If you’ve successfully made it to higher-level education, there’s little to no chance that you were able to escape the flamboyantly deceiving educational posters that warn about the dangers of everything from drunken driving to obesity to premarital sex. Their cautionary tales have been so emblazoned in our retinas that they’re typically easy to ignore. However, an abstinence poster in Student Health Services angered junior fine arts major Laura Weiner enough that she felt compelled to take action and start a petition for its removal.
The controversial poster in question is “101 Reasons to Be Abstinent.” Along with citing the obvious safety from pregnancy and STDs, the poster advocates reasons such as: “no guilt if you have religious beliefs about sex,” “better role model for brother and sister” “don’t have to shave your legs all the time,” “don’t have to wear your best underwear” and “your parents will be happier.”
“To suggest that a woman who is sexually active should be expected to shave her legs…is misogynistic and completely unacceptable,” Weiner said. “Additionally, to suggest that it is expected and even mandatory for women to perform these rituals is sexist.”
If the poster sounds familiar, it might be because it was featured in brochure form on Tosh.0 as a source of humor.
“I think that says something,” Weiner said. “It was being mocked on a comedy show, and it’s supposed to be an educational tool.”
Some advice given in the poster can apply to both sexes, such as, “won’t have to be a mom or dad before you’re ready” or “won’t get HIV from sex.” But the ad is clearly aimed toward females, with no offense to any male students with leg shearing as part of their routine intended. This selective direction of information can be harmful, especially considering the poster was placed in a gynecology exam room.
“Hanging a poster in the gynecology office such as ‘101 Reasons to be Abstinent’ is insensitive to the women who are going there to receive treatment for sexual assault and rape,” Weiner said. “These women did not have a choice in engaging in sexual activity. To put a jarring, judgmental poster in the face of a woman who has survived rape could trigger traumatic flashbacks and further reinforce feelings of guilt and shame.”
Not to mention the fact that it’s degrading for those who have chosen to have sex. It’s demeaning and insulting to assume that my religious affiliation will be compromised due to my independent decision to become sexually active. And I can only assume that my parents won’t be any less proud of me no matter what I do. The only person I have to answer to in that regard is me and what I believe. How dare I be turned into a targeted demographic by some CDC-sponsored panel of poster-makers?
But that’s not the case, said Mark Denys, the senior administrator at Student and Employee Health Services. In fact, the poster was written by our own peers – the demographic in question.
“This particular campaign, ‘101 Reasons,’ sends out questionnaires to college students,” Denys said. “They’re real responses from students who chose to become abstinent.”
Now that’s a bit of a game changer. It’s one thing for a bunch of people sitting in a boardroom to decide the reasons why I shouldn’t have sex. But it’s another thing entirely for people to explain why they’re personally not having sex. Weiner argued that this is a moot point.
“The company chose what went on that poster,” Weiner said. “They picked certain quotes that fit their agenda.”
“Abstinence is not a large part of what we do, but it’s important because it is a choice,” Denys said. “Students who come to us who have never had sex before are seeing an abstinence poster that helps them feel OK because they haven’t yet.”
Some reasons given for being abstinent are indeed construed as sexist, but they are also a matter of opinion. Students chose to write their responses, but the company also chose to publish them. The ethics behind the campaign can be debated, but however well-intentioned ‘101 Reasons to Be Abstinent’ claims to be, it certainly has done more harm than good for the community.
“We’re sorry,” Denys said. “The message is effective for some, but it may not be effective for all. This particular poster will be taken down and replaced.”
“The issue isn’t about abstinence,” Weiner said. “It’s the means in which they went about it. The poster shouldn’t have been up in the first place. It isn’t respectful of people who choose to be sexually active.”
It all boils down to our own perceptions of what is and isn’t proper with sex education. Hopefully, SHS will be able to find something more appropriate for its abstinence campaign that doesn’t involve personal grooming of any kind.
Jessica Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.