Friday, July 21, 2006

Doctors could be forced to teach abstinence

To all you Puritans out there this little number is for you….

MISH sounds like something vaguely from an Austin Power’s movie where he’s fighting the evils of this secret organisation.

Well, my fantasy wouldn’t be too far off the mark. MISH stands for Medical Institute for Sexual Health. Sounds rather impressive but hey, don’t be fooled. This little outfit is pushing …… abstinence under the so-called banner of science.

In April this year, MISH received $200,000 grant to establish a sexual health curriculum for medical students. Sexual experts affiliated to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are shocked. MISH was set up by Dr. Joe McIlhaney an evangelical obstetrician, who founded MISH in well, you guessed it, Texas in 1992. He got backing from James Leininger a “sugar daddy” of the far-right in Texas. They rely on, like any abstinence organisation, scare tactics.

MISH has now offices in El Paso, Austin and Washington. It is distributing materials in more than 40 countries. Scary!

MISH tries to back away from the “abstinence- only” phrase because it promotes bad science. But with choice quotes like below, how else can you describe the organisation?

“Science clearly shows that the behavior choices necessary for optimal health are sexual abstinence for unmarried individuals and faithfulness within marriage. We are a key player committed to the reversal of the STD and nonmarital pregnancy epidemics.”

McIlhaney has been accused by the Texas Department of Health of bias and intellectual dishonesty. He had shown “proof” that condoms didn’t work. December 2001 Bush appointed McIlhaney to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. This too was heavily criticised.

On the MISH board there are other abstinence-only cronies such as Elaine Bennett of the Best Friends Foundation, Thomas Lickona of the Center for the Fourth and Fifth Rs and Dr Patricia Sulak of the Worth the Wait abstinence programme. You really couldn’t make this up….

And this one is my own favourite, Dr. W. David Hager author of As Jesus Cared for Women and Stress and Women’s Body, which “recommends particular scripture readings as a treatment for premenstrual syndrome.” Obviously he would shudder at Dr Feminista's chocolate, sex and a good bottle of Shiraz to "cure" those PMT blues!

MISH has received more than $1.5. million in federal funding and has government contracts with the CDC, Maternal Child Health Bureau and the Texas Department of Health. And now MISH has received this $200,000 grant and Hager has already has put the panel together.

“It remains to be seen what the curriculum will entail, but all logic points to the probability that it will teach a dangerous abstinence –only message to a generation of future doctors”.

The focus on abstinence-only education aka ignorance-only education is worrying. There has to be a comprehensive sex education programme which explores issues around sexuality, contraception and reproductive health. I had 2 experiences of sex education; my mum gave me a book when I was 12, which could have been written by various religious and moralistic bods (full of sexist double-standards). The overall message was that “good girls wait until they get married and bad girls get thrown on the scrap heap” (scrap heap beckons for me I thought).

And when I was 16 and still at school was shown a piss-poor video of a blue rinse woman with a BBC/Celia Johnson accent mechanically and abstractically explaining that “this is a sheath”, “this is a dutch cap” and so on. Not explaining what the hell you do with them! I still had to get permission from my mum to see this video.

Sex can be a real head-fuck when you are teenager (well, not just when you are a teenager) because you are surrounded by ignorance and confusion and the ideological push for abstinence will only worsen matters. And abstinence-only education does not work. Screw abstinence! Open and honest sex education is the way forward…..

Thanks to the F Word Blog.

Oh and I have been looking for an excuse to use a Nan Goldin photo.