In the last piece in our ongoing series on Janice Shaw Crouse, board member for the World Congress Of Families and executive director of Concerned Woman For America, we looked at Janice’s beliefs that all sex except that which is heterosexual and married leads inevitably to disaster. In this worldview, which I have dubbed the “Judeo-Christian Supremacist” philosophy, not following the edicts of conservative Christianity only and always leads to either death, despair or, as I quipped last week, at least a case of the doldrums. All hooking up is bad, no matter how willing the participants or how emotionally mature they are. All sex in relationships that are not both married and heterosexual is either lesser or downright destructive. And of course, it’s definitely not okay to be gay.
We know none of that is true, and that the world is full of gray areas. There are good and bad relationships, good and bad choices to be made, no matter who you are. Conservatives like to rail against the strawman of the “liberal moral relativist,” which is supposed to be a worldview where anything goes, any time, for any reason. It’s understandable that they fight against that — since it doesn’t really exist, they can create the enemy they want to fight. Liberals do acknowledge gray areas, though — the fact that what might be a smart choice in one particular situation might be horribly stupid in another. We also like to acknowledge reality, which brings us to today’s section.
On the tail end of Janice’s proscriptions against most sexual activity, she gives us a laundry list of statistics on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. I suspected that, somewhere in her laundry list, she was either eliding parts of the truth or using the statistics for her own purposes, and so, since I’m not a scientist or HIV expert, I decided to ask somebody whose expertise in that area what Janice might be leaving out. As I suspected, her analysis of STI statistics in particular leaves something to be desired. We’ll look at that in more detail in a few paragraphs.
First though, there are a couple facts that must be acknowledged when dealing with fighting things like STI’s and teen pregnancy. Any adult approach to these problems will always accept these few things as “understood” factors that must be taken into account.
1. People have sex. They’re going to have sex. They have always had sex and will always have sex. While abstinence might be a great and viable option for some people, for billions of people it’s simply not going to happen. They do not deserve what happens for them simply for failing to submit to Janice Crouse’s wisdom.
2. Sexual orientation is largely determined long before a person has sexual desires, and is morally neutral. No matter how much conservative Christians want to think it’s reasonable to tell gay people to either pray the gay away or live abstinent lives without the joys of love and companionship, that’s not how the world works. It’s also cruel to ask that of people.
People are going to have sex. Some people are gay, lesbian or bisexual. Deal with it.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s look at some of Janice’s statistics, and how she may be fudging them or not giving us the complete picture:
The politically correct mantra about HIV/AIDS is that “anybody can get it.” This half-truth is as bizarre as pointing to the tragic death of professional naturalist Steve Irwin, best known as “The Crocodile Hunter,” and saying, “Anyone can die from the barb of a stingray. There is an obvious missing piece in both instances. You are not going to die from a stingray’s barb unless you dive in waters that are home to stingrays. Likewise, unless you (1) have intimate sexual contact with someone who is infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, (2) share contaminated needles to do drugs, or (3) are a healthcare worker who comes in direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person … you will not — I repeat, you will NOT — contract HIV/AIDS.
Another phony slogan foisted upon the public is that women are the “new face of HIV/AIDS.” These myths are among the pernicious efforts to disperse the stigma associated with a disease that is almost exclusively a homosexual male and drug addict epidemic. Insidious myths like these leave today’s young people misinformed, misled, and, thus, unprotected.
As a result of the shortsightedness of homosexual activists’ campaign, people who are at risk for the disease are blasé about their behavior and their disease status. At the same time, politically correct slogans like “anyone can get it” and “women are the new face of HIV/AIDS” blatantly misstate the nature of the risk faced by the general public.
While signs everywhere warn that “anybody can get it,” those who are highly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS remain the same as nearly thirty years ago. HIV is still (and has been since the outset) primarily concentrated in the same high-risk groups — men having sex with men, and intravenous drug users. Some studies are now claiming that heterosexual victims constitute up to 30 percent of the total number of cases. Look closely, though, and the definitions in those studies have changed. The fine print reveals that the heterosexual category includes persons who have had sex with bisexual men and drug users. The most common route of sexual transmission of HIV remains anal intercourse. … It is their behavior — anal intercourse and sharing needles — that puts them at risk. To be blunt, the rectal lining, unlike the vaginal lining, is a relatively porous barrier that is only one cell thick (the lower intestine is designed to absorb fluids — that is the very essence of its function); thus, it is quite easy for the HIV virus to transit through the intestinal wall into the blood stream and target cells. …
To be blunt again, in regard to women’s vulnerability to HIV, the virus can burrow through natural barriers, enter the bloodstream, gain access to deeper tissues, and reproduce much more easily in the rectum than in the vagina. Thus, women are better protected against the virus.
