The Religious Consultation
on Population, Reproductive Health  and Ethics
 


 revisiting the world's sacred traditions


Moving Forward , May 7, 2007

Newspaper Editorials on Comprehensive Sex Education
and Abstinence-Only Education

Over the past two weeks, dozens of newspapers across the U.S. have been editorializing in support of comprehensive sex education and in opposition to abstinence-only. Interestingly, not one has editorialized in support of abstinence-only education. This is heartening given the strong public support for comprehensive Sex Education in America. In fact, recent research commissioned by Moving Forward, an initiative of the Women Donors Network and the Communications Consortium Media Center, demonstrates that support is strong not just for comprehensive sex education (86%), but also for teen access to contraception services (76%) across almost all voters.

As the new Congress decides the fate of comprehensive sex education
and abstinence-only education, the editorials point out a few rather sobering facts of life:

Congress and the states have spent a staggering $1.5 billion over the last 10 years on these programs despite all the evidence that they simply do not work.
Every day in this country 10,000 young people get an STD, 2,400 become pregnant, and 55 contract HIV
46 percent of all 15- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. have had sexual intercourse at least once, yet only 10 percent of American school districts currently practice a comprehensive sexual education policy.

Read all the editorials below. Please email us if you have seen any that we missed.

May 2, 2007 Vancouver Sun: Ideology trumps reason in abstinence-only programs
April 28, 2007 The New York Times: The Abstinence-only delusion
April 26, 2007 Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale): Best way to stop abortion is honest sex education
April 26, 2007 California Aggie (Davis): Congressional abstinence study
April 25, 2007 Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield): Drop abstinence only education
April 25, 2007 Orlando Sentinel: Fix sex-ed program; Our position: Congress should recognize that abstinence-only message isn't working
April 25, 2007 The Lantern (Columbus): Abstinence sex-ed
April 25, 2007 The Boston Globe: Abstain from this money
April 24, 2007 Christian Science Monitor: Honesty about abstinence-only
April 23, 2007 Des Moines Register: Facts should be only sex-education agenda
April 23, 2007 Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale): Teen sex; A lot of money to state the obvious
April 22, 2007 Winston-Salem Journal: Abstinence education
April 22, 2007 Sunday Oregonian: Honeymoon's over for abstinence-only fad
April 21, 2007 Star Tribune (Minneapolis): End ineffective abstinence education
April 20, 2007 Daily Kansan (Lawrence): Abstinence failing as sex education tool
April 19, 2007 Telegram & Gazette (Worcester): Just say no; Congress should not fund discredited technique
April 19, 2007 Daily Kent Stater: 'Just say no' is no guarantee
April 18, 2007 The Boston Globe: Just Say No More Waste
April 18, 2007 Patriot-News (Harrisburg): Averting teen pregnancy; Sex ed should be stressed, as well as abstinence
April 18, 2007 The Washington Post: Let's Talk About Sex; Just saying no is not enough.
April 18, 2007 Yukon News: Abstinence programs don't solve the problem
April 17, 2007 Philadelphia Daily News: Why is PA. riding 'abstinence' gravy train?: State should abstain from applying for these funds
April 17, 2007 The Tennessean (Nashville): Abstinence has role in broader, more realistic sex education

FULL TEXT BELOW
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ideology trumps reason in abstinence-only programs

Date: May 2, 2007
Source: Vancouver Sun

Smart people don't spend money on programs that don't work. Policy-makers who continue to advocate abstinence-only programs as the key to sexual health in North America and overseas are letting ideology get in the way of reason.

In the mid-1990s, the government of the United States started a grant program to support abstinence-only programs in American schools. In 1998, Congress commissioned a study from Mathematica Policy Research to find out how well the programs actually work.

The short answer, according to data released last month, is that they don't work at all. Asking whether abstinence programs work is not the same as asking whether abstinence works. Everyone agrees that abstinence is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of disease. Most parents and public health officials would prefer that young people not have sex until they are in mature, long-term and monogamous relationships.

