Bad education

The Women's Office of the Department of Health and Human Services offers up some really crappy sex ed.

By Rebecca Traister

Published December 19, 2005 3:06AM (EST)

While poking around the Department of Health and Human Services Web site this morning, I followed links to something called (tag line: "You are the rhythm of the Universe! Mind, Body, and Spirit!"). According to its mission statement, GirlsHealth was developed by HHS's Office on Women's Health, and is meant to "promote healthy, positive behaviors in girls between the ages of 10 and 16." It claims to give girls "reliable, useful information on the health issues they will face as they become young women."

My ass, it does. I checked out the list of topics that might interest girls ages 10-16 and didn't see anything labeled "Sex." So I clicked on "Relationships" and then on "Dating."

There, I learned that "dating relationships can be a fun and exciting part of your life. They can also be confusing, especially if dating is new to you." OK, good start. According to the site, girls can help figure out how dating should feel by "learning about what makes a dating relationship healthy and safe."

All right, bring it on.

"Healthy dating relationships should start with the same things that healthy friendships have: good communication, honesty, and respect. Dating relationships are a little different because they may include physical affection, like hugging, kissing, or holding hands."

Uh-huh ... and then? Apparently, nothing.

The page about safe and healthy dating for girls 10-16 does not contain any of the following words: "sex," "penis," "vagina," "HIV/AIDS," "orgasm," "condom" or "birth control." There is also no mention of homosexuality, but I wasn't asking for miracles -- just for some of the more basic "health" information from the "Department of Health and Human Services."

What there is is some wink-wink, nudge-nudge action, as when the site cautions, "Most importantly, you should NEVER feel pressured to do something that you don't want to do. The other person should always respect your right to say no to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable."

How is anyone going to respect a girl's right to say no or yes to something when she isn't given the information -- or even the language -- about the decision she's making?

"By talking about how each of you feel[s] about a lot of things, you may avoid getting pressured into making a decision on the spot about something very important," says GirlsHealth.

Excuse me, but what the hell is "something very important"? Does it have to do with how you "feel about a lot of things"? Does it happen "down there"? With your "thing" and his "thing"?

I realize I'm being naive here; I've even written a feature story about how vital information about women's issues has been removed from government Web sites by the Bush administration.

I guess the government's message to girls is that they want them to be healthy, but not armed with any information. Eventually, when they get pregnant, because they were never told by the government about penises or condoms, the government would prefer it if they did not get abortions. And when they have those babies, the government would prefer it if they breast-fed them.

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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