It is time that we told it like it is: HIV/AIDS is spread primarily by anal sex, sharing needles, or having a sexual partner who does those things.
All right. Is all of this true? Sorta/kinda/not really. Janice is not an expert on these issues, and neither am I, so I asked Todd Heywood, a reporter and HIV expert. His response to the above passage is as follows:
This is partially correct, partially incorrect. For instance, the assumption is that straight people don’t have anal sex — which is inaccurate. CDC reported in 2012 that 44 percent of straight men and 36 percent of straight women had reported engaging in anal sex.
Second, statistics related to heterosexuality and heterosexual transmission in the US are obscured. In fact, I noted recently that due to CDC rules, a man who has sex with only women and has no known risk factor (sex with an HIV positive woman or a person in a risk group, i.e. intravenous drug users) are listed as undetermined. One would assume the risk was heterosexual sex, no? But we don’t rank it like that. And a larger percentage of women who are infected have no known risk factor either. (Again that means there is no determined HIV positive person in the sexual past of the HIV positive woman, no IVDUers and no high risk persons identified in partner notification studies.)
Apparently, looking at HIV risk factors in Africa is not on this person’s agenda. Or HIV risk in the majority of the world, where HIV is primarily a heterosexual disease. In fact, there is some scientific evidence that as a result of evolutionary factors, subtype B, the prevalent subtype in the US and Europe where the cases are predominantly men who have sex with men, may have a preference for specific immune cells found in the anus. These cells also line the inside of the foreskin, which explains the increase in in likelihood of infection for uncircumcised men. A similar line of cells are found in the cervix and vagina, and appear to be preferred by subtype C, the prevalent virus in Africa. The cell in question is called a Langerhans cell, and it is not “buried” behind epithelial cells in the vagina as this writer implies. As you can see in this study, published in the journal Science, the Langerhans cells are part of the primary layer of the vaginal epithelial layer.
So we see here that Janice is, whether or not she really knows it, eliding the truth in a way that fits her agenda. Why yes, if you only look at the United States, there is a much greater risk at the moment for (especially young) gay men. There is indeed a need for more and better education for at-risk populations. The answer, though, is not “stop being gay,” as Janice and her cohort would suggest. That’s childish and ignorant of reality. Moreover, we see that her scoffing about heterosexual risks being near nonexistent is simply incorrect. Digging deeper into the science — and reporting on what we find, whether it fits an agenda or not, tells us that there are different subtypes of the virus, and some of them leave people who have anal sex vulnerable — gay, straight or bisexual — and that the prevalent subtype in Africa is adapted much more efficiently to vaginal transmission.
Now, if we’d like to solve this problem, we have to be adults about it, instead of pushing an anti-gay, anti-sex worldview that simply says that if everyone would just keep their damn pants on, nobody would be infected. That may be technically true, but it’s not achievable among any subpopulation of the human race that exists.
Janice cites other statistics that are meant to alarm her target reader — if only these people weren’t having gay sex! — but they simply represent reality:
The NHSR [National Health Statistics Report] report is troubling in that it purports to be “relevant to demographic and public health concerns, including fertility and sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers and adults” and focuses on those who are fifteen to forty-four years of age. Nearly 14,000 respondents entered their answers into a computer without an interviewer. The report found “twice as many women having same-sex contact in their lifetimes compared with men (12 percent of women and 5.2 percent of men).” …
I noted that statisticians have adopted the use of STIs intead of STDs (sexually transmitted infections rather than sexually transmitted diseases). Representatives of Planned Parenthood and SEICUS told me, when I asked at a meeting about the difference between the two terms, that “infections” carry less stigma than “diseases,” because “anybody can get an infection, but a disease is more serious and carries a connotation of blame.”
Readers should note that, except for when she is quoting people, Janice took this knowledge and decided to stick with the “STD” terminology, because what’s education without a nice heap of moral scolding?
Amazingly, the study noted that, in addition to terms such as “heterosexual” and “homosexual,” they used the terms, “straight,” “gay,” and “lesbian” so that respondents could easily “recognize” the meaning. Is this really necessary?