The problem is that there is no magic wand that turns teenagers into the people their parents and the authorities want them to be.

Even ascertaining what's going on in the lives of young people is a difficult task. As the preamble to the Mathematica report points out, the number of teenagers reporting that they are having sex has been declining since 1991. Statistics aren't much comfort, though, to parents who hear frightening stories about casual sex at ever younger ages, about stupid sexualized party games and rituals that go far beyond Spin the Bottle. Parents fear, understandably, that the very definition of childhood is being eroded.

Given those fears and the ubiquity of sexual images in our culture, the appeal of abstinence programs is obvious. But if they aren't helping children, they're only there to assuage the fears of adults.

Mathematica studied the impact on students of four abstinence-education programs in elementary and middle schools in Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin and Mississippi. To receive funding, these programs must have as their "exclusive purpose" the promotion of abstinence from premarital sex.

Mathematica found that youth in the programs were no more likely to abstain from sex than their peers in the control group. Those who did have sex while they were still teenagers had it for the first time at the same age: 15. They had the same number of partners as their peers. They were just as likely to become pregnant or contract a disease.

While abstinence programs don't seem to do any good, they also don't seem to do any harm. They didn't affect the students' understanding of sex and anatomy, or make them more likely to engage in unprotected sex.

Many supporters of abstinence programs are undaunted by the lack of positive results; they say that more programs need to be studied. There isn't much harm in doing more studies, but there is harm in continuing to direct money to abstinence programs that could almost certainly be better spent elsewhere.

There is also harm in using foreign aid to push an abstinence-only agenda in poor countries. If it doesn't work within the U.S., there's a good chance it won't work in Africa either. Good policy in any country is policy based on facts.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Abstinence-only delusion

Date: April 28, 2007
Source: The New York Times

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. The chief caveat is that none of the four programs studied continued the abstinence instruction into high school, the most sexually active period for most teenagers, so it is not known whether more sustained abstinence education would show more effectiveness.

Supporters of abstinence-only education sometimes point to a sharp decline in teenage pregnancy rates in recent years as proof that the programs must be working. But a paper by researchers at Columbia University and the Guttmacher Institute, published in the January issue of The American Journal of Public Health, attributed 86 percent of the decline to greater and more effective use of contraceptives -- and only 14 percent to teenagers' deciding to wait longer to start having sex. At the very least, that suggests that the current policy of emphasizing abstinence and minimizing contraceptive use should be turned around.

As Congress prepares to debate further financing, it should either drop the abstinence-only program as a waste of money or broaden it to include safe-sex instruction. Abstinence deserves to be part of a comprehensive sex education effort, but not the only part.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Best way to stop abortion is honest sex education

Date: April 26, 2007
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale)
Author: Mike Berardino

The abortion debate frustrates Joan Specht. She has been a nurse at Planned Parenthood in Broward County for eight years, and was a labor and delivery nurse at a Boca Raton hospital before that. She has helped deliver healthy babies and has helped women who've decided to abort.

With the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruling that lawmakers can ban certain abortion procedures, she worries that women's control over their bodies is being chipped away.

But she also has another, more pressing concern: that teens aren't getting properly educated to avoid unwanted pregnancies -- and the need for abortions -- to begin with.

"We're living in a state of denial," Specht said. "The approach that's being taken is so head-in-the-sand."

More and more, there's been a push toward abstinence-only programs and limited sex education in schools.

For that we have conservative religious groups and the politicians who pander to them to thank.

After two terms of Jeb Bush in the Florida governor's mansion and two terms of George W. Bush in the White House, abstinence groups have gotten a big funding boost and entrée into public schools.

So instead of learning the whole range of options when it comes to preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, more kids are being taught to just say no.

And what has it gotten us?

More abortions than ever in Florida and Broward.

In 1998, the year before Jeb Bush took office, there were 82,335 abortions in Florida, and 10,328 in Broward, according to state health records.

