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Commentary & Opinion

Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report Summarizes Opinion Pieces on Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Sex Education Programs

December 8, 2004

According to a report released last week by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that was based on a review of 13 of the most commonly used federally funded abstinence-only sex education curricula, 11 of the programs contain "unproved claims, subjective conclusions or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits and when life begins." Several million children have participated in the more than 100 federally funded abstinence-only sex education programs since 1999, when such programs began. Congress has approved a $388 billion omnibus spending measure (HR 4818) for fiscal year 2005 that includes about $168 million for abstinence education programs (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 12/6). Several newspapers recently have published editorials and opinion pieces on the subject, some of which are summarized below.


  • Arizona Daily Star: The "humorous 1950s view of the world and the stereotypical roles assigned to men and women" that infiltrate abstinence-only sex education programs "diminish the credibility" of the curricula among teenagers and "undermin[e] serious efforts to prevent pregnancy and disease," according to a Daily Star editorial. The programs, in addition to being reviewed, should be "cleansed of all religious-based, nonscientific opinion" and should give young people health information that is "accurate, safe and unbiased," the editorial concludes (Arizona Daily Star, 12/8).

  • Bakersfield Californian: Although abstinence-only sex education programs can help prevent teen pregnancy, the "jury is still out" on whether such programs are effective in delaying sexual activity among young people, a Californian editorial says. However, students should have access to "all the information available" in order to make "smart decisions" about their health and futures, the editorial concludes (Bakersfield Californian, 12/5).


  • Daily Oklahoman: Although the curricula of federally funded abstinence-only sex education programs should be reviewed to ensure they are "scientifically accurate and free of misnomers and old wives' tales," the focus on abstinence in sex education "should continue to be a part of the strategy to decrease teenage pregnancy," a Daily Oklahoman editorial says (Daily Oklahoman, 12/6).

  • Daytona Beach News-Journal: Sex education programs should "emphasize abstinence, but they should also acknowledge reality" because about 50% of teenagers will engage in sexual activity before they finish high school, a News-Journal editorial says. Students need comprehensive, factual information about sex, pregnancy and disease prevention in order to "avoid mistakes that could last a lifetime," the editorial concludes (Daytona Beach News-Journal, 12/6).

  • Des Moines Register: Although abstinence-only sex education curricula are funded by public money, "no one is taking a close look" at what these classes are teaching, a Register editorial says. Programs that encourage sexual abstinence are a "worthy endeavor, but students must be told the truth," the editorial concludes (Des Moines Register, 12/7).

  • Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: Congress should refrain from allocating federal dollars to abstinence-only sex education programs until such classes have been proven effective, a Journal Gazette editorial says (Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 12/3).

  • Hartford Courant: Although abstinence should be taught in sex education classes, it should be included in more "comprehensive" curricula that offer "complete" information for young people about "sex and its consequences," a Courant editorial says. It "disrespects and even endangers young people to keep them in the dark about their bodies and to mislead them with myths about sexual health," and sex education should give teenagers "more than half the story," the editorial concludes (Hartford Courant, 12/7).

  • San Francisco Chronicle: Although teaching young people about the benefits of abstaining until marriage "has merit," the information should be "factual and free of misconceptions" and should not be used as a "substitute for a fuller talk on sex and its consequences," according to a Chronicle editorial. Teenagers will be "more likely to listen -- and make wise choices -- if they are presented with straight talk," the editorial concludes (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/8).

Opinion Pieces

  • Marie Cocco, Long Island Newsday: The abstinence-only sex education programs promoted by the Bush administration not only use "scare tactics" but also promote the "stereotype" of women as "damsels in distress" needing to be rescued by a "knight in shining armor," Cocco, a Newsday columnist, writes in a Newsday opinion piece. These programs teach young women that "self-worth is found in a dependent relationship with a man," which could lead "directly to self-destructive sex," Cocco concludes (Cocco, Long Island Newsday, 12/7).

  • Tom Teepen, Austin American-Statesman: Abstinence-only sex education is "a silly undertaking" because it is "hopeless" to think that all adolescents will delay sexual activity until marriage at a time when puberty comes earlier, marriage comes later and "hormones are at their hottest," Teepen, a Cox Newspapers reporter in Atlanta, writes in an American-Statesman opinion piece. Although "youthful promiscuity is a problem," the "effective answers" are to teach "prudence, good judgment and knowledge" instead of using "antiabortion and pre-feminist cant," Teepen concludes (Teepen, Austin American-Statesman, 12/8).

  • Mary-Jane Wagle, Los Angeles Times: Abstinence-only sex education programs "try to scare and shame teens" by teaching the negative ramifications of engaging in sexual activity without giving young people information on how to "stay safe and healthy," Wagle, CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, writes in a Times opinion piece. In addition to being "riddled with errors," the curricula "clearly have no positive effect on the behavior of teens" and yet the Bush administration is "squander[ing] an astonishing" amount of money to fund the programs in FY 2005, Wagle concludes (Wagle, Los Angeles Times, 12/7).

  • Tonyaa Weathersbee, Florida Times-Union: Although "abstinence is being pushed at the expense of accuracy," the Bush administration probably will continue to back the programs "regardless of the inaccuracies," Weathersbee, a Times-Union columnist, writes in a Times-Union opinion piece. It is a "shame" that educators do not trust students to make good decisions without lying to them and that they do not believe abstinence messages are "strong enough" to withstand the facts because teenagers are missing "true, poignant points" about avoiding sexual activity that could "stick with" them for a lifetime, Weathersbee says (Weathersbee, Florida Times-Union, 12/6).

Back to other news for December 8, 2004

Reprinted with permission from You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2004 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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