Monday, March 31, 2008

Reaping the Results of Seven Years of Failed Federal Abstinence-only Sex Education Policies

I've been a bit blocked lately. I think I am suffering from some election-related fatigue. But I also realized that in some ways, in writing about so many election-related topics, I'd fallen into the same trap as the mainstream media -- and in so doing was neglecting some of the real policy issues before us at the expense of maintaining such a close focus on the horserace. So, back to the policy stuff tonight -- and please, if you have topics you'd like me to explore, just let me know. Ideas and suggestions are always welcome.

A statistic recently slapped me in the face, and inspired today's topic. According to the first national study of the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases among young women ages 14 to 19, one in four are infected with at least one of the most common STDs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, released in mid-March, also found that nearly 50 percent of African-American teenage girls were infected with an STD.

The alarming results of this study are the manifestation of failed government policies coming home to roost -- and our children are reaping what we've sown. What's so disturbing is that most STDs are largely preventable. "Clearly young people do not have the information and skills they need to protect themselves," said Joseph DiNorcia, Jr., president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Gee, you think? I wonder why?

This CDC study should motivate policymakers, both on the state and federal levels, to finally get their head out of their collective asses and provide responsible, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education to young people. Rather than continuing to pour good tax money after bad into failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, the federal government must deal with the hard truth that teenagers are having sex, and are woefully ignorant of how to protect themselves from disease and pregnancy. We have to arm young people with knowledge about prevention methods -- how else can we begin to see declines in these staggering figures?

And more and more states are seeing the light. In February, Iowa became the 17th state in the union to withdraw from the federal abstinence-only-until-marriage block grant program -- effectively telling President Bush and his thought police that they could keep their money -- and that they'd educate their kids about sex in the way they thought was most appropriate, thank you very much.
Why would states take the extreme step of turning down money from the feds? Because, believe it or not, there is no federal funding stream dedicated to comprehensive sexuality education programs. Since 1982 our federal government has spent at least $1.5 billion on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs -- over $800 million of which has been spent during the Bush administration. These ideologically-driven programs are not allowed to discuss contraceptives except in terms of failure rates, and have never been proven to be effective. A congressionally mandated study, released last year, found that students in abstinence-only programs were no more likely to have abstained from sex and, among those who reported having had sex, had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at pretty much the same age.
Comprehensive sexuality education is not really so scary. And yes, it includes abstinence discussions and ideas for delaying sexual activity. But it also provides kids with the information and decision-making skills they need to make good choices. Such programs cover a wide rage of of topics related to sexuality and provide medically-accurate facts free of outdated stereotypes -- something those abstinence-only programs don't do. Comprehensive sexuality runs throughout the school years, and provides information on topics such as sexual development, reproductive health, relationships, affection, intimacy, body image, and gender roles. It also helps young people develop communication, decision-making, and other personal skills to help them become sexually healthy adults. Duh.

Congress is beginning its work on the federal budget. In an absolutely shameless move last year, Rep. David Obey (D-WI), Chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, cut a deal that kept the abstinence-only program alive and well. We can't let him do it again this year. Email or call Rep. Obey and tell him not to cave so quickly on a bad deal this year. Tell him it's time -- once and for all -- to end federal mandates for abstinence-only education programs, and instead create funding streams for comprehensive sexuality education.

You can also send an email to your representative, asking them to co-sponsor the Prevention First Act (S.21/H.R. 819), which according to the American Association of University Women includes "a myriad of provisions that would expand access to contraception and preventative health care services that help reduce unplanned pregnancies, abortions, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases while improving access to women's health care; it would also provide a federal funding stream for comprehensive sex education in schools." Sounds like a plan to me.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.


Michael Ejercito said...

Get your facts straight or use an abacus.

Federally-funded abstinence-only sex education has been around since at least 1996 .

ZaftigRedhead said...

While I appreciate your efforts to set the record straight, is it necessary to do it in such an insulting way? We can be adults about this. Any error that was made was not deliberate. However, in this case, I took the 1982 date directly from the web site of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, and a press release they put out on Iowa's refusal of ab-only money. You can read the press release for yourself at Now, if you are talking about a specific program that began in 1996, then I am happy to be corrected. Or, of course, if SIECUS is wrong, that is also a place where I can stand corrected. But I don't believe an abacus is necessary. The major point remains the same -- we are pouring good money after bad into unproven, ineffective ab-only sex education programs.

Thanks so much for reading.
The Zaftig Redhead