In 2005, the latest year for which stats are available, there were 92,513 abortions in Florida, 14,623 in Broward.

The records didn't provide a breakdown of abortions by age.

On the bright side, there has been a decrease in births by mothers 18 and younger during the same period statewide, from 16,949 to 14,802.

Whether that's because more teens are celibate, more teens are using contraception or more teens are having abortions is open to debate.

All Specht knows is it's getting harder for Planned Parenthood to get its message out and provide services to teens.

Specht raised five daughters, now 37-42, in Fort Myers, and she said Planned Parenthood representatives would come into their high schools to give talks on reproductive health.

"Now, we can't even get into schools to present the information," Specht said. "We've regressed."

The federal government recently released results of a study it sponsored evaluating abstinence programs in schools. It found that students in the programs had sex at about the same rates and at the same age as those who weren't in the programs.

Planned Parenthood has been demonized for talking openly about sex and offering comprehensive services, including emergency contraception (the so-called morning-after pill) and abortions.

Planned Parenthood doesn't do surgical abortions at its four Broward clinics, but it does provide medication abortions with the RU-486 pill.

Specht would much prefer that sexually active teens learn how to prevent pregnancy and disease..

To that end, she oversees Teen Health Broward, a program that provides counseling, testing and contraception services for 13- to 17-year-olds. Some come with their parents, some come alone. The cost is $30 for males, $50 for females, and includes exams, Pap smears, STD/HIV testing, condoms and birth control pills.

"It's all by word of mouth," Specht said.

She said about 100 new teen patients enroll every month at clinics in Fort Lauderdale, Tamarac and Pembroke Pines.

"We teach them respect for sex and respect for themselves," Specht said. "We talk about abstinence, but we also talk about the steps they need to take if they don't remain abstinent."

How logical.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Congressional abstinence study

Date: April 26, 2007
Source: California Aggie (Davis)

The recent congressional study that found abstinence-only sexual education programs to be no more effective than safe-sex education reaffirms findings of other studies, and should encourage American public schools to adopt a more comprehensive sexual education policy.

The study, which began in 1997 and concluded Apr. 13, observed over 2,000 children from middle school and older, mostly from schools in Powhatan, Va.; Miami, Fla.; Milwaukee, Wis., and Clarksdale, Miss. It found that "there were no differences between those who took this [abstinence-only] program and those who did not," according to Mathematica Policy Research Inc., which was involved in the study.

Undercutting President Bush's recent $28 million increase in the budget for abstinence-only programs, the study's findings demand that the federal government consider funding comprehensive sexual education -- a program that would include information about safe sex in addition to abstinence.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 46 percent of all 15- to 19-year-olds in the United States have had sexual intercourse at least once. However, because only 10 percent of American school districts currently practice a comprehensive sexual education policy, according to Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., it is clear that congressional attention to this issue is necessary.

Despite the study's findings, teen pregnancy rates dropped 36 percent between 1991 and 2005, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. These numbers could be attributed to the increased openness in sexual discussion that has developed over the past decade in the United States -- a trend Bush should have noted before allocating millions of dollars to an outdated, ignorant and religiously motivated budgetary decision.

Since the study only included four states and examined only 2,000 adolescents over 10 years, its accuracy in representing teens' sexual behavior could face criticism. However, because it is a congressional study rather than privately conducted, it is promising, as it has a greater potential to affect legislation.

A more thorough congressional study should be conducted in order to represent the other 46 states. While a more comprehensive study can be waited on, a more comprehensive sexual education for the nation's youth cannot.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Drop abstinence only education

Date: April 25, 2007
Source: Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield)

Abstinence-only sex education is naive at best, dangerous at worst, and now we know it doesn't even do what its advocates say it does. Buttressed by a federal study revealing that abstinence-only programs have no impact upon the behavior of students, Governor Patrick wants to end state-sponsored abstinence programs and focus instead on more realistic efforts. That proposal deserves support.

