2016-07-27
Shelby Knox grew up a Southern Baptist in the conservative town of Lubbock, Texas. Now almost 19, she is the subject of a P.O.V. documentary The Education of Shelby Knox, which chronicles the controversy over sex education in her district's public schools.

When you were 15, you pledged abstinence in a True Love Waits ceremony. When it comes to premarital sex and marriage, what do you want in terms of your own life?

For me, I think that when I find the person that I want to have sex with, I will, whether it's before our wedding night or... the important thing is I have the education to protect myself. As for marriage, it's not something that I see myself doing for a very long time. I'm very independent and don't really want to enter into a partnership with someone when I'm so selfish with all my career aspirations and things like that, so I don't see marriage for myself for quite a long time. In an ideal world, would it be your preference for everyone to wait until marriage? I think that everyone should wait to have sex until they feel that they are emotionally and physically ready to have sex and they have the education to protect themselves from STDs and unwanted pregnancies. When you started high school in Lubbock, Texas, what was the school's official policy about sex education?
The Lubbock Independent School District high schools have an abstinence-only policy, which means they do not discuss condoms and contraception except in terms of failure rates. And they teach abstinence as the only acceptable behavior for teens that are not married.

You started campaigning for comprehensive sex ed at your high school. What did you see at your school in Texas that made you do this? I started seeing girls my age getting pregnant. I started seeing kids my age getting STDs and disappearing from school and not having any information about what was happening to them. I heard the myths about teen pregnancy-if you had sex the first time you couldn't get pregnant, or use two condoms, it's better protection. Really scary myths like that. I realized that a lack of sex education in the schools was putting the kids at risk. Some would say that high school students wouldn't want to ask their teachers about birth control. I think that high school students would much rather ask their teachers than their parents or church officials, just from personal experience. I think that if a teacher or a nurse or a counselor is allowed to answer questions, then they would get a lot more.

What are the teachers in Lubbock required to say? They are required to say that abstinence is the only acceptable behavior and if they have any other questions they should direct that to their parents.

What would happen to a teacher if a student asked about preventing pregnancy, and the teacher, for example, described a method of birth control? I believe that if it was reported that they would get a warning from the school board.


Pastor Ed Ainsworth, a youth speaker and a True Love Waits advocate, appears in the documentary. He gives talks in many public schools. His talks seem pretty explicit--he talks about STDs and more. Why isn't his kind of talk enough?
The problem with Ed Ainsworth's programs is that they are medically inaccurate. There is medically inaccurate information being fed to students as absolute truth from a religious figure of authority, which we had all been taught to respect. There's a time in the film where he insinuates that you can get an STD by shaking hands with someone, which is completely untrue. So really his programs aren't providing factual information and that's the most frightening part.

If you were running the schools in your area and you were the teacher in all sex ed classes, what would your lesson plan for the students be? I think that abstinence should be taught as the first and foremost method. However, I think that all methods of birth control--condoms, birth control pills, diaphragms--should be taught in explicit detail. Kids should be taught how to use them. They have great rates of success if they are taught how to use them correctly. And it doesn't take long to teach kids how to. I also think you need to talk about relationships, you need to talk about talking about getting tested for STDs, you need to talk about when you're ready to have sex and how to communicate in that matter.

What would you say to conservative parents who are afraid of what their kids might hear in a public school sex ed class?

You know, to protect yourself in marriage or out of marriage, you need to have good sex education. That's something you need, even if you wait until you get married, you still need to know how to protect yourself from pregnancy until you want it and things like that. I would tell parents that this is information that's a life skill like science or math or reading or writing and that this should be part of the curriculum. Parents do not have the medically accurate information that they need to give their kids and so the school should step in and take up the slack. If [kids] have a comprehensive sex education program which includes an abstinence message, they are more likely to delay the onset of intercourse. But an abstinence-only program doesn't seem to do that, because kids don't have any information. Some of them don't even know what sex actually is. Their education comes when they're fooling around in the back of a car or when they're with their boyfriend or girlfriend in the pressure of the moment. I would say that information never hurts anyone. Just because you teach a kid how to use a fire extinguisher, doesn't mean they're going to go and start a fire.

What criticism from your friends or your Christian community has been hardest for you to answer? Basically people just blatantly telling me I'm going to hell. With no reason in saying it, just, "This is not the place for a young women. You're going to hell." And that's really difficult to hear, because in the Baptist community they feel as if you should try to improve each other and tell each other when you think you're on the wrong path. But it became very difficult for me when all my friends turned against me and thought that I didn't know what it meant to be a good Christian. I felt like what I was doing was actually part of my spiritual path.

What are some of the things your friends did?

I was basically ostracized from my church eventually. It just became a very unwelcoming place for me to be.

When you walked into church on Sunday morning, what would happen?

People would talk about me and make comments about what I've been doing. I felt that it was a very hypocritical environment, in that some kids were going out and having sex every night. I was merely talking about it in the news, and they were telling me I was going to hell. It was a very hypocritical way to look at things.

Are you still active in a Christian church? I am still a Christian. I still am very active in my faith and have quiet time and read the Bible and pray, but I do not go to church. One reason is because I just moved to Austin and have not found a church. Another is that I have always found that a church environment can turn hypocritical and sort of hinder your walk with Christ, instead of help it.

In the film, you sat down and spoke with Pastor Ainsworth. In the video it seemed like a very civil conversation. It seemed you both respected each other a lot. You know, I had always been taught to respect a pastor. I did and I still do. I think that we're both working for the same thing, which the health of the kids. We just have a different way to go about it.

Do you still see any value in programs like True Love Waits? As a component of church life, they're acceptable as long as kids are receiving a good, comprehensive sex education to correspond with it. Abstinence-only pledges in themselves are very frightening scare tactics that scare kids away from their sexuality.

Can you describe what happens in a True Love Waits ceremony? You make a promise in front of God, your church, and your family that you will remain sexually pure until the night of your marriage. Your parents have the ring and it usually has a [Bible] message. They place it on the ring finger of your left hand, where a wedding ring would go.

Are they expected to wear the ring all the time? Yes, most teens who go through the ceremony are expected to wear the ring.

Where is your ring? It got stolen in eleventh grade when I was a competitive swimmer-someone stole the jewelry out of my locker.

If you still had it, would you wear it? No. I am still a virgin. I have not had sex. But I really think that it's my decision to make. It's not the decision of my parents or my family or my church to decide when I have sex. What's the most important thing about being Christian for you?

Sharing my life with the Lord Savior Jesus Christ and knowing that I am his child and that he died for me.

Is there a favorite Bible verse that has helped you over the past few years?

"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," [Romans 3:23], but only he offers eternal life. I have it written on my mirror.



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