An Intercourse Issue

Take a minute and recall the song from Schoolhouse Rock, Conjunction Junction. “Conjunction, junction what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses.” But what if the train conductor said, “Hooking up boys and girls for sexual intercourse!”? While this is clearly a joke about sex education in public schools, it calls attention to the awkward balance between teaching abstinence and sexual safety. Once students reach the college level, however, they are in need of a more comprehensive approach to the touchy topic.[inter11]
Instead of choosing to teach strictly abstinence or physical sex education, many groups are prioritizing healthy relationships where students can be comfortable choosing whatever sexual activity is best for them. While religious groups may prioritize abstinence and medical establishments may favor sexual education, both sides seem to be in agreement that students deserve to know the options available to them.[barb]
Many students believe in the importance of choice over being forced to make a sexual decision based on information chosen by someone else. “What would have been helpful to me in high school is if I were taught all of my options, not only the options my high school wanted me to know about,” hospitality business junior Kelly Brumagin said. “If each student is educated about the sexual options they have, each student can make an informed decision on their own sexuality.” Just because they are given the same information does not mean all students will make the same decision.
Not all school districts conduct the same curricula for sexual education. Wendy Sellers, comprehensive school health coordinator for Eaton Intermediate School District, explained there is little to no standard for public schools. “Every school district has the right to determine what is and is not taught in sex education. The only topic that must be covered is HIV and AIDS prevention. Other than that, schools can teach a very comprehensive sexual curriculum or none at all.” Michigan is the fourth most conservative state in the nation when it comes to sexual education, with many subjects being restricted from discussion. “Schools may not discuss the option of abortions, they may not dispense contraceptive devices to their students and every lesson must ultimately stress abstinence as the ideal sexual choice,” Sellers said.
While Michigan is often seen as a liberal state, its sex education policies are altered for a more conservative population. The only thing beyond abstinence high school students are taught is reproductive health. Think about it. Did your gym teacher test you on the physical aspects of a climax? Did an administrator give out any masturbation tips? You will not find a high school in Michigan that teaches its students these sometimes embarrassing but completely natural and healthy topics.
In 2005, the state underwent a major overhaul of its sexual education policies. But instead of loosening its restraints, it tightened them. The new policies about sexual education emphasize the role the parents must play in sexual education, and once again stress the failproof method of abstinence. It’s obvious that in high school, the importance of healthy relationships is rarely at the top of the list in the sex education department. Instead, there is an emphasis on abstinence and only a few legitimate sexual safety tips. No matter how ardently abstinence may be imposed, teaching it rarely results in graduating classes of virgins. “U.S. teens are having just as much sex as those students in foreign countries, yet are contracting more diseases,” said Brit Osbern, a teaching assistant in communication. “There is a myth in the U.S. that educating students about sex will encourage them to partake in it. This simply isn’t the case.” The priority needs to be to make sure teens are aware of all their options, not to push one view over another – agenda-pushing doesn’t fly when it comes to sex.
[sham]”The best thing to do is discuss relationships and communication,” said Erin Williston, a health educator at Olin’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion. “That is the kind of information students aren’t getting from their middle school or high school sexual education courses.”
To supplement what students may already know, the Olin Health Center works diligently to educate MSU students on sexual relations on a college level. “We try to give a comprehensive overview of sexual activity, including the option of abstinence, but also more taboo subjects, such as sexual pleasure,” Williston said. “We know that 25 percent of MSU students choose not to be sexually active while 75 percent of students do. We want to make sure that everyone has access to all the information they need in order to make an informed decision.”
One of Olin’s largest obstacles is teaching students what high school education left out of the equation. These topics run the gamut of sexual discussion: masturbation, homosexuality, abortion, the importance of communication in healthy relationships and how to find pleasure through your own sexuality. “It would make my job a lot easier if high schools would teach a truly comprehensive curriculum,” Williston said.
Many of those who promote abstinence claim it stems from the importance of saving one’s “purity” for marriage. Christian and many other religious groups believe the act of sex parallels the consummation of a marriage, and, under these circumstances, it may be difficult for students to realize the implications of their decisions. “Marriage is seen as a reflection between God and the Church, and the depth of that intimacy, and that depth can’t be duplicated outside of marriage,” said Hillary Reddick, Campus Crusade for Christ representative. “It is the sacredness of marriage that many Christians consider when deciding to remain abstinent.” This is the reason many Christian teens sign “purity promises” through youth groups or exchange promise rings with their parents.
