This Week In Abstinence: Ohio and West Virginia Really Seem To Hate Sex Education

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This week Ohio and West Virginia attempt to take us back to 1050 A.D., retro style. But that’s where women and people who have sex belong, amirite?

naya rivera eyeroll

Ohio House Finance Committee’s Republican members brought about a budgetary amendment that mandates abstinence only sex education – educators will not be able to endorse anything but abstinence in classrooms in an effort to prevent promotion of “sexual gateway activity.”

What is sexual gateway activity, you ask? I asked too. According to ORC 2907.01(B):

“Sexual contact” means any touching of an erogenous zone of another, including without limitation the thigh, genitals, buttock, pubic region, or, if the person is a female, a breast, for the purpose of sexually arousing or gratifying either person.

Parents can also sue educators who they believed have acknowledged sex exists for up to $5,000 dollars. They will also be unable to discuss or distribute contraceptives at school.

In a world where we already know abstinence-only education doesn’t work, I am incredulous that it is legislated into a state budget. Even more incredulous am I that lawmakers don’t seem to realize the strong connection between sex education and rape prevention. In a state that has become known for Steubenville, you would think those making policy would be more interested in teaching their children about sex, not less. And at the same time, I am not incredulous at all. Because if this were a common intellectual connection to make, I probably wouldn’t be reporting on this topic.

In related abstinence-only malarkey, George Washington High School in West Virginia hired one Pam Stenzel to do an assembly on abstaining from sex. Here are some Pam Stenzel quotes in no particular order:

If you have sex outside of one, permanent, monogamous… partner who has only been with you… If you have sex outside of that context, you will pay. No one has ever had more than one partner and not paid.

If your mom gives you birth control, she probably hates you.

I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.

Here’s a gem: if a woman takes birth control, Stenzel insists that woman is “10 times more likely to contract a disease… or end up sterile or dead.” I have tried all morning and I cannot find any factual corroboration for this statement.

pregnant and die

Restoring my faith in humanity and becoming one of my sex-ed heros, George Washington High School senior Katelyn Campbell boycotted the Stenzel Missinformation Assembly. She went to the local media and criticized her school and its principal, George Aulenbacher, and contacted the ACLU. She called the speaker and program “slut-shaming,” which it is.

West Virginia has the ninth highest pregnancy rate in the U.S. I should be able to be informed in my school what birth control is and how I can get it. With the policy at GW, under George Aulenbacher, information about birth control and sex education has been suppressed. Our nurse wasn’t allowed to talk about where you can get birth control for free in the city of Charleston.

Campbell is articulate, accurate and an all around wonderful thinker for bringing these issues up. Her principal, George Aulenbacher, seems to think otherwise. Campbell said that when Aulenbacher called her into his office, he said “How would you feel if I called your college and told them what bad character you have and what a backstabber you are?”

Campbell said, “Go ahead.”

Here’s how her college, Wellesley, responded:


Here’s the thing. I wasn’t as wonderful and media-knowledgeable as Katelyn Campbell when I was in high school. I actually don’t really know many people who were, at that age. So I’m thinking that it’s weirdly fucked up to expect this level of maturity out of our 17-year-olds just so they can receive factual information about their bodies and their sexuality. And yes, of course there is always the internet – that’s part of the reason why Aulenbacher, Stenzel and all the abstinence-only misinformation-mongers are so absurd. All it takes is one student to Google the actual, factual stats about condom effectiveness in a classroom, send this link to their instructors and bam, argument invalidated. But the thing about taking research into your own hands is that you have to know what to research. You have to know that there is an “out there” to look in, and how to find things in it. And the bottom line is that we are expecting adolescents to figure things out for themselves. Ohio, West Virginia and so many other states and schools and leaders are leaving them hanging.

Katelyn Campbell via Think Progress

Katelyn Campbell via Think Progress

If it’s this hard to get factual information about the kinds of sex that, statistically, most people are having, what about students with tougher questions? What about students interested in same-sex partners, or students who have questions about their gender? We all know that those students aren’t getting the help and information they deserve to live healthy sex lives. We know because most of the adult LGBTQ community right now didn’t receive that information in school or even from their parents. Something Autostraddle has discussed at length. A lot.

And let’s not forget that most abstinence-only education propagated in public schools is based in Christian faith because every single family in our school systems identify as Christian, didn’t you know? So everyone is completely comfortable with having Bible-style sex education.

If you, or anyone you know, is stuck in or had graduated from these school systems or others that are misinformation wastelands, here’s a slice of the internet resources out there to help you receive some real information. I would also really love it if everyone added their own, kind of as a big fuck you to the puritanical attitudes surrounding sex that prevent us from having healthy discussions about it with our teens or even with each other.

