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Teen Sex, Texas Style

Texas has a sex club in it. A teenage sex club, that is. And in a high school. But it doesn’t matter.

It’s worth pointing out that while governor of Texas in 1995, George W. Bush signed a law requiring schools in the state to follow abstinence-only education. WIth his entry into the White House, and the advent of Bush’s “faith-based initiative,” abstinence-only education has become a booming business; a profitable business of proselytization, if not prevention. However, if you want to talk results or return on investment, you first have to consider that what’s been going on at one Texas high school doesn’t actually as up to a failure for the abstinence-only movement.

In fact, it doesn’t even matter. It might even lead to an ultimate abstinence-only success. Because success, as we’ll see, is in the eye of the beholder.

But back to that high school sex club.

A high school teacher’s aide and a former student have been indicted in connection with what officials describe as a suspected sex ring that might have been operating at the school in 2001.

Ozen High School teacher’s aide Tommy Floyd Granger, 42, was indicted Thursday by a Jefferson County Grand jury on charges of indecency with a child. Former student Byron Aaron Bell, 25, is accused of sexual assault.

According to court records, Granger is accused of inappropriately touching a 14-year-old female student on Dec. 31, 2001, at a campus building.

Also during that incident, the same female student, a freshman at the time, told investigators she was sexually assaulted by Bell, a former Ozen High School football player.

The victim says the incident was part of an organized effort in which younger girls were provided to senior football players for sex, said Beaumont Police Detective John Boles.

The victim and other students Boles has interviewed mentioned a group that called itself the 3K.

Of course, it’s old news that abstinence-only education doesn’t reduce teenage sexual activity.

In 2003, the Washington Post covered the lackluster results abstinence-only yielded in Texas, including teenage pregnancy rates above the national average, and rising rates of STDs among Texas teens, neither of which implies a decrease of sexual activity among teens in a state drenched in abstinence-only education.

But it doesn’t matter.

Back in 2004, I posted about a study showing that teens who took a “virginity pledge” tended to have fewer sex partners than their non-pledging counterparts (fewer, by the way, is a whole lot more than none) and seem to get married earlier. But get this. Their STD rates are still the same, because they’re much less likely to use condoms. Perhaps that, and the other tidbit reported in 2004 that 15 to 24 year-olds accounted for 50% of new STD cases, is related to the disinformation about condom use that abstinence-only advocates like to spread; propaganda which has become policy under the Bush administration.

But it doesn’t matter.

And in 2005, yet another study of teenagers (in Texas, this time) actually had more sex after receiving abstinence-only education.

But it doesn’t matter.

The 16th International AIDS Conference got underway in Toronto recently (Brad is there and blogging with other activists at Time To Deliver), which prompted the Post to ask why the U.S. has not stemmed HIV. It’s likely the answer is something I posted about earlier this year. Namely, the abstinence-only programs promoted in Africa by America’s christian right, with the same devastating results from disinformation about condom use.

But it doesn’t matter.

To understand why it doesn’t matter, you only have to listen to abstinence-only advocates when they think that no one who opposes them is listening. Michelle Goldberg did that, and recounted it in Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism; most strikingly in an excerpt that includes part of a speech by leading abstinence educator Pam Stenzel.

At Reclaiming America for Christ, Stenzel told her audience about a conversation she’d had with a skeptical businessman on an airplane. The man had asked about abstinence education’s success rate—a question she regarded as risible. “What he’s asking,” she said, “is does it work. You know what? Doesn’t matter. Cause guess what. My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public schools’ job should not be to keep teens from having sex.” Then her voice rose and turned angry as she shouted, “Our job should be to tell kids the truth!”

“People of God,” she cried, “can I beg you, to commit yourself to truth, not what works! To truth! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day I’m not answering to you, I’m answering to God!”

Later in the same talk, she explained further why what “works” isn’t what’s important—and gave some insight into what she means by “truth.” “Let me tell you something, people of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here,” she said. “AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy. I will not teach my child that they can sin safely.”

Of course, as Goldberg points out, Stenzel isn’t just teaching her child. She and others like her are teaching kids in Texas and across the country, as well as people in Africa where the AIDS epidemic has perhaps hit hardest. And, as in war, evidence doesn’t matter for them. Evidence that kids are having more sex, have increased pregnancy rates, and are getting STDS more often doesn’t matter.

