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Focus on the Family Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Program Journeys to China

In response to the trend of increases in population, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), HIV/AIDS, and teen pregnancy rates, one province in China has reached out to the right-wing organization Focus on the Family to implement abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula in high schools and universities. In preparation for this new policy, the Educational Bureau of the Yunnan Province, with the use of Focus on the Family’s No Apologies abstinence-only-until-marriage program, recently trained over 500 teachers from half of the school districts in Yunnan during development training sessions.[1]
The No Apologies curriculum reinforces gender stereotypes that impose upon girls a double standard of chastity. Given to girls in Yunnan, the curriculum includes several role-playing scenarios in which girls are taught how to rebuff sexual propositions from boys. Some of the scripted role-play includes scenes between advance-making boys (“It’s safe, I have a condom”) and resistant girls (“You want to bet my future with that condom?”) and, of course, the cure-all decline: “If you want to celebrate our love, bring me roses at 7 p.m. and let’s go to dinner.”[2]
Chinese officials are implementing the No Apologies curriculum in Chinese schools with the goal of reducing rates of early pregnancy and STDs, including HIV/AIDS, by teaching students to delay sex until marriage. Says Ma Lianhong, Yunnan’s former secretary general of media and the individual responsible for introducing Focus on the Family to Yunnan provincial officials, “Nowadays, teenagers have too many different channels for learning about sex. Even if you don’t talk about it, they will just learn about it quietly by themselves, which is even more dangerous. Abstinence is good for keeping the families steady and bringing down the divorce rate . . . it complies with China’s traditional morals.”[3]
Despite Ma’senthusiasm about incorporating the credo and curriculum of Focus on the Family into Chinese schools, many officials disagree with the organization’s religious ideology. Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a self-proclaimed faith-based, evangelical organization; its position differs greatly from China’s official atheistic stance.[4]
Seeing as how accessing the Chinese market would be a giant coup for Focus on the Family (previous attempts span over four years), the ultra-conservative Christian organization was willing to edit its curriculum to fit China’s dissimilar political and religious views.[5] The need to adapt No Apologies was explicitly illustrated in an earlier pilot program in which the participants were prohibited from taking virginity pledges because officials stepped in to assert that the only pledge that Chinese youth should take should be “to the Communist Party.”[6]
The adapted abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum that will be used in Yunnan schools this year is geared more toward warnings about the dangers and consequences of premarital sex, pornography, STDs, unintended pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS, and discusses the “benefits that delayed gratification has on marriages, and the theory that sex distracts youngsters from realizing their dreams.”[7] Since eliminating the curriculum’s religious and political messages, the Chinese government has adopted its use within Chinese schools.
Many advocates of comprehensive sexuality education have criticized China’s decision to employ Focus on the Family in order to stifle rising rates of STDs, unintended pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS through an abstinence-only-before-marriage curriculum. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) has reviewed previous international versions of the No Apologies curriculum and found that there is no evidence that the program reduces levels of unintended pregnancy or STDs, including HIV/AIDS. The curriculum is used to instill fear and shame in young people, distort information on STDs, discourage condom use, idealize heterosexual marriage while ignoring gay and lesbian individuals, and rely on ineffective virginity pledges. No Apologies also misses numerous opportunities to promote STD testing and sexual health care and uses worst-case scenarios to scare young people, teaching them that STDs are the result of lack of character and poor self-control.[8]
“The implementation of Focus on the Family’s abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum in China is not only unfortunate, it is misguided,” comments Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy for SIECUS. “These programs have been proven time again to be ineffective in the United States, and exporting these programs to other countries is not going to change that. China is clearly illustrating a need for sexuality education that will effectively address the unintended pregnancies, STDs, and HIV epidemics its young people are experiencing and moving away from programs like that of Focus on the Family’s and toward comprehensive sexuality education will have better results.”

[1] William Wan, “Abstinence Program Partners Chinese Officials with U.S. Evangelicals,” Washington Post, 3 September 2010, accessed 10 September 2010, <>.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Focus on the Family, Focus on the Family’s Foundational Values, , accessed 13 September 2010, <>.

[5] Wan, “Abstinence Program Partners Chinese Officials with U.S. Evangelicals.”

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Abstinence Program Partners Chinese Officials with US Evangelicals,” Global Times, 3 September 2010, accessed 10 September 2010, <>.

[8] Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, No Apologies, the Truth about Life, Love, and Sex, accessed October 6, 2010, <http://www.siecus.local/_data/global/images/No_Apologies.pdf>.