Ask Mandisa 10 – Evidence-Based Sexual Education

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Mandisa Thomas is the Founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc (Twitter & Facebook). One of the, if not the, largest organization for African-American or black nonbelievers or atheists in America. The organization is intended to give secular fellowship, provide nurturance and support for nonbelievers, encourage a sense of pride in irreligion, and promote charity in the non-religious community. I reached out to begin an educational series with one of the, and again if not the, most prominent African-American woman nonbeliever grassroots activists in the United States. Here, we talk about sexual education.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, there is a split between abstinence-based sexual education and modernized sexual education: non-evidence-based and evidence-based sexual education. You had an incident. What happened?

Mandisa Thomas: My middle-school aged son gave me a note, from the class and the board of education. It was about attendance at a lesson about sexually transmitted diseases. There would be a strong emphasis on abstinence until marriage as the main way to prevent AIDS.

There was a committee of parents, educators, ministers and others who approved the material, which really was a concern for me because this is a public school system. So, I thought, “Why are there ministers on there?” That was a concern for me.

I had no problem with my son learning about sex education. We learn that at home. I sent an email to the administrator saying that I was concerned about ministers being on the committee because it would possibly exclude the LGBTQ students.

Also, that the abstinence-only education with the strong emphasis on abstinence was oversimplifying the issue of STIs and STDs. Really, there are statistics showing abstinence-only sexual education do not work.

Because there is a high teenage pregnancy rate and STI/STD rate. There is something wrong with this education. I am very concerned that it employs fear tactics on teenagers, which can be emotionally trying and be unrealistic.

That is a wrong approach to this. I sent the note to the administrator and to the county.

Jacobsen: I am sorry for the inadequate potential sexual education provisions for your kids. I am sorry this is happening to you as a parent. Two things come to mind for me. One is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with an explicit statement about the best interests of the child.

Then the others are numerous international right documents of the right to evidence-based sexual education. This covers the whole gamut from contraceptive methods, family planning, safe and responsible sex and sexuality, and so on.

These, continually, will produce better outcomes, statistically, for kids when they are given the proper tools. Also, it respects their right to choose who they are intimate with or how they are intimate.

So, this is deeply concerning. But this isn’t a new issue, especially in the United States. Is it?

Thomas: It is not. The schools have been accepting abstinence-only education for years. I think it should be one aspect that is taught. I think there should be a strong emphasis on consent, what qualifies as consent, but that should be applied across the board no matter what the gender is.

Also, I think it must take account of other societal issues. When it comes to sexual encounters and emotions and feelings regarding that, there is a whole bunch that needs to be incorporated. The waiting until marriage is not the optimal approach.

It has not been effective. It will not continue to be effective.

Jacobsen: What does a nonbeliever perspective with an emphasis on science-based and evidence-based sexual education mean here?

Thomas: It takes into account statistics. It also takes into account the changing atmosphere and the changing society. Now, we do have children who strongly identify as teenagers as LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, etc. – and that means that we have teenagers who already may not want to get married.

Marriage doesn’t have to be the end goal. There should be statistics applied that are realistic. It gives a very, very shortsighted view of marriage, and sexual health and sexual awareness. That means that you do not necessarily need to have children.

For the LGBTQ kids, the having kids may not be an issue. For STIs/STDs, some of them are not contracted directly through sexual contact. Some can be transmitted through casual contact. The knowing the difference and teaching it honestly will give children and adults a more well-rounded perspective and information as to how they can protect themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.

Thomas: Thank you!

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