You might remember Penny Starr as the CNSNews.com reporter who tried to manufacture outrage over a gay-themed art exhibition at the Smithsonian last year. Now, she’s upset by something she found on the Internet:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is offering advice to parents and teens about sex education, including assurances that teens may “experiment” with homosexuality as part of “exploring their own sexuality,” and that masturbation should be of concern only “if a child seems preoccupied with it to the exclusion of other activities.”
The information, located on a “Questions and Answers About Sex” link on the “Quick Guide to Healthy Living” portion of the HHS Web site, also describes children and infants as “sexual beings.”
Under the question “When Do Kids Start Becoming Curious About Sex?” the answer notes that infants have curiosity about their bodies.
“Children are human beings and therefore sexual beings,” the Q&A Web page says. “It's hard for parents to acknowledge this, just as it's hard for kids to think of their parents as sexually active. But even infants have curiosity about their own bodies, which is healthy and normal.”
Starr suggests this purportedly offensive information originated from HHS; later, she writes that the “HHS Web site reassures teens and parents that having homosexual tendencies as a young person is ‘common’ as teens ‘sort through their emerging sexual feelings.’ ” In fact, both pages are located on a website called KidsHealth, which is operated by the Nemours Center for Children’s Health Media. The center is part of a foundation that is “dedicated to improving the health and spirit of children” and operates several children’s health facilities.
Further, the KidsHealth “Questions and Answers About Sex” article contains a note that it was reviewed by a pediatric endocrinologist, as well as two licensed social workers, and the sexual orientation page states that it was reviewed by a child psychologist who holds a doctorate. At no point does Starr cite any children’s health professional to rebut or contradict the statements being made.
On top of the professional review of those frank but accurate statements, the KidsHealth website features a long list of “educational partners” endorsing its “award-winning, doctor-review, family-friendly content.” On that list are dozens of children’s hospitals across the country, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and private health insurance companies.
In lieu of an actual expert, Starr brings in Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council to take potshots. Not only is Sprigg not a licensed children’s health professional (he’s an ordained Baptist minister), but he is employed by an organization listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its rampant anti-gay rhetoric.
Starr paraphrases Sprigg as saying that “some of the information has no place on a federal government Web site.” So, in the end, this all seems to boil down to a demand that information about sexual health not be discussed by public health officials.
That’s just doesn’t make sense.
(A version of this post is at Media Matters.)