February 27, 2013

Some Princeton Students, Alumni Take Issue With Small World’s Sponsoring of HiTOPS

To the Editor:

As Princeton students and alumni living in town, we cherish our unique local establishments — and none so much as the iconic Small World Coffee. So we were disappointed to see that for the past month this beloved institution has been sponsoring the controversial sex education organization HiTOPS, whose activities offend many of Small World’s patrons.

What is so offensive about HiTOPS? The organization uses its monopoly status in 50 communities around New Jersey to teach students a sexual ethic most parents would find objectionable. We don’t mean that they acknowledge something we all know — that not every student will wait until they are married to have sex. But there is a big difference between presenting high school children with medical facts about reproduction and STIs and fostering an environment that encourages sexual risk taking — by those too young to grasp fully the risks they take. But how does HiTOPS encourage sexual risk taking? By coercing students into sharing intimate conversations — their feelings about sex — with strangers (talk about peer pressure), emphasizing the negative size of waiting (“it’s really hard”), and desensitizing students by showing extremely graphic images of a condom being used. HiTOPS lessons on abstinence suggest that “sexting,” watching porn with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and cuddling naked are all behaviors that can be part of a healthy sexually abstinent lifestyle. For a fifteen-year-old. The curriculum encourages “limiting” a teen’s number of sexual partners, rather than postponing sex until an age when the brain’s ability to make responsible decisions — and handle the consequences — has been better formed. (There is a reason the drinking age is 21, not 15.) Limiting sexual partners to 1 per year starting at 16 may seem not bad. But consider that (statistically speaking) these students are unlikely to marry until their late twenties. Even if they maintain a rate of only 1 sexual partner per year (and that’s generous considering many will take part in the college hook-up scene), that’s at least 10 lifetime partners. With STI rates being what they are, this kind of “limiting” isn’t so safe after all.

Rather than encouraging students to discuss sexual decisions — or frightening situations teens may find themselves in — with their parents, students are told to make a list of local clinics (where parents are kept out of the loop) and turn to the strangers there for help when they are at their most vulnerable.

By turning serious decisions about sex into a series of cutesy jokes in skits and comics like “Condom Man,” HiTOPS strips sex of its inherent dignity. We appreciate that Small World gives back to the community every year by supporting charitable groups, but we hope that next year they will do more research into the organizations they support to avoid offending their patrons, but more importantly to avoid endorsing a program that harms our community under the pretext of serving the common good.

Caitlin Seery,

Spruce Street (Class of 2009)

Caroline Bazinet,

Princeton University (Class of 2014)

T.Z. Horton,

Princeton University (Class of 2015)

Cassandra (DeBenedetto) Hough,

Loetscher Place (Class of 2007)

Ana (Quesada) Samuel,

Bergen Street (Class of 2000)