General Articles

Trying for Traction in Virginia

Charlottesville, VA

There is a debate stirring in central Virginia over whether to allow abstinence-only-until-marriage programs into the Charlottesville and Albemarle public schools. Those who support the new programs, as well as those who denounce them as ineffective, have staged meetings for community members.
Worth Your Wait, an abstinence group, held a conference at the local Doubletree Hotel to inform the community of its program Why kNOw. Proponents of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs came to speak on why the community, despite its hesitations, should adopt the program.  One speaker “urged parents to build stronger relationships with their children” to supersede the influences from our “sex-saturated culture.”  Martin Ssempa, an international abstinence advocate from Uganda, was also present to show his support.  Known for burning boxes of condoms in his native country, Ssempa is a highly controversial figure in the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry.1

Worth Your Wait had been sub-contracted by the Pregnancy Centers of Central Virginia, a crisis pregnancy center that received $645,000 of federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding.  The organization is now using the Why Know curriculum in schools in Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Nelson, and Orange counties. SIECUS reviewed Why kNOw and found that it offers limited information about important topics in human sexuality such as puberty, anatomy, and human reproduction, and no information about sexual orientation and gender identity. The information that is included is outdated, inaccurate, and misleading. In addition, Why kNOw  relies on negative messages, distorts information, and presents biased views on gender, marriage, family structure, sexual orientation, and pregnancy options. For example, the curriculum tells students that the tradition of lifting the veil during a wedding ceremony shows that “the groom [is] the only man allowed to uncover the bride,” and demonstrates “her respect for him by illustrating that she [has] not allowed any other man to lay claim to her.”2

Not everyone in the community is convinced that abstinence educational programs are right for the schools, however.  An hour before the speaking began at the Double Tree, the local Planned Parenthood sponsored a “honk and wave for real sex ed” rally just a few miles away.3 

In fact, community members from Albemarle and Charlottesville have “proved less than receptive,” and a spokesperson for the city schools says they are not considering introducing any new curricula, including Why kNOw.  The teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention coordinator for the Charlottesville and Albemarle schools noted that on its face value, the message touted by Worth Your Wait was not “objectionable,” as most parents would prefer that their children not prematurely rush into sex.  She also stated, however, that the program was “ineffective” in its attempts to reduce sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy, because teens who do become sexually active are not presented with the tools they need to protect themselves.4

Those who support the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are not giving up, however. One proponent of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs said, “The abstinence message is not being heard at all,” she said, “and that’s an injustice.”5

SIECUS will continue to monitor the situation.


  1. Lucie Stone, “No-sex ed: Abstinence-only aims for local support,” The Hook (VA), 3 May 2007, accessed 3 May 2007, <>.
  2. Kris Frainie, Why kNOw Abstinence Education Program Teacher’s Manual, (Chattanooga, TN: Why kNow Abstinence Education Programs, A Division of AAA Women’s Services, 2002).  For more information, see SIECUS’ review of Why kNOw at <>.
  3. Stone.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.