An open dialogue about sex? That would be much too simple. Instead, the University of Central Florida has created an “Avatar”-like video game “that promotes sexual abstinence,” according to Fox News Orlando. How does it work? A pre-teen girl puts on a “motion capture” suit outfitted with marks which are picked up by infrared light and then simulated on-screen. Then the girl gets propositioned by another avatar. “A boy similar in age might approach the person playing the game and might ask her to make out or there might be some sexual innuendo,” explained UCF Professor Anne Norris of the UCF Institute for Simulation and Training. “They’ll have an opportunity to interact with the avatar and they’ll get points for social skills that they develop.” Which I assume means she says “no” to sex.
And hey, Floridians, the whole shebang will cost you $434,000 in federal tax dollars! According to Professor Norris, the benefit of the abstinence video game is that “it’s a place to practice where there are no social consequences.” But what about having an open, honest discussion with pre-teen girls which not only teaches them strategies of how to effectively say “no,” but empowers them to make sexual choices for themselves? That idea is a hell of a lot less expensive than throwing a whizbang digital toy at the problem!
It boggles my mind that educated adults still believe abstinence-only sex education works. (According to The Washington Post, a national study of 2,000 children, who were followed from elementary school to high school, found that those who had abstinence-only sex ed were not less likely to have sex or to use a condom when they did have sex.) Furthermore, why is this abstinence video game only for girls? It further promotes the idea that “boys will be boys,” while girls should stay abstinent and pure —which is straight-up sexism. While it is certainly useful to teach pre-teen girls to say “no” if they’re not ready for sex, it is only a 50-percent effort unless boys are also taught to respect those wishes. How about teaching young men about consent and coercion? Or how boys can say “no” to sex if they aren’t ready, either?
Certainly, learning how to say “no” in any context, especially one so personal as sex, is a valuable life skill. But this is an egregious waste of money and could cause more harm than good to the young girls it claims to be helping. Empowering teens to say “no” should be part of a comprehensive sexual health education, which also teaches them how to avoid an unplanned pregnancy and keep safe from STDs.
Maybe it’s the UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training that needs to learn how to say “no.”