States refraining from abstinence-only sex education
LOS ANGELES -- In an emerging revolt against abstinence-only sex education, states are turning down millions of dollars in federal grants, unwilling to accept White House dictates that the money be used for classes focused almost exclusively on teaching chastity.At best, these abstinence-only programs are unproven. Last year, the GAO reported (1Mb PDF) that
In Ohio, Governor Ted Strickland said that regardless of the state's sluggish economic picture, he simply did not see the point in taking part in the controversial State Abstinence Education Grant program anymore.
Five other states -- Connecticut, Rhode Island, Montana, New Jersey, and Wisconsin -- have dropped out of the program or plan to do by the end of the year. The program is managed by a unit of the US Department of Heath and Human Service.
Efforts by HHS and states to assess the scientific accuracy of materials used in abstinence-until-marriage education programs have been limited. This is because HHS’s ACF—which awards grants to two programs that account for the largest portion of federal spending on abstinence-until-marriage education—does not review its grantees’ education materials for scientific accuracy and does not require grantees of either program to review their own materials for scientific accuracy.[ ... ]
Most of the efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of abstinence-until-marriage education programs included in GAO’s review have not met certain minimum scientific criteria—such as random assignment of participants and sufficient follow-up periodsAt worst, they're flat out wrong. Again, from the GAO report:
and sample sizes—that experts have concluded are necessary in order for assessments of program effectiveness to be scientifically valid, in part because such designs can be expensive and time-consuming to carry out. In addition, the results of efforts that meet the criteria of a scientifically valid assessment have varied and two key studies funded by HHS that meet these criteria have not yet been completed. When completed, these HHS-funded studies may add substantively to the body of research on the effectiveness of abstinence-until-marriage education programs.
For example, one state official described an instance in which abstinence-until-marriage materials incorrectly suggested that HIV can pass through condoms because the latex used in condoms is porous.As I've mentioned before, I'm a volunteer facilitator for the Our Whole Lives lifespan sexuality education program. Unlike the "abstinence-only" groups, our grade 7-9 curriculum teaches facts about such topics as anatomy, relationships, conception and contraception, STI prevention, abortion, abuse, etc. In fact, several of the youth in this year's class derided the abstinence-only materials they'd received at school, as compared to the OWL curriculum. And, as volunteers, we do all this at no cost to the US taxpayers at all.
As the LA Times notes,
That states are declining such funding alarms abstinence-only groups, which insist that cutting off this source of revenue will close dozens of nonprofit sex education groups and undermine the progress they have made to fight teen pregnancy and curtail the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.I suspect Ms. Unruh's real concern is the danger that the "abstinence-only" movement will wither away if it loses its privileged place suckling on the federal teat. I agree with her that there are youth who don't (currently) want to have sex - but that's no reason not to teach the facts. After all, we teach our youth mathematics (even though most students don't want to be mathematicians), history (even though most students don't want to be historians), home economics (even though most students don't want to cook or clean), etc., etc.
"There are kids who don't want to know how to put on a condom, because they don't want to have sex," said Leslee Unruh, president and chief executive of the South Dakota-based National Abstinence Clearinghouse, the nation's largest network of abstinence educators. "So why can't kids who want to abstain have equal time, funding, and education in the classroom as kids who are having sex?"