But in fact, it’s not beside the point. It’s precisely the point. It’s evidence of their success. To understand that, you have to turn Stenzel’s statements around to understand the logic. AIDS is a victory. HPV is and a hysterectomy at twenty is a victory. An unplanned pregnancy is a victory. It adds up to victory because prevention is not the point.

It doesn’t matter that proper condom use is proven to significantly reduce the chances of STD infection. It doesn’t matter if teenagers are infected with HIV. It doesn’t matter if more teenagers end up getting pregnant or getting others pregnant. It doesn’t if it happens to anyone at all, because saving lives or preventing harm. It only matters that they are punished, and that they are not taught about how they might avoid the potential and possibly life-altering or even fatal consequences of sexual activity, because that would mean they can “sin without consequences.” And that they must not do. Even if it means death.

At first glance, the Ozen high school story is a small one. But the story behind it is much bigger, and potentially dangerous if people don’t wake up to the consequences of what Stenzel and others like her are preaching, because it’s spreading and it’s just as deadly as the epidemics and infections Stenzel and others like her are working desperately not to fight.

8 Comments

  1. Preach on, brother!

    I plan on posting something soon about “family values” and what that statement means to me – something much different than its intended meaning.

  2. I’m a big reader of George Lakoff and his work on morality “frames” in conservative & liberal politics. His book Moral Politics is my bible…and I see a Lakoff book listed in the “current reading” list just over to the right as I write this! We forget his lessons at our peril as progressives:

    This is the same as the conservative answer to teen pregnancy and the spread of AIDS. Don’t give out condoms or clean needles, as liberals urge. That just encourages promiscuity. Instead, be tough and teach self-discipline, self-restraint, and abstinence. In a moral system in which morality is correlated with self-discipline and chastity and following societal norms, the moral people won’t get pregnant or get AIDS. And the immoral people…Well, they have to learn to be responsible for their actions and they deserve what they get if they don’t learn…p. 187

    When the moral frame is extended like this is exposes the conservatives agenda as one of promoting religion onto those it feels need “saving” from thenselves through condemnation and self-righteousness. As progressives we need to adopt a new rhetoric of compassion that taps into calls for self-reliance and restraint while recognizing all of our inherent weaknesses as human beings. This is the space for government to work for the betterment of everyone.

  3. I went to Ozen High School.

    I was _not_ a member of the majority race at that high school.

    I was _not_ harmed by any member of this “sex club.”

    I’m white, and I went to a poor high school in Beaumont’s South Side.

    Yes, this incident happened in Texas, but not in a predominately conservative area. Quite the opposite. Southeast Texas has a history of liberal party dominance, and the school in question is one of some-odd 70% African Amercian students. In other words, quite liberal.

    Religion was rarely an issue at Ozen. The majority of the students and teachers fancied themselves Christian, but no one was ever discouraged from speaking their minds.

    On the matter of sex education, I wholeheartedly agree that it should be taught with safety in mind. Abstinence-only wasn’t taught, but the health class more or less skimmed over sex ed, sadly.

    However, most of the students I knew said they used condoms. There was the afternoon a used one was lying in the science hall. I would overhear conversations in the library about the active sex lives of other students. There were a handful of teenage mothers at school, yes, but not to the point where I thought of it as some kind of epidemic.

    My point is, the purpose of the main post is spot-on, but not the example given. Ozen’s sex club is not an example of conservatism at work. It was something else. Remembering high school, I have an idea of what was really at work.

    At my graduation my dad was taking me back to the car and looking over all the celebrating students in the parking lot. He had a defeated look in his eyes and said “Do you realize that for most of the people here this may be the greatest achievement of their lives?” The matter-of-factly way he put this caused my heart to sink.

    These were students who were dead certain that society would never let them have any moment greater. So why bother? There was a vague abandon in the behavior at Ozen. There were fights at least once a week. In the open. It didn’t matter what teacher saw. I recall walking through the courtyard between classes far too often and seeing crowds runnng to watch what new fight had broken out. Once I ended up walking past weave that was ripped out of some girl’s head on the sidewalk.

    The few teachers who were passionate about teaching were driven away from the school through some means or another. My creative writing teacher lost his certification because he was given the wrong test by the district. My English teacher left to escape the all-too-tightly knit politics of both Southeast Texas and Beaumont’s south side. The psychology teacher who got fed up with the majority of students seeming to think “elective” means “no effort required.” The band went through four different band teachers in one year. The amazing Spanish teacher who also organized a space exploration class–which would have included a trip to Florida to watch a shuttle launch–but was cut funding halfway through the year; he left because missionary work was more rewarding than trying to teach under the Beaumont Independant School District.

