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Schools lie about sex to pupils

Report criticises Bush's abstinence-only curricula for spreading falsehoods and hysteria. Stephen Phillips reports

UNITED STATES

Thousands of American pupils are being taught that touching another person's genitals "can result in pregnancy", HIV can be contracted from sweat and tears, condoms fail to avert HIV infection in nearly one in three cases, and legal abortions leave up to one in 10 women infertile, according to a damning review of the Bush administration's abstinence-only sex education policy.

The dossier, by California Democrat congressman Henry Waxman, accuses the White House of allowing sex education lessons to be hijacked by a Christian fundamentalist agenda, and of spreading alarm and misinformation - including representing religious beliefs as hard scientific fact and promoting outmoded sexual stereotypes.

An audit of approved curricula, such as Sex Can Wait, found that 80 per cent contained falsehoods and distortions, the report said.

One erroneously states that women who have had a legal abortion are at increased risk of having mentally handicapped children, it said. Another bizarrely equates the HIV virus to a penny, then compares it to the cartoon-like "Speedy the Sperm", which by this scale would measure nearly 19 feet, asking: "If the condom has a failure rate of 14 per cent in preventing 'Speedy' from getting through to create a new life, what happens if this guy (penny) gets through?" "You have a death: your own," it answers starkly.

Multiple references discounting the effectiveness of condoms contradict findings from the Center for Disease Control, America's public health agency, declaring them "highly effective" in preventing HIV transmission, the report noted.

Stressing marriage and family values, curricula also promote ultraconservative views of gender roles, it added. One lists "financial support" among women's needs and "domestic support" among male needs.

Abstinence-only curricula are taught in half of America's states with annual funding doubled under President Bush to $170 million (pound;88m).

Teachers are banned from informing students about contraception. Schools wishing to teach about it must seek alternative funding.

Wade Horn, assistant US secretary for children and families. said telling pupils to avoid sex, then teaching them about condoms, sends conflicting messages. "Imagine, I'm leaving on business and my wife says, 'I know you'll be faithful, but just in case, here's a condom' - it's hardly an expression of faith I'm able to control myself," he said.

"The only 100 per cent effective way of avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases is to be sexually abstinent."

But critics complain this is out of touch with the reality that 61 per cent of 17-year-old American students are sexually active.

"Millions of kids are being subjected to propaganda and scare tactics," said Mr Waxman.

However, Leslee Unruh of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse, which offers students T-shirts proclaiming, "Pet your dog not your date," dismissed the report as sour grapes from supporters of "so-called safe-sex programmes", cut off from government funding. "Sex is dangerous," she said.

"You can die from sex these days."

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