“Abstinence should be taught in schools and I think most MSU Christians would agree with me,” Reddick said. “Not for the sake of spreading Christianity, but for students to learn all viewpoints. And research has supported the fact that it’s more effective to teach people abstinence in conjunction with safe sex, instead of just the latter. MSU students deserve to have all sexual activity options taught to them, and this includes abstinence.”
Sellers does not deny there can be a religious influence to abstinence teachings. “Religious groups have a huge investment in promoting abstinence for religious and moral reasons. They will sponsor groups to go into schools and talk about abstinence. For some schools, this comprises their sexual education, but most use it as a supplement to their existing curriculum,” Sellers said. “Many times, religious groups promoting abstinence use scare tactics, spending a lot of time discussing the dangers of sex and failure rates of condoms, instead of positive skills to abstain. If kids are taught condoms may not be effective, then they are less likely to use them.” However, it is not just the schools using religious teachings who are under-preparing their students for sexual encounters. “Even the most comprehensive curriculum in high school is not going to prepare students properly for college, particularly if you consider abundance of alcohol and unintended sexual activity college life can promote,” Sellers said.[hill]
To further supplement this one-sided view, sex is usually represented as both dirty (Penises, ick! Vaginas, ew!) and meant for marriage. Obviously, the implications of these two concepts are nothing short of comical when interpreted together: save the most disgusting thing your body could ever perform to share with your one and only. Kids are taught to think only the person who would marry them can put up with the messiness that sex can produce. Wouldn’t it be easier (and cleaner) to spend what would be sex time at Pottery Barn?
As students become more mature and sexually knowledgeable through their college years, the importance of communicative relationships is trumping the high school black-and-white world of sex education versus abstinence education. “I would love to see more age-appropriate sex education in all schools: elementary, middle and high school,” Williston said. “This includes what is a good relationship, how to communicate and deciding if sex is the right choice for them.” Different groups may have different priorities about what is important to teach students, but ultimately, many are choosing not to side with solely abstinence or sexual education, but with informing students of all their options so they are capable of making their own choices. In the words of the red-headed kid from Schoolhouse Rock, “Knowledge is Power!”

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A Landmark Choice

For the most part, I’d wager abortion is not the ideal topic at an intimate dinner party. Even politicians are shy to discuss it. Yet those who are adamant on their stance typically aren’t afraid to voice their opinions. We’ve all seen them along Grand River Avenue, demonstrating with posters and picket signs, fighting for their cause, passing out brochures graphic enough to make a med student queasy. Who are they? They are members of the East Lansing pro-life community. MSU, as liberal as it may seem sometimes, has had mammoth internal debate over the topic of abortion. Why do students and other community members feel so strongly about abortion? Is it the result of religious upbringing, health reasons, party allegiance or a combination of the three? What happens when those who believe in Republican ideals are pro-choice? When Democrats are pro-life? It can be a thin line to walk, but a bold and well spotlighted line, too.[blair]
The debate over abortion is one that never has a clear victor. Even the group names of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” directly threaten each other, implying the opposite viewpoint is “pro-death” or “anti-choice” (neither of which sounds very appealing). While our country still upholds Roe v. Wade (tried in 1973), it is clear there has never been a national consensus. With elections rolling around in November, Roe v. Wade could be entering its last days, whether a Democrat or a Republican wins the presidency. The two major Republicans in contention – John McCain and Mike Huckabee – are adamant about trying to repeal the verdict. On the other end of the spectrum, the leading Democrats, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, are resolving to uphold Roe v. Wade. While both parties campaign vehemently for their respective viewpoints, it remains clear the nation has reached a turning point on the legalization of abortion.[preg]
A Changing World?
Should a conservative win the election in November, is there potential for a future U.S. without legalized abortions? It is widely believed the potential for Roe v. Wade to be overridden rests widely on the justices who sit on the Supreme Court and their style of interpreting the Constitution. While the justices do not directly represent a political party, it is widely recognized that seven of the justices lean conservative, while two are liberal – indicating an obvious imbalance. Ben Morlock, a representative of MSU’s College Republicans, said the key to overturning Roe v. Wade is for a conservative president to appoint strict constitutional constructionists to the Supreme Court. “The Roe v. Wade decision, made 35 years [ago], was a split decision by the Supreme Court and is based on very little constitutional precedent,” Morlock said. “A new strict constructionist justice to the Supreme Court would allow it to overturn the decision and give abortion rights to the states.” President George W. Bush added two strict constructionist Justices to the court, Samuel Alito and John Roberts, in a move that many Republicans consider to be a highlight of the administration.
