (why should this confusing legal information be taught to 7th
graders?), and long-established laws barring minors from sexual acts. The four points for
consent to sex by adults are then introduced inferring that minors can give consent (why should
consent to sex be taught to middle school minors when it’s an adult issue?). This leaves
incorrect impressions, such as some minors can have sex per law (16-17-year-olds), that a 20-
year-old can have sex with a 14-year-old, and that minors can legally consent to sex.

Problem #2: The pretest injects sexual topics not typical for middle school children, many not
required by CHYA. The questions explore sexual topics including:
• How pregnancy happens,
• Condom use,
• Urination source,
• Clinics for sex care,
• No parent permission for medical consent,
• Birth control duration,
• Emergency contraception,
• HIV in saliva,
• Whether you can detect STI by looking at someone,
• Age to buy condoms,
• Issues of sexting, etc.

Summary: The Teen Talk lessons introduce a great deal of material about having sex, rather
than about knowledge and skills for protecting sexual and reproductive health.

Problem #3: The “Values” exercise has a Lord of the Flies type of social pressure as students are
required by physical movement to agree or disagree with values statements they have not been
prepared for, and may be asked to explain. This seems more about crowd influence than sex ed.
Neutral positions are not allowed. No guidance supportive of healthy behavior is given, some
value questions go beyond CHYA, and some topics aren’t even values. Examples:

• It is normal to masturbate.
• Middle school students are mature enough to have sex.
• It’s OK to have sex with a lot of people. (Inferring that sex with a few people would
surely be OK.)
• People should be able to express gender however they want.
• Get tested for STIs before having sex. (Again, inferring that sex by minors is OK if done
• It’s easy for teens to get sexual health services.
• Having a baby is a way to keep a relationship.
• Middle school kids can be good parents.

Problem #4: The section, “Giving your parents ‘The Talk’,” undermines the legal rights of, and
respect for the role and authority of parents. The material includes statements:
• “What should you do if your parents discuss values you don’t agree with” including
advice such as “Sometimes you must agree to disagree.”
• You can say ‘I can see what you’re saying but I don’t agree. I think that . . .’”
• If your parent/guardian starts to lecture or yell, just gently remind them that you’re just
asking questions.
• Also includes guidance “For some people, it might be better to look for advice and
information from another adult you can trust . . .”

Session 2: Sexual and Reproductive Anatomy:
This lesson, like the first lesson, is an in-your-face introduction of sex and sexual topics to
middle school pupils, many of whom are still quite innocent. The lesson acts to normalize sex
(usually a private and personal topic), through repetitive introduction of sexual terms. The
lesson fails to support the laws protecting minors from sexual exploitation or the purposes of
CHYA (please note, it’s called the “Healthy Youth Act” not the “Introduction to Sex Act,”) as
previously noted.

Problem #5: The lesson on anatomy goes well beyond the requirements of CHYA, adds
confusing detail to the already complex subject of sex ed, and forces this on middle school
children. Examples of repetitive introduce of sexual terms:
• Introduces 17 anatomical male features,
• Introduces 17 anatomical female features,
• Introduces anus, rectal fluids, pubic hair, and orgasm,
• Has an absurd activity, “Pin the part on the pelvis” that offends the real purpose of the
CA Healthy Youth Act—less emphasis on sex.

Session 3: Gender and Sexual Identities:
CHYA requires that three terms be taught: gender, gender expression, and gender identity.
Exploration of any harm from gender stereotypes is also required (though it should be
supported by scientific studies).

Problem #6: The lesson goes beyond a reasonable interpretation of CHYA requirements,
• The non-scientific idea that sex is “assigned,” as though randomly, when in fact gender
has always been “recognized” by the presence of male or female genitalia.
• Introduces the non-scientific Genderbread identity prezi which suggests that gender is a
preference than a scientific reality present in every cell of the body.
• Introduces the confusing and rare birth defect of ‘intersex,’ a term not mentioned in
• Introduces other terms not in CHYA, including cisgender, transgender, non-binary,
gender queer, gender fluid, agender, gender-neutral, androgynous, asexual, pansexual
and SOGIE. Middle school students are typically experiencing puberty, the first phase of
adolescence, and their gender identify and expression is not clear. This school-based
intrusion into their natural sexual development has potential for harm and violates the
rights and role of parents who best know and love their children.
• The referenced video materials, “Intersex,” “Straitlaced,” and “A Place in the Middle,”
will offend the values of most parents and go beyond the requirements of CHYA.

