Ten years ago, we all got a good laugh when Mean Girls told us that if you have sex, you will probably get chlamydia and die. It's somehow less funny when a city's police department tries to pass that message on to a generation of impressionable young girls.
That's exactly what happened at a "Choose Purity" event held this past weekend in Las Vegas, where Officer Regina Coward, president of the Nevada Black Police Association and a congregant at Victory Outreach Church, preached abstinence to dozens of children.
Why is abstinence important? Because sex before marriage typically leads to sexual assault, gangs, drugs and prostitution, Coward told the Las Vegas Sun.
The young girls who attended the event were also shown disturbing images of drug users, heard recorded interviews with a pimp and prostitutes and watched performances from the Toe Tag Monologues. One scene featured a girl who died from a sexually transmitted disease caught during prostitution, at the end of which she climbed onto a gurney and into a body bag.
Image Credit: Nevada Black Police Association via Facebook
Laura Deitsch, a health educator who attended the event, told the Sun that the event "was a hodgepodge of unrelated fear-mongering" that attempted to link purity with the real issues of drugs and sex trafficking. Deitsch also said that seeing uniformed and armed cops officially connected with these ideas could have implied to the children that premarital sex is criminal.
Not only is it inaccurate to claim that sex outside of marriage leads to prostitution, drug abuse and death (95% of Americans have premarital sex, and most of those people seem to have survived just fine), but preaching chastity to young, impressionable girls based on this premise has been proven ineffective and even destructive.
In 2008 a study showed that teens who take virginity pledges are just as likely to have sex as those who don't promise to refrain and are actually less likely to use birth control and practice safe sex.
Unfortunately, Las Vegas is not alone in this regressive practice. Between 1996 and 2010 the U.S. government spent more than $1.5 billion on abstinence-only sex education. Although the funding has dropped off under the Obama administration, around 30 states still apply for millions of dollars worth of funding each year to support similar programs.
The Last Vegas event, while probably well intentioned, fell wide of the mark. By aiming the message at girls (a complementary event for boys called "Choose Courage" is in the works), the organizers are implying that women alone are to blame for sexual victimization, which contributes to an outdated yet prevalent culture of sex shaming and teaches young girls to repress their natural and healthy sexuality.
Given these facts, it's probably best if everyone keeps the Mean Girls sex-ed advice as a fictional punchline from now on.