Most Democrats, however, approach the subject from a different angle. Instead of weighing in on the legitimacy of Roe v. Wade, many liberals tend to focus on how to undo the damage they believe Bush has done. Many Democrats are against the Bush administration’s nominations to the court, and the current Democratic nominees vow to appoint justices who will uphold decisions. “The big issue is preventing states from enacting their own laws on what kind of abortions are legal, which has the potential to outlaw almost everything with loopholes,” said Erin Robinson, MSU Democrats communications chair. “The Democratic candidates are both dedicated to make the federal law more clear cut, avoiding the confusion that can result from states enforcing their own laws.” Hillary Clinton’s campaign Web site even promotes her plan to enact a Freedom of Choice Act, which would sign the legality of abortion into federal law.
Give Me That Old Time Religion
[abort1]While there are typically two sides to the abortion issue, the reasoning goes far beyond self-imposed titles. For many, it is not a simple political choice, but one that touches on religious values. “When it comes to abortion, that is when the line between church and state is crossed,” finance senior Megan Sieg said. “This is a free country, and therefore people should be able to believe what they want to believe. I believe it’s God’s decision in who is born, not one people should be empowered to make. People don’t have the knowledge to back up a decision of that proportion.” Dozens of religious groups, from Lutheran to Catholic to Jewish, are ardent supporters of the pro-life movement. This viewpoint neatly fits in with the family value-focused Republican party.
[morlock]Alternately, many pro-choice Americans claim their reasoning isn’t derived from their personal beliefs, but from the principle that it should ultimately be the woman’s right to choose. Democrats contend that if abortion is outlawed, women’s rights will be violated by the government’s failure to uphold the separation between church and state. “Before Roe v. Wade was decided in the U.S., abortion was a huge blow to women’s health,” said Emily Mixter, an MSU pro-choice representative. “Women were forced to risk their lives and break the law, and thousands die from back alley abortions in other countries.” Could this be the future of ours? Those who are pro-choice proponents point to this potential reality. Mixter knows that once again, women will be faced with death if abortions are made illegal. “Women will still try to get abortions but they won’t be rare, safe and legal,” Mixter said. “Instead women will turn to what was practiced in the U.S. before abortions were made legal and what is still being practiced today in countries where it remains illegal. That would be an unacceptable situation for the U.S.”
It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To
College Republican Morlock and College Democrat Robertson have claimed their respective parties’ views on abortion are built into their national platforms. While at first glance it would appear the liberal pro-choice and conservative pro-life mindsets fit neatly within the parties’ ideals, we have to wonder how those who find themselves at a crossroads vote. East Lansing is crawling with pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans who aren’t sure where they fit in the political spectrum. Education junior Erika Johnson described her difficult position. “I could never imagine getting an abortion. It’s something I don’t agree with and never have, no matter the stage of the pregnancy,” she said. “I am a Democrat, but I hold a traditionally conservative view of pro-life. It would affect how I viewed the nominees, but probably wouldn’t sway me from voting Democrat.” For students like Johnson, abortion is not a deal-breaker in terms of leaving her political party.[mixter]
For others, however, abortion is the main determining factor on who gets their vote. Local resident JoAnn Taylor proudly labels herself as a Republican, yet holds an avid pro-choice opinion. “My family always labels themselves as Republican in terms of economics and international affairs. But if I had to vote between a pro-choice Democrat or a pro-life Republican, I would vote for the Democrat because I feel very strongly about pro-choice,” she said. There are hybrid political figures that share these beliefs as well.
“One popular pro-choice Republican is former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani,” Morlock said. “There can be a broader spectrum of opinions in the Republican Party. While Mayor Guiliani leans towards the left in terms of abortion, he is also a high promoter of adoption. It has a way of balancing out.” It can be a tricky decision, but one that many Americans make every time they set foot in the voting booths.[abort2]
All in all, do not expect to hear Roe v. Wade focused on by nominees in the upcoming election. “The media is more likely to mention it more than politicians, since it is easy to differentiate parties.” said Matthew Grossman, an assistant professor of political science. It is simple for the public to choose their parties by associating themselves with a pro-life conservative or pro-choice liberal. However, as abortion continues to wobble on an unsteady foundation, the future of Roe v. Wade may be very much in jeopardy. Whether a Republican or Democrat is elected in November, there is a real possibility for a solid law to be derived, one way or the other.
With the Democratic candidates narrowing down and November fast approaching, political issues are on everyone’s minds, and abortion is always a quick way to get people talking. Abortion was a hot topic long before Roe v. Wade was handed down; add politics and religion to the mix, and the subject becomes much more dynamic…and much less likely to disappear.

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