Session 4 Not Having Sex: Abstinence
At the beginning of Session 4 students have been exposed to 190-265 minutes of sex-drenched
teaching that go well beyond a reasonable interpretation of CHYA requirements, and offends
the purposes of CHYA. At this point a brief 30-35 minute lesson on abstinence, negatively
expressed as “not having sex” rather than focusing on the positive benefits of waiting until the
maturity of adulthood to begin sexual activity, is presented.

Problem #7: It’s always about sex. The lesson fails to build a foundation of support for
abstinence but rather continues the practice of repeatedly introducing sexual topics to middle
school children, including:
• Oral and anal sex (even before mentioning the more mainstream vaginal sex) without
noting the laws against sex by minors. Body and genital touching are also introduced.
• A discussion activity of the three forms of sex in terms of risk of pregnancy and STIs.
• Introduction of “hickeys” (see below).
There is one abstinence related activity, but it is only an “additional activity,” and it has one
good topic (#4) out of the four options offered: “Ways to show affection without sex.” This one
good discussion is side-tracked by mentioning how to make a “hickey” thus injecting a sexual
activity into the ways to show affection without sex. No wholesome reasons for abstinence are
Presuming topic #4 is selected by the teacher and 10 minutes is spent on it, we finish Session 4
having spent just ten minutes out of 220-300 minutes on the main point of CHYA: that delaying
sex until maturity is the only medically certain safe protection of sexual and reproductive

Session 5: Birth Control
About half of students will initiate sex before reaching adulthood thus it is appropriate, and
supported by CHYA, to provide information about how to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy. Six categories of contraception are presented. “Abstinence,” is presented first but
as an option requiring “strong values about not having sex, self-control, and strong
communication skills.”

Problem #8: The material on abstinence in this lesson continues the Teen Talk failure to provide
a positive and encouraging message about delaying sex, noted in CHYA as the only medically
certain safe path. The fact that about half of students abstain from sex is evidence that the
average student can do it—that it doesn’t require “strong values . . . self-control . . . or strong
communication skills. (Italics added.)

Session 6: Pregnancy Options
This is a brief (30-35 minutes) review of facts regarding pregnancy options.

Problem #9: Pregnancy, for a minor girl, is a difficult and highly emotional topic with significant
and long-lasting consequences. The lesson presents the basic information about options, but
little or no information about emotions and consequences. This is a disservice to girls who may
become pregnant, or have pregnant friends.

Problem #10: Although options to terminate pregnancies are presented, there is no information
on protecting the health of the embryo/fetus (neo-natal care instruction). The focus on ‘killing
rather than protecting life offends the values of many parents.

Session7: Sexually Transmitted Infections
This lesson provides information on nine common STIs. The lesson tends to “white-wash” these
diseases—understating the seriousness of the disease—a disservice to the pupils, and would be
better if it included these summary facts:
1. The number and variety of STIs, and the resistance of some to treatment, continues to
increase—an ominous trend suggesting we haven’t seen the worst of these diseases.
2. The rates of STI infections, after several decades of decline, have significantly increased
to near-epidemic levels in the last five years of reported data. This suggests that the
emphasis on condom use for not-so- safe sex (rather than also encouraging abstinence)
has been a national failure.
3. Girls experience STIs differently than boys and are much more vulnerable to harms such
as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID, a cause of infertility).
These STI facts lead to a conclusion that a complete lesson might include: The human immune
system cannot safely protect against casual sex (meaning multiple partners). This should be
taught to meet the healthy purposes of CHYA.
HIV infections are a major emphasis of CHYA (HIV is mentioned about 53 times in the 3+ pages
of the CHYA act). Though HIV infection rates have significantly declined in the general population since the ‘90s, they have tragically persisted at about 26,000 per year among males
having sex with males (known as MSM). A reasonable conclusion is that what we’ve suggested
hasn’t worked so better guidance is needed.

