Sex Ed Without the Sex

Unlike many pregnancy groups, the Life Center also works in public schools

“What I found was that the Life Center now touches nearly every part of citizens’ reproductive lives. It instructs public-school kids in sexual mores, intervenes when panicked women find out they’re pregnant, and leads young moms in the ways of Christ-focused parenting.”

 

Misty Stewart gave the worksheet to every student in the class: “The purpose of sex is for bonding and babies,” it read. Then she stood before a white board and began to tell the sophomores “a little story” about a fictional girl named Sarah and how she’s “affected by having sex outside of marriage.”

Misty, a sex-education instructor, was presenting that day in April at Odessa High School, a mini-mall-sized campus with buildings the color of pie crust. The teens slouched and giggled at the mention of sex. One girl kept in a single earbud, like a diplomat awaiting a translation to teenager-ese.

Sarah wants to remain abstinent until she finds “The One,” Misty says. Yet, she ventures to a party, she drinks too much, and she sleeps with a guy she barely knows. “The next morning,” she says, “he’s gone.”

Misty works at an organization called the Life Center, which is headquartered in the neighboring town of Midland. They call themselves a pregnancy resource center, preferring that to the term many pro-choice advocates use: crisis pregnancy center. Across the country, these centers position themselves as alternatives to abortion clinics, counseling pregnant women with the hope that they won’t terminate their pregnancies.

But unlike many pregnancy groups, the Life Center also works in public schools. Each year, Misty and her fellow Life Center sex-ed specialists provide abstinence-based sexual education to roughly 28,000 children.

Over the next three days, Misty would deploy a mix of goal-setting, real talk, and gag-inducing pictures of gonorrhea in an effort to convince her captive teenage audience to save themselves for marriage.

That’s a tall order anywhere, but perhaps even more so in West Texas, where there isn’t much for a young person to get up to beyond church and vice. Midland and Odessa are canonically Texan: remote moonscapes studded with oil jacks and tied together with a 20-mile stretch of highway.

I lived in Midland for much of my childhood. Every year, our class made a pilgrimage to the town’s main cultural attraction, the Petroleum Museum. (Its star exhibit: a floor-to-ceiling tower of household objects made from petroleum byproducts.) When I returned for this reporting trip, my hotel room contained the latest issue of Midland Magazine, whose front cover announced that the Petroleum Museum had seen some recent upgrades. In a place where the answer to boredom is studying hydrocarbons, the abstinence advocates have their work cut out for them.

In this first lecture, Misty, a short, brunette speed-talker, endeavored to show the hazards of trysts like Sarah’s.

“If she had set a boundary that said, ‘I don’t want to have sex until I get married, or until I find the right one for me,’ but she had sex, what’s going on in her mind?” Misty asked, referring to the worksheet.

“Anxiety,” one boy offered.

“Obsession’s the one I’m looking for,” Misty said. “In her mind, it’s this going over and over and over, like: ‘Oh my gosh, are we going to stay together? Will he continue to call me?’ … And then Monday she had a big test, do you think she’s concentrating on her test?”

“No!” several kids say.

“What’s going on with her spiritually, in her inner man?” Misty asks. “Restless spirit,” she says, answering her own question, “just with everything going on.”

Over the next few days, Misty would expound the many pitfalls of fornication. Casual sex causes Sarah’s friends to gossip about her and leaves her “enslaved to pleasure and lust.” It can end in herpes and derail a college dream.

“The chemicals in your brain learn what it feels like to have sex, and they want to have sex again,” Misty says. “So it’s best to not have it at all.”

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