At the Mississippi Department of Human Services' summit, "Abstinence Works: Let's Talk About It," we didn't talk about abstinence, but we sure did chant, cheer, dance, pray and sing about it.
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By Kate Royals, Senior, Millsaps College, Jackson, MS.

At the Mississippi Department of Human Services' summit entitled "Abstinence Works: Let's Talk About It," we didn't talk about abstinence, but we sure did chant, cheer, dance, pray and sing about it. At least sort of. Here's a few (of the many) things that stood out to me.

Before the summit began, rap music blasted over the speakers. The 5,000 kids in attendance spent their time inside dancing and singing along to Soulja Boy's hit song "Crank Dat," the chorus of which repeats "Watch me crank that soulja boy, then superman that ho," which most young people know is a disgustingly explicit sexual innuendo. Shortly after the Grenada Middle School cheerleaders performed their catchy cheer "Stop, don't touch me there! You know this is my no-no square," outlining the shape of a box around their short shorts. Talk about mixed messages.

And despite the fact the event was state sponsored and state funded, Reverend Gary Bell led the rowdy group in prayer, closing with "in the name of Jesus Christ." Performers sang about the glory of God and performed interpretative dancing to Christian gospel songs. Judge John Hudson's speech quoted the Bible and reviewed the Ten Commandments. As for how that relates to abstinence? According to Hudson, the commandment "Do not commit adultery" directly translates to "Do not engage in promiscuous sex, or sex before marriage." The constant and overzealous harping on God and Jesus wasn't just wrong because it ostracized anyone who didn't prescribe to a particular brand of Christianity -- it was wrong because it was illegal. Taxpayer and state money funded the event, and last time I checked, it is illegal under the U.S. Constitution to use those funds to promote a specific religious message or agenda.

The main speaker, David Mahan, CEO of Frontline Youth Communications, spoke for an hour and a half and amazingly kept the kids' attention most of the time. However, he provided erroneous information, employing allegories and analogies to skirt around the subject. An example is: "Fire is good in the fireplace," a witty allusion to sex within marriage. But did he talk about the increasing rate of HIV infections within marriages? No. He did, however, make misogynistic declarations such as: "There is nothing more beautiful and nasty than childbirth. A pregnant woman will rip the skin off your arm." He later mimicked the teenage girls who call his wife, a pregnancy crisis counselor, in the middle of the night: "At 3:30 or 4 in the morning, I answer the phone... And the girl says 'I'm a little embarrassed to say this, but I think I might be pregnant. I don't know how that happened.'" He imitated the girl using a ditzy, high pitched voice.

He, nor any of the speakers, offered information on what to do if abstinence fails. Did he talk about proper use of condoms or birth control? No, but he did make the offhand and scientifically unfounded comment that condoms are "pieces of rubber that deteriorate in your back pocket. They only work some of the time." But the medical community considers an 87 to 98 percent effectiveness rate in preventing STIs and pregnancy as more than "some of the time." And how was the LGBTQ community addressed in the summit? Well, it wasn't. In most states, certainly Mississippi, same-sex marriage rights are not recognized, so how are they supposed to handle their sexuality?

I would like to know why scientifically valuable and life-saving information is being censored and made unavailable, and to what end? Mississippi has spent more than $16 million in abstinence only programs, yet the state ranked number one in teen births in 2009, and in the top five in numbers STD infections. Mississippi even took the number one spot in 2006 as the state ranking highest in gonorrhea infections.

As a college student, it's not terribly difficult to remember the anxious, insecure days of preadolescence and teenagedom. I tried to put myself in the place of the kids who attended the pep rally -- I mean, summit. I would have walked out of the Mississippi Coliseum that day humming a new tune or chanting a new cheer, but my level of sexual education would not have improved. In fact, it would have been dangerously stunted.

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