+Scarleteen. Sex ed for teens and 20’s, super comprehensive, with sections for LGBTQ communities and finding in-person health professionals. I consider this site to be relationship education also.

+Bedsider. Information about contraceptives, including a method explorer tool.

+The CDC. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US actually use science. They have plenty of information on teen pregnancy and STI prevention that’s actually based in science.

+Where Is Your Line. A website, documentary and app dedicated to empowering young leaders (much like Katelyn Campbell) to end sexual violence. Sex Education combats rape culture, y’all. (Carmen works here, by the way).

+Speaking of Carmen, she wrote a thing about how learning about sex online (like most of these teens in Ohio are going to have to do) is really special.

And now for Autostraddle’s coverage of sex education:

+What Do You Wish You Learned In Sex Ed? In which our commenters educate us and each other and ask wonderful questions and everyone wins. And in which this quote appears:

If you’re gonna have pizza with someone else, what do you have to do? You gotta talk about what you want. Even if you’re going to have the same pizza you always have, you say, ‘We getting the usual?’ Just a check in. And square, round, thick, thin, stuffed crust, pepperoni, stromboli, pineapple — none of those are wrong; variety in the pizza model doesn’t come with judgment. So ideally when the pizza arrives, it smells good, looks good, it’s mouthwatering. Wouldn’t it be great if we had that kind of anticipation before sexual activity, if it stimulated all our senses, not just our genitals but this whole-body experience. And what’s the goal of eating pizza? To be full, to be satisfied. That might be different for different people; it might be different for you on different occasions. Nobody’s like ‘You failed, you didn’t eat the whole pizza.’

+Can Queer Sex Queer Sex Ed? Addressing the alienation of the LGBTQ community in traditional high school sex ed.

+How To Have Lesbian Sex for the First Time. Enough said.

+Why We All Need Planned Parenthood. In which Riese tells us all about Planned Parenthood.

+New Recommended Guidelines Could Make Sex Ed Not Completely Terrible. In which Rachel reports on this lovely human (a gay sex educator who teaches his students that sex should feel good), the same human that inspired the “What Do You Wish You Learned in Sex Ed?” discussion.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. “ ‘Sexual contact’ means any touching of an erogenous zone of another, including without limitation the thigh, genitals, buttock, pubic region, or, if the person is a female, a breast, for the purpose of sexually arousing or gratifying either person.”

    Like dudes don’t get off to nipple play, either.

    My brain also immediately jumps to ways around these rules like Judi Dench massaging Cate Blanchett’s hands in Notes on a Scandal.

    For the record, I got my sex education in a rural Ohio public school. Brutal.

  2. Can I just say that this is why after school programming is so important? We are not bound by stupid public school curriculum and we have Planned Parenthood come in every year and teach a course on *real* sex education. Stop cutting our budgets, government! #afterschool coordinator rant

  3. I also got my public education in an Ohio school. Luckily I went to a school with several LGBT staff members so going to prom with my girlfriend wasn’t a problem, but no one seemed to be able to teach me how to have safe sex with her. The extent of my sex-ed was they invited a nurse in health class to show us slides of STDs that had gone out of control (the picture of genital warts completely closing up someone’s anus will forever be burned into my brain). Basically, sex was dangerous – “abstinence is the only safe sex”!
    Katelyn Campbell is my hero. When I was in high school, I wasn’t educated in political activism enough to understand it was something that needed fighting for.

  4. My school gave a rudimentary sex education, which was just as well since my parents never mentioned it and my friends were mostly pretty conservative, but there were big gaps.

    We were told about condoms but not where to get them or how to put them on. Homosexual sex was never mentioned. Probably more importantly given the demographics of my class, no-one told us the difference between arranged and forced marriage or how to get help when in fear of forced marriage, even when one of the girls said things which rang serious alarm bells.

    I don’t think they were deliberately depriving us of information, they just hadn’t considered how these things would be important in keeping us safe. I’m more sad than angry about that. I hope it has improved.

  5. I got my high school sex-ed in the good old Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Catholic Education System and it was so fucked up: the teacher got all the girls together, showed us a beautiful rose and we had this discussion about how the rose was pretty, smelled good, blahblahblah. Then we each had to remove a petal from the rose and after the teacher held up the STEM and was like, “SO WHAT DYOU GUYS THINK OF THE ROSE, NOW? ” She said that every time we had sex before we got married we were GIVING AWAY OUR PRECIOUS PETALS and who was gonna want us if we were just ugly stems??