    Who were the majority of teachers there then? The French teacher who was trying to seduce me. The history teacher who let his students watch Jerry Springer on a TV in his class and had his pet dog “Shithead” sit in on classes. The journalism teacher who kept a pile of pre-signed student passes to let the students she didn’t want to deal with wander the halls. The teachers who taught nothing but the Texas standardized test.

    I am aware of what my fellow students went through. From begining to end, they were the victims of political and economical tug of war, and the result of that was the Koochie Kissing Klub.

    White vs. Black
    West Side vs. South Side
    Rich vs. Poor

    Everyone choose your sides, it’s the only struggle that matters.

    And those of us who never wanted to choose just ended up leaving to let the town continue to fester in itself.

    I’m saddened. I’m saddened dearly that no one could pay attention to my high school when it needed the attention. Only when there’s something to jeer at. Only when it’s politically pertinent.

    I went to Ozen High School.

    I’ve seen political negligence and society’s apathy at its worst. I know what it does to young people.

    And until it served their agenda, no one cared.

  4. JLynn,

    Hello. I’m a contributor for ESPN magazine in New York and I’m currently reporting a story on the controversy at Ozen. I’d very much like to speak with you. Please let me know how I can reach you through this site or other means.

    Thanks!

  5. I am saddly disappointed that you chose to only use one quote of Pam Stenzel’s speech, without letting us know about the whole thing. She does care about the consequences, that is why she wants teenagers all across the world to know what those consequences are. She was speaking in the context of which is more important to her, the physical consequences of sex, or the spiritual consequences. But the very reason she began speaking is because the young girls she saw in the clinic she worked at did not know the facts. No one can make the choice for anyone else as to whether they will have sex. Her responsibility is letting them know what they are getting into. Please don’t take things out of context. She is one of the most powerful, caring, and truthful speakers I have ever heard, and I am very thankful for the priviledge of having heard her speak live.

  6. It doesn’t matter if abstinence-only doesn’t prevent STDs or unwanted pregnancies.

    I don’t only of a context in which that makes sense. And when you combine it with the patently false propaganda about “condom failure” it’s downright dangerous. In a country like Africa, it’s genocidal. Why? Because it denies reality, and the reality is that people have sex, and often have it outside of any context Stenzel might approve of. That does not mean, however that they deserve to die.

    And abstinence-only is not about “teaching the facts.” I spent years as an HIV prevention educator, and in every talk I gave I talked about abstinence. I said that it’s the only “100% positive” way to avoid STD or pregnancy. And I”ll support anyone who decides that’s the way for them, and I’ll help them with strategies on how to support that choice, if that’s their choice.

    However, abstinence-only is only half the story. If people choose to be sexually active, then they also deserve information on how to lower their risks. Yes, condoms fail sometimes, as do contraceptives, but if you use them you have a better chance of avoiding unwanted consequences than if you have sex without them (and abstinence-only education as proven effective at reducing condom use without reducing sexual activity, thus increasing the risk of unwanted pregnancies and STD).

    But Stenzel’s afraid that will just help them “sin without consequence.” So, if the girls at her clinic only heard about abstinence as an option, then they didn’t get all the facts. And they were probably more at risk when the walked out than when they went in.

  7. If teens are told that condoms are unsafe, in all probability they will have sex without condoms. And many teens are just having oral sex instead.

    Saying that teens who don’t abstain from Sex “deserve” to have consequences is not so far removed from the “honor killing” which occurs in some parts of the Arab world. (Especially in light of AIDS) What the right fears is not the consequences of pre-marital sex, but rather pre-marital sex with NO consequences. They have a stake in risky sex, because it re-enforces the concept of Abstinence. Putting them in charge of sex education is clearly the wolf guarding the hen house.

  8. You say,”….AIDS is a victory. HPV is and a hysterectomy at twenty is a victory. An unplanned pregnancy is a victory. It adds up to victory because prevention is not the point…..” How is prevention not the point? Do you really want to get HPV and a hysterctomy at twenty? Those are things that you can and mostlikely will die from. So, how is having them a victory? Honestly, I just think that you are twisted. You don’t have to twist Stenzel’s commits around to understand them. She is very very very pain in what she says.You dont need to twist and turn what she says to have it make sence.

    Really, I just think that this thing that you have posted isn’t all that correct. I’m really not trying to be rude or mean to you in any way possible. But PLEASE see where Stenzel is coming from.

    Sincerely,
    -Miss. Bailey

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