I have no problem instilling in our young people that abstinence is the only guaranteed way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. That’s because it is a fact. What I do have a problem with is scaring young adults with false information as a way to accomplish the aforementioned goal. That, I believe, is a dangerous practice.
Unfortunately, this method of prevention by disinformation is commonly employed by abstinence-only sex-ed programs. Falsehoods such as telling young people that HIV can be transmitted by sweat and tears, calling condoms “antiquated” and citing failure rates as high as 70 percent can lead to even riskier practices.
And what’s worse, the public dissemination of this information is being paid for with taxpayer dollars. In a report prepared last year by the House Government Reform Committee’s then-Minority Staff, it was found that over 80 percent of the course material used by over two-thirds of federally funded abstinence-only sex education grant programs contained false, misleading or distorted information about reproductive health.
That’s why I included language in the recently House-passed FY ’08 Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill requiring that organizations seeking federal funding for abstinence-only programs must certify the medical accuracy of any of the claims in the literature they distribute. It would also direct the Secretary of Heath and Human Services to convene a panel of medical experts to review these abstinence-only programs’ grant applications to ensure what the organizations are promoting is medically correct.
Generally speaking, the American public doesn’t support abstinence-only sex-ed. Recent polls have shown that 94 percent of Americans believe it is appropriate to teach children about birth control. And seven out of ten oppose the use of federal funds to promote programs that censor information about condoms and contraception.
Abstinence-only has also been shown to be ineffective. In a congressionally authorized study of four federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs found no statistically significant differences between groups of students exposed to their information and the control group of students.
But these facts have not swayed the Bush Administration, whose support for “abstinence-only” education has expanded funding for these programs significantly. In this year’s Labor, Health and Human Services bill alone, abstinence-only programs were funded to the tune of $141.2 million, a $28 million increase from last year. In the last six years, the federal government has spent a whopping $1.2 billion on abstinence-only education.
As a supporter of comprehensive sex-ed programs — programs that teach our children factual information about abstinence, contraception and STD prevention – it is a concern that abstinence-only education has received so much funding. These are dollars that could be used elsewhere, including for comprehensive sex-ed that have a proven track record.