Problem #11: Because anal sex will happen, pupils deserve accurate protective information. The
full CDC guidelines for HIV infection risk reduction are not presented and specific guidelines for
testing are not included, nor is there a reference to connect pupils with evolving CDC-approved
protections. Though anal sex is introduced as one of six forms of risk for HIV, factual
information about the much greater magnitude of the risk for MSM is not presented, nor is
information presented re the much higher risk for the “receptor” of the act. It is also not noted
that condoms are not FDA-approved for anal sex.

Problem #12: As noted above, the national emphasis on condom use has failed to adequately
protect. Condoms in typical use reduce annual pregnancy risk by about 82% and reduce STI risk
by 30-50% depending on the STI. If these facts were known, few parents would accept these
levels of protection for their children and adolescents lack brain development needed for
effective risk management. Even worse, trends for condom use have declined to about half of
kids consistently using them during sex. One conclusion is that emphasis on abstinence should
get more frequent and more effective attention and Teen Talk fails to do this, despite the
emphasis given in CHYA on risk avoidance.

Session 8: Relationships

Healthy relationships based on mutual respect and affection are a CHYA emphasis. Sadly, there
is little in this lesson that teaches the needed knowledge and skills for wholesome and healthy
relationships. As in prior lessons, the emphasis is on sex, including the darker sides of sex.
• In 8.2 Healthy Reasons to Want a Relationship, middle school students are given choices
“partners” (not defined), “hooking-up” and “friends with benefits” (suggesting a sexual
benefit), “long-term committed relationships” and “marriage” (adult relationships).
• In 8.3 Sex Trafficking, the dark side of exploitive relationships is one part of two options.
• In 8.4 the “Join in one love” couplets use cartoon characters that might be minors (age is
indefinite) to discuss the relationship problems of intensity, control, anger, put downs,
disrespect, and guilt. Some couplets infer a sexual aspect to the relationships.

Problem #13: Knowledge and skills for healthy and wholesome relationships typical of middle
school pupils are not well taught and are displaced by adult topics. This is a major failing of
compliance with CHYA purposes.
Session 9: Body Image and the Media
No serious issues with this lesson.

Session 10: Sexual Violence Prevention
There is an inference in this lesson that middle school pupils could consent to sexual violence if
the four elements (active, equal power, a choice, a process) of adult consent are followed. The
lesson also fails to clearly state that sexual violence is wrong and provide guidance on how it
may be a crime. Perhaps this would be included as another “problem” if further considered.
Session 11: Decision Making
Decision making knowledge and skills are noted in the lesson title but not well-taught in the
lesson. The lesson offends the purposes of CHYA with repetitive presentation of sex situations:
• Two of the lesson objectives include discussions of why to have sex, without noting the
facts of laws protecting minors.
• Section 11.2 presents three scenarios, all about sex.
• Additional Activity 1 Toothpaste invites students to think about sex. Four sexual
situations are presented.
• Additional Activity 2 “Are They Really Ready,” presents 8 real-life first sexual
experiences in which the majority did have sex as minors. Little or no guidance is given
as to how to make a healthy choice.
Section 11.3 My Super Future provides a good framework for planning but doesn’t provide
guidance on how to succeed with the life goals, not does it involve parents in the process.

Problem #14: The lessons fail to provide protective knowledge and skills for refusal and
negotiation in the repetitious presentation of sexual situations. This leaves the impression that
everyone, or nearly everyone, is doing it. Fortunately, this isn’t the truth but you don’t find this
information or support for it in these lessons.
Session 12: Review
One overriding problem is included under the review session:

Problem #15: The historical foundation for healthy and lasting relationships is marriage.
Throughout history, marriage and family have been the primary foundation societal
institutions. There is no significant material in the 12 lessons that provides knowledge and skills
for building lasting, healthy committed relationships such as marriage, or that even note the
many benefits of marriage.

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