Congress Studies Whether Abstinence Education Works
March 12, 2002
With teen pregnancies nearing 4 million yearly and another 4 million teenagers contracting STDs annually, abstinence-only sex education advocates contend that their message is the only one preventing teens from putting themselves at risk.
Those involved in the abstinence movement point to the overall drop in teen births in the last decade and present feedback from adolescents that indicate that the wait-until-marriage message is getting through. "It's very successful," said Kathleen Sullivan, director of Project Reality, an abstinence-before-marriage group that publishes some of the curricula.
Opponents who favor comprehensive sex education with an abstinence unit, cite their own feedback from kids and the lower teen birth rates as proof that AIDS awareness and safe sex courses work best. "There is no evidence whatsoever than an abstinence-until-marriage program affects young person's behavior," said Barbara Huberman, director of education and outreach at Advocates for Youth, an organization that promotes comprehensive sex education. "The science in this country tells us the comprehensive, open approach helps kids delay initiation of the first sexual experience."
Congress passed a measure in the Welfare Reform Act that gave states $50 million a year over five years, from 1998-2002, to implement abstinence program. An extra $32 million from other sources also went to fund the initiative. Only California didn't accept the funds because it had tried abstinence education before and found it failed.
Currently, lawmakers are considering upping federal spending to $135 million for the next five years. In response, opponents of abstinence-only education are introducing a parallel bill for consideration, HR 3469, which would give comparable federal funding for comprehensive sex education. Recently, 77 state and national organizations, led by Advocates for Youth, sent a letter to President Bush asking that he withdraw his support from "unproven" abstinence programs. Bush included the abstinence-before-marriage issue on his presidential campaign platform.
Though some programs have been around for more than a decade, statistical evidence on whether abstinence curricula work is hard to get. This is partly because the federally backed initiative is new and varies widely based on how states use the money.
03.11.02; Catherine Donaldson-Evans
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.