Just Say No to Abstinence-Only Education

What the Bush administration lacks in veracity and competence, it more than makes up for with piousness and truthiness. Consider the “Just Say No to Sex” campaign—also known as abstinence-only education—which continues to be promoted by the factually-challenged Bush administration, despite increasing evidence that such programs are not only ineffective but often considerably inaccurate, as noted in the following Washington Post report:

Condom Information in Abstinence Programs Called Inaccurate

Each of these assertions turns up in federally funded abstinence-only sex education programs: Condoms fail to prevent HIV infection 31 percent of the time during heterosexual sex. The chances of getting pregnant while using a condom are 1 in 6. And condoms break or slip off nearly 15 percent of the time.

And each of them is wrong, says John S. Santelli, a pediatrician and a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

In a 20-page document submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services this week, Santelli detailed what he calls “misleading” and “scientifically inaccurate” information in three curricula used by programs that receive federal abstinence-only funding. His analysis accompanied a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union demanding that HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt ensure that such programs provide medically accurate information about condoms and sexually transmitted diseases, as required by federal law.

“They have been alerted numerous times, and they haven’t done anything,” said Ava Barbour, an ACLU staff attorney. “Studies have shown that the vast majority of Americans do not remain abstinent until marriage, and they need to have this vital information to protect themselves.” [full text]

The New York Times adds its two cents’ worth (not adjusted for inflation) with this editorial:

The Abstinence-Only Delusion

Reliance on abstinence-only sex education as the primary tool to reduce teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases — as favored by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress — looks increasingly foolish and indefensible.

The abstinence-only campaign has always been driven more by ideology than by sound public health policy. The program’s tight rules, governing states that accept federal matching funds and community organizations that accept federal grants, forbid the promotion of contraceptive use and require teaching that sex outside marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.

At least nine states, by one count, have decided to give up the federal matching funds rather than submit to dictates that undermine sensible sex education. Now there is growing evidence that the programs have no effect on children’s sexual behavior.

A Congressionally mandated report issued this month by the Mathematica Policy Research firm found that elementary and middle school students in four communities who received abstinence instruction — sometimes on a daily basis — were just as likely to have sex in the following years as students who did not get such instruction. Those who became sexually active — about half of each group — started at the same age (14.9 years on average) and had the same number of sexual partners. [full text]

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2 thoughts on “Just Say No to Abstinence-Only Education

  1. Randall Tobias, one of the Bush adm foreign aid officials, a man who promoted abstinence and put so many conditions on condom distibution that you’d have to be a nun to get one, just resigned because he was caught in the middle of a call-girl scandal. it’s funny, the pro-abstinence people can’t even stay home at night with their wives and they want single people to be celibate.

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