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Editorials and Commentary

Abstinence, Monogamy and Sex

July 29, 2002

"Perhaps one of the best examples of ideology impeding sound public-health policy is the current US administration's insistence that both US and international sex education programmes promote the view that the only sensible approach to avoiding unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections is abstinence until marriage, followed by life-long monogamy.

"Since the mid-1990s the USA has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into such programmes, and many cash-strapped public schools have adopted abstinence-only curricula in order to obtain these much needed federal funds. As a result, more candid and frank programmes have been dropped.... In addition, the discussion of contraception in many of these abstinence-only courses often ignores the benefits of different contraceptive methods, emphasising instead their failure rates and side-effects.

"While sexual abstinence -- at least until one is old enough and mature enough to engage in healthy sexual relationships -- might be advisable, there is little evidence that the abstinence-only approach is effective. Such is the conclusion of several reviews including one conducted by the US Surgeon General in 2001 and another conducted by the Committee on HIV Prevention Strategies in the United States... [which] urged US policymakers to 'eliminate requirements that public funds be used for abstinence-only education, and that states and local school districts implement and continue to support age-appropriate comprehensive sex education and condom availability programs.'

"Comprehensive sex-education programmes -- sometimes called abstinence-plus -- promote abstinence but also recognise that many teenagers are or will soon become sexually active no matter what they are told. ...Comprehensive sex education programmes have been endorsed by almost every major American medical association....

"...Denying young people full and accurate information about sex, contraception, and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases not only puts them at needless risk, but also threatens to undermine their trust and respect of some of society's most important institutions: its schools, health system, and government officials. Young people today are exposed to a myriad of influences ranging from their parents and peers to music, film, video, and the Internet. Only if they are provided with all the information they need to make their own decisions will they be able to decide wisely."

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Adapted from:
07.13.02; Vol. 360; No. 9327: P. 97

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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