June 25, 2007
A new federally funded report found inadequacies in nine sex education curricula that teach both abstinence and contraception. The 40-page Health and Human Services (HHS) report is the Bush administration's latest response to Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) 2004 report revealing medical inaccuracies and misleading information in taxpayer-funded abstinence-only programs.
Requested two years ago by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), the survey of comprehensive sex education showed "very little of the message is around abstinence," said Harry Wilson of the HHS's Administration on Children, Youth and Families. The abstinence-only advocacy group Medical Institute for Sexual Health and the nonprofit Sagamore Institute for Policy Research conducted the $77,000 study. HHS spends $176 million annually on abstinence-only programs, said Wilson, who did not know how much HHS spends on comprehensive sex education.
A keyword search of the Safer Choices Level 1 curriculum found "condoms" mentioned 383 times but "abstinence" only five. However, different words than "abstinence" were used to make the same point, said Douglas Kirby, senior research scientist at ETR Associates, which developed the curriculum. "There's twice as much material in this curriculum on abstinence than on condoms and contraception," he said.
Six curricula contained medical inaccuracies -- most commonly that the spermicide nonoxynol-9 reduces HIV/STD risk. CDC says it does not. The report objected to statements that latex condoms "provide good protection from HIV when used correctly and consistently" during sex because it lacked "explicit details" about condom failure risks.
The report put the probability of pregnancy risk due to latex condom failure at 15 percent with typical use over one year, due to incorrect condom usage. But the Princeton University author of the condom-failure data cited said the HHS report overstated the importance of condom errors. "These examples of medical inaccuracies pale in comparison to those in abstinence-only curricula," said James Trussell, a demographer.