    Luckily even at the tender age of 17 I knew it was bullshit but still STILL STILL that kind of teaching should not be allowed!

    • I had a really similar experience in high school sex-ed. The teacher had these two pieces of duct tape, and the duct tape was meant to symbolize the bond between two intimate people, and she stuck them together and pulled them apart, which was hard because they were super sticky, and then she said, “That’s what having sex with one person is like, but what if you have multiple partners?” and stuck the tape together like ten more times until the duct tape wasn’t sticky anymore. Then she said something along the lines of, “This is what happens if you give sex away to too many people.” And fourteen-year-old me was fucking HORRIFIED that the stickiness of my vagina might cease to stick if too many people touched it.

      Who is designing this shit? Why would we want to make sex an even BIGGER mystery to young people?

  6. is a good site based in Ireland, they were recently under controversy for providing some really good, factual information about entering into threesomes. It makes me so angry as an educator that society is so against children/teens learning about relationships and sex.

  7. Two things:
    1. Katelyn Campbell is my hero and I wish I was that able to mobilize myself into activist mode and call out my Catholic grade school on their shit. My high school health class was actually fairly comprehensive, from what I remember, as I lived in a very socially liberal suburb of Chicago. Maybe I’m just blacking it out. Anyway, I vividly remember in 8th grade reading the section of our religion textbook (yes) about sexuality. The chapter was around 30 pages, and we only had to read part of it-about half. Since I’m a fast reader, I finished before everyone else and read the “restricted section.”
    It was a description of bi- and homosexuality, and followed with a couple paragraphs that (to this day) hit me pretty hard, though at the time I didn’t really know why. They said (the nuns who authored the book) that it was ok to have sexual feelings toward someone of the same sex, and that not only did God still love you, but so do they.
    The next three days were spent watching a taped lecture from 1993 by Pam Stenzel.

  8. If I remember correctly last week on the Daily Show he was talking about how in Virginia they wanted to ban anal and oral sex, include those between consenting straight married couples because it’s a form of sodomy, and cause it’s not taught in schools.

    As a side note I went to a school in California(that had tv show or two sort of incorrectly based on), and I had some pretty bad sex ed lessons. They didn’t teach you how to even put a condom on, or what an STD looks like. Not sure the reasons why; but, I would have thought for a school that is in California, in the area it is located, they would do a better job. :/

  9. i’m really emotional today and katelyn campbell has brought me to tears of intense pride and i am so impressed with wellesley it almost overrides how grossed out i am by that principal.

  10. My first Sex Ed classes were in Health Class in Grade 5 at an Australian public school (I was the youngest kid, 9, the oldest was 11). We were not separated by gender, and they spoke about periods, wet dreams, erections, and what to do if someone is touching you in ways you don’t like. That was in 1986. Three years later, I’m in high school, the Sex Ed classes were split by gender and we were only given info directly related to the gender we appeared to be. I’ve always wondered why the info got more vague and useless as we reached an age we’d be more likely to use it.

  11. I don’t know how educators could actually think that teaching abstinence does anything. I go to a very strict and small Cathic school, in STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, and kids do have sex. Now don’t get me wrong, no one gets pregnant, and it’s a small percentage of students who do have sex. Still, we have religion class, and the only kids who buy that purity is the bomb are usually the really religious kids whose parents have 10 kids. I’m not joking; 10 kids is too normal for my town. Morality class is for juniors so my classmates and I are enduring that hell now. But chastity talks really do nothing. Trust me, my class had a six hour chastity retreat yesterday…not very many kids were impressed. I just hope that the kids in my school who do have sex are smart enough to use condoms and to take birth control because my school would NEVER condone that sane behavior. Sure, they’re not trying to be bigots…they’re just strongly Catholic.

  12. Honestly, the only time I had anything in school be anything close to sex ed was actually in my AP Psychology class. I’m taking that right now and, because we use college books, it talks a lot about different perspectives on sex education, as well as having parts about homosexuality, views on extramarital sex, some stuff about porn, and even descriptions of sexual stages.

    Still, that’s only because I took an AP class that wasn’t even related to sex. Other than that, it was all abstinence only and teachers avoided talking about gay and lesbian sex even when people directly asked questions about it (even in health class).

  13. My sex ed was basically as extreme as this. Granted, I did go to a private catholic school (and got marked down a whole letter grade on an STD presentation once for telling the class that condoms are another way besides abstinence to prevent STDs), but the fact that public school sex ed programs are starting to sound exactly like catholic school sex ed programs is deeply concerning.

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