I don’t know, Janice. Perhaps, amazingly, they were interested in getting the most accurate numbers possible. Crazy, right? That’s what real scientists and researchers do. They’re interested in having the most accurate information so that they may most effectively combat the problems at hand. This is what researchers have done with abstinence-only sex education, trying to figure out whether having adults tell teens that sex is evil unless you’re opposite-married, in which case it becomes beautiful, actually works in addressing these problems. The results are in:
Abstinence only sex education does not work, period. Those links are the first eight Google results from a search on the subject. The one under the word “not” is useful for our purposes, because the last thing Janice talks about in this chapter is teen pregnancy rates. It turns out that the states with the highest prevalence of teen pregnancy are those with the most abstinence-only sex ed:
New Hampshire has the lowest rate at just under 16 births per 1,000 girls. This is the lowest national rate for teen births since the Centers for Disease Control began tracking it in 1940, and CDC officials attributed the decline to pregnancy prevention efforts. Other reports show that teenagers are having less sex and using contraception more often. Studies have backed this up. Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle found that teenagers who received some type of comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant or get someone else pregnant. And in 2007, a federal report showed that abstinence-only programs had “no impacts on rates of sexual abstinence.”
But 37 states require sex education that includes abstinence, 26 of which require that abstinence be stressed as the best method. Additionally, research shows that abstinence-only strategies could deter contraceptive use among teenagers, thus increasing their risk of unintended pregnancy.
For example, take the states with the highest and lowest teen pregnancy rates. Mississippi does not require sex education in schools, but when it is taught, abstinence-only education is the state standard. New Mexico, which has the second highest teen birth rate, does not require sex ed and has no requirements on what should be included when it is taught. New Hampshire, on the other hand, requires comprehensive sex education in schools that includes abstinence and information about condoms and contraception.
Shocking. You mean to tell me that Janice’s plan of scolding kids about the evils of sex doesn’t help? Of course it doesn’t. Janice, though, cites statistics of her own, meant to paint a different, incorrect pictures about the efficacy of contraception:
[C]ontraception is not a reliable means of preventing pregnancy among those who engage in recreational sex. In 2000, approximately 822,000 pregnancies [Is she using old data for a reason? This book was published in 2012. Perhaps the fact that teen births are in decline and have been for years is not convenient for her agenda. – Ed.] occurred among fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds. And what are the results? Seven out of ten adolescent mothers drop out of high school. The National Center for Health Statistics analyzed data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth and found two startling facts. Among young women who used contraception at first intercourse, the probability of giving birth at each age is, surprisingly, only half that of those who did not use contraception. Further, the probability of a sexually active female giving birth approximately doubles between eighteen and twenty years of age, whether or not the young woman uses contraception at first intercourse.
“At first intercourse” tells us nothing about the behavior of those women during subsequent encounters. However, if you’re looking at this through the lens of science and not “sex is bad,” you see that among women who use it the first time, their likelihood of continuing to use it is strong enough that they run a 50% lower risk of an unplanned birth. That’s results! It’s also far better than the results for all abstinence-only education programs. Here is Janice’s answer, which truly reveals the shortsightedness of the Judeo-Christian Supremacist worldview in handling this issue, STIs, and all the rest:
When a girl just says “no” to five to ten minutes of awkward fumbling around in the back seat of some guy’s car, what is it going to cost her? Maybe five to ten minutes of popularity with a guy who probably will not be around to help pick up the pieces of her future.
It is sad to think about how encouragement of “me-centered-ness” and the need for a little attention — and maybe even a little affection — prompt a lot of girls to say “okay” and then have to contend with the very real possibility of ending up pregnant or infected with an STD, even when the guy wears a condom. To my mind, clearly facing the hard realities of sex makes the choice about sexual activity very simple and very uncomplicated. Just saying “no” is a pretty good idea, after all.
And “just saying no” might work for a few people! But this is the crux of it, and why the Religious Right is of absolutely no help (and causes a lot of hurt) in combating the proliferation of STIs and unwanted pregnancies. In the real world, many people are not going to “just say no.” Some of them will regret that decision, and others won’t. It’s better, from an adult perspective, for those who don’t to have all the correct information at their fingertips, instead of ending up in the backseat of that guy’s car with a sex education that includes little more than “sex is bad,” and doesn’t include simple things like “how to put on a condom.”
Adults understand that the proverbial backseat of that car and the awkward fumbling that inevitably ensues is simply a part of life. We cannot combat these problems if we are not able to accept reality. As I said above:
1. People have sex.
2. Some people are gay, lesbian or bisexual. Deal with it.
This is the real world, and this is why it’s particularly dangerous that people like Janice Shaw Crouse are traveling the world teaching this unrealistic, unscientific worldview — will she be in attendance at this week’s international Moscow summit, the one that the World Congress Of Families pulled out of for PR reasons, even though all the WCF bigwigs are still attending? It wouldn’t surprise us. Janice is, after all, the WCF’s favorite anti-feminist woman and she’s spent a lot of time on their various international stages.
There are real problems to be addressed, in the United States and around the world. Janice and her cohort are not helping.
This piece is part of a long, ongoing series on the key players that comprise the leadership of the World Congress Of Families. To catch up, follow the links below: