- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2005

Well, I have finally seen it. “Protect Yourself,” the movie, that is. The 7 minute condom demonstration video produced by the Montgomery County 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 saw it before me. Now, having seen it myself, I believe the critics are correct. However, in my estimation it is much worse than I was led to believe.

The training film is a taxpayer-funded and school-produced advertisement for condom use among teens.

The video is short timewise 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 percent 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 about abstinence is spoken against visual images of condoms on the screen. Just 4 percent of this training film is given to the only 100 percent sure means of protection.

In one scene the narrator, a young girl who appears about 18, applies 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, “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 young people may assume a much different reality. They may assume they are old enough to engage in the activities instructed in school, since they are educated in the proper use of the appliance. And why use a young female narrator? Intentionally or not, the film models to the girls watching that sex and preparing for sex are as normal as applying makeup. 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 this film’s power of suggestion, I invite you to consider why drug companies hire attractive women to go on the air to hawk such wonders as Levitra and Cialis. Do these companies spend the gross national product of a small country to provide a public service, in the event some viewers need the information? Or do they hope 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 e-mail that the prescribing bonanza is in those seeking to enhance basically normal function.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for a little enhancement between husbands and wives. My point is you use an instructional video to promote the use of something. The MCPS video promotes not abstinence but condoms.

Worse than the ill-advised use of the film, it presents information potentially harmful to health. The narrator says condoms are 98 percent effective. Effective for what is not mentioned. While condom effectiveness is 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): 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, the school board should be made to account for any money spent on its creation. I suppose it could be shown to engaged students in the high school as part of premarital counseling.

Or if the school board really wants to get the “Protect Yourself” message to students, take the 18 seconds of sanity in the film and start over.

WARREN THROCKMORTON

Associate professor of psychology,

Director of college counseling,

Grove City College, Pa.

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