Sex (Mis)Education at My Catholic School
Originally Published: October 29, 2015
Revised: October 29, 2015
Boys ran to the confessional set up in the back, girls cried in their seats and some students just sat there totally confused about what had been said. This was the immediate reaction to the talk given to my Catholic middle school by Pam Stenzel.
Pam Stenzel is a radical, religious, abstinence-only speaker who talks to students all over the country about sex. She is notorious for slut-shaming, screaming at her audience and warping facts or using outright lies to get her message across. She had just finished telling us about the horrors of masturbation, “promiscuity” and how we will PAY if we ever have unmarried sex. At the time we were eighth graders and didn’t really know what to make of what we had just been told, except for the idea that sex was very dangerous.
By the time I crossed paths with Pam again, three years later, I knew a little better. In the time between eighth grade and junior year of high school, through the help of different Internet sources, I had learned the truth about sex education and adopted a very different viewpoint about sex than the one that I had been taught throughout my middle and high school Catholic education. For example, I now knew that there was nothing wrong with sex before marriage and that there are ways to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). So when listening to Pam Stenzel’s talk during my high school assembly, I realized that what she was saying was not only wrong, but offensive and misleading to the impressionable minds she was speaking to.
Everyone has different values, especially when it comes to sex and sexuality, and they are all valid, but Stenzel’s shaming of anyone who does not agree with her values is inexcusable.
The “Facts” of Life
After seeing Pam Stenzel for the second time, I was skeptical about many of the “facts” that she told us to support her anti-premarital sex argument. When I got home, I decided to research Stenzel and see if what she had been saying was true. I found that she also has many online videos, which are also used to teach abstinence-only-until marriage classes across the country. Something that especially stood out to me was a quote from her video “Sex Still Has a Price Tag.” In this video, she says, “Students, condoms aren’t safe. Never have been, never will be.” This claim is not true. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when used consistently and correctly, condoms are 98-percent effective at preventing pregnancy and also provide protection from STDs.
Another misleading “fact” that Stenzel told to my high school assembly was that contracting chlamydia even once, cured or not, would leave us with a 25-percent chance of infertility. Again, this is not true. According to the CDC only 40 percent of untreated cases of chlamydia lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and out of that, only 10 percent of PID cases lead to infertility. During her talk, she also claimed that STD testing cannot tell you what you don’t have, which made absolutely no sense to me, since STD testing literally tells you what you do or do not have.
She also attacked birth control pills, saying that the hormones in birth control pills make a woman 10 times more likely to get an STD. This claim is very distorted. The real reason behind the “link” between the Pill and increased risk of contracting STDs is that when a person is on the Pill, her partner is less likely to wear a condom since she and her partner are already protected from pregnancy. The Pill does not increase your risk of getting STDs.
Besides it just being unacceptable to teach students false or twisted information, Stenzel’s claims suggest that STD testing is useless, discourage contraception use and create unnecessary fear.
Shame and Scare Tactics
There are many other things that Pam Stenzel has said that aren’t necessarily facts that can be disproven, but are still wrong and damaging to teach. One that especially stood out to me during my own personal experience was when she told us that she could look any of us in the eyes and tell if we were going to be promiscuous. The truth is that you cannot tell what someone’s sexual behavior will be like from looking at them. Stenzel’s “ability” is actually just her judging people based on stereotypes of what a “slut” would look like.
Another example of something damaging Stenzel said comes from her video “Sex Still Has a Price Tag.” She says in the video, “There is not a condom in the world that can protect your heart, your character and your values.” Clearly condoms don’t protect your heart; that isn’t the purpose of a condom. Having sex also doesn’t take away from a person’s character or value, as Stenzel implies.
One more questionable thing Stenzel has said during the times that I have seen her is that, “No one has ever had more than one partner and not paid.” Her saying this makes it seem that all sex outside of marriage comes with grave punishments. In actuality, when using adequate protection, it is possible to have more than one sexual partner and not contract an STD. Additionally, it is entirely possible to have sex outside of marriage and not have any related emotional or mental health problems. Mental and emotional health and a person’s number of sexual partners are not related.
During the assembly, Stenzel also asked the crowd why we thought we could go around being “a player” and then marry someone who respects us and themselves. She asked this as if having sex makes us unworthy of a respectful partner.
The one thing about Pam Stenzel that offends me the most is the way that she patronizingly imitates teenagers. Whenever she speaks from the perspective of a teenager, especially girls who are dealing with pregnancy or who have had sex outside of marriage, she portrays them as stupid and takes on a “valley girl” accent. She does mocking impersonations of teenagers who haven’t been educated about their sexual health, while managing to simultaneously blame the lack of knowledge on the teen themselves, not the school district or parents who are actually responsible for teaching us this information. In her speeches, she literally makes fun of us. It wouldn’t be acceptable for a teacher of a different subject to publicly laugh at their students for misunderstanding a topic, and it isn’t acceptable in sex ed either. I am not an idiot and neither are my peers, and she doesn’t have the right to speak to us or about us like we are.
After experiencing Pam Stenzel twice and doing extensive research on her, I can conclude that she is not a good influence on teenagers. Her distorting of information is not OK, especially not as a professional speaker whose job is to educate young people. Everyone has different values, especially when it comes to sex and sexuality, and they are all valid, but Stenzel’s shaming of anyone who does not agree with her values is inexcusable.
Please login to comment on this story
Elisabeth Dee, a 22-year-old student, activist, writer and feminist, has a long history of being a sexual health advocate. Raised in Utah with what she calls an “abysmal public-school sex education,” Elisabeth had no idea how her body worked, and…
Read Story »
“How do males sit? Do they always sit on their own penises?” This is just one of the questions I remember hearing during my high school health class. I was shocked to find out how little some of my classmates […]
Read Story »
My parents did their best to halt the fast-advancing, grown-up world from prematurely encroaching on my early universe of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, friendship bracelets and games of capture the flag. My childhood laptop was a barricade of…
Read Story »