Warren Throckmorton, PhD
Well I have finally seen it. “Protect Yourself,” the movie, that is. The seven and a half minute condom demonstration video produced by the Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools will be shown to all 10th grade students this Spring. I had heard the film was inappropriate for 10th graders from those who had seen it before me. Now, having seen it myself, I believe the critics of the video are correct. However, in my estimation it is much worse than I had been led to believe. The training film is a taxpayer funded and school produced advertisement for condom use among teens.
March 8, 2005
The video is short time-wise but speaks volumes. The film’s lip service to abstinence takes about 18 seconds: Near the beginning, the narrator says, “The best way to protect yourself against a STI or an unplanned pregnancy is by not having sex at all. Abstinence is 100% effective and no other method works as well.” After this is out of way, the film gets busy as a promo piece for latex. Incredibly, the statement concerning abstinence is spoken against visual images of condoms on the screen. Just four percent of this training film is given to the only 100% sure means of protecting oneself.
One scene has the narrator, a young girl who appears to be about 18, applying a condom to a cucumber. She says to her 10th grade viewers: “Remember to use a condom for oral, anal and vaginal sex and when finished, hold on to the condom and carefully slide it off." I can see the 10th graders carefully taking notes because there might be a test later.
While watching, I thought to myself, “Who is this video for?” According to the Centers for Disease Control, most kids of viewing age are not sexually active. Presented with such explicit instructions, the kids watching this film may assume a much different reality. They may assume that they are old enough to engage in the activities instructed in school, given they are educated in the proper use of the appliance. And why use a young female narrator? Whether intentional or not, the film models to the girls watching that sex and preparing for sex are as normal as applying one’s make up. Girls, listen up; there is a right way and a wrong way to do this and here is the right way.
Now for those who doubt the power of suggestion implicit in this film, I invite you to consider why drug companies hire attractive women to go on the air to hawk such wonders as Levitra and Cialis. Are these companies spending the gross national product of a small country to provide a public service, in the event some viewers need the information? Or are they hoping that people who would not ordinarily consider these drugs will have that goofy, smiling talk with their doctor, discount coupon in sweaty hand?
With a wink, these advertisements proclaim the drugs are to help erectile dysfunction. However, we all know by reading our spam email that the prescribing bonanza is in those seeking to enhance basically normal functioning. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for a little enhancement between husbands and wives. My point is that you use an instructional video to promote the use of something. In the case of the MCPS video, the product promoted is not a how-to in abstinence, but rather condoms usage.
Worse than the ill-advised use of the film at all, the information presented is potentially harmful to one’s health. The narrator states that condoms are 98% effective. Effective for what is not mentioned. While condom effectiveness rates are a matter of some empirical debate, one thing is not in question. Condoms do not protect against all sexually transmitted infections. Take human papilloma virus (HPV) for instance; condoms are not effective protection against this virus which can lead to cervical cancer and other long term medical problems. The film does not mention this STI at all.
So what should the MCPS do with the video? First of all, the school board should be made to account for any moneys spent on its creation. I suppose it could be shown to engaged students in the high school as an aspect of pre-marital counseling.
Or if protection is the real lesson to be taught, the school board could take the 18 seconds of sanity in the film and start over
Warren Throckmorton, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of College Counseling at Grove City College (PA). He is the producer of the film, "I Do Exist" concerning sexual orientation change. If you want to see Protect Yourself for yourself, go to www.mcpscurriculum.com .