The governor plans to join several other states in declining a federal $700,000 grant for abstinence-only education that is so restrictive as to be worthless. This puts him at odds with the House, which wants to accept the money for the program while requiring school districts offering the abstinence program to also provide sex education classes. It makes little sense, however, to burden students with two separate programs when one of them is worthless and a waste of federal tax dollars.

The federal study of 2,000 teens in both urban and suburban communities revealed that students in a control group receiving abstinence-only education and those in another control group that did not were equally likely to engage in sex and were also equally likely to use condoms. While this strongly indicates that abstinence-only education has no benefits, it doesn't measure the potential perils of a program that is not realistic about teenage behavior. "Just say no," whether it applies to sex or drugs, is dangerously naive and simplistic, and is no way to address serious issues from AIDS, to teen pregnancy, to drug addiction.

Teenagers are more worldly now than ever, and given the pressures of a pervasive mass media, we will not be returning to a simpler time where they can be shielded or dictated to. While teens should be encouraged to avoid sexual activity until they are emotionally ready, it should be assumed that they won't do so. It is wiser to be realistic and educate them about contraception than it is to idealistically hope they will abstain from sex, taking a chance that a disease or unwanted pregnancy will result. Realistic sex education is also a good way to cut down on abortions.

Six states, including neighboring Connecticut, have opted out of a restrictive federal grant program that does more harm than good. Unless Washington lifts the restrictions and allows the money to be used for a beneficial sex education program, Massachusetts should do so as well.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fix sex-ed program; Our position: Congress should recognize that abstinence-only message isn't working

Date: April 25, 2007
Source: Orlando Sentinel

When it comes to sex education, Congress should stop saying "yes" to schools just saying "no."

Abstinence-only programs at participating schools simply haven't worked, according to a study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Kids enrolled in them over four to six years were just as likely to have sex, and as early and with as many partners, as other students.

But Congress has time to fix the program, which unfortunately it has given $176 million annually to maintain. When it comes up for renewal in June, lawmakers should replace it with a comprehensive sex-education option that adds safe-sex lessons to teachers just saying "no."

No use stubbornly subsidizing that mantra alone when so many hearing it instead are saying "yes."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Abstinence sex-ed

Date: April 25, 2007
Source: The Lantern (Columbus)

Granville (Ohio) school district recently received a proposal to expand its sex education curriculum from abstinence only to an optional program on safe sex and contraceptives, according to an article Monday in The Columbus Dispatch. The new program would require parental permission for students to attend the classes, and it comes on the heels of Gov. Ted Strickland's decision earlier this year to reject federal funding for abstinence-only programs.

A recent Health and Human Services study found the abstinence programs, which cost the federal government $176 million annually, to be largely ineffective. The study showed teens who participated in abstinence education have about the same sexual behavior as teens who did not attend the classes. Both groups of teens experienced their first sexual intercourse at the same age on average, 14.9 years.

The Lantern believes it is imperative to teach children as young as junior high students how to engage in responsible sexual behavior and minimize risks. Some might say the only responsible sexual behavior is abstinence, and we agree 14 years old is too young to start having sex, but visions of chaste teens roaming high school halls are pure fantasy. The best thing we can do is attempt to remove the stigma a little so teenagers will make safe choices. We think the optional program on contraceptives and safe sex practices should be the norm, with abstinence listed only as one more option.

One thing often overlooked but addressed by the Granville problem is educating teens how to talk to their partners about taking the proper precautions. It is not an easy topic to bring up, and we need to do our best to change that.

Abstinence-only education tends to fail on two levels. First, it is unrealistic to believe teenagers going through natural changes are going to abstain from sex. Abstinence education basically tells teens not to have sex, and if they do they are on their own to deal with the consequences. Second, the Dispatch article cited a Case Western study from 2005 showing abstinence programs sometimes exaggerate the rate of condom failure and claim birth control pills increase the risk of infertility. Those of us who graduated from Ohio public high schools saw firsthand how abstinence education deals with the topics of birth control and sexually transmitted diseases -- by showing slides of STDs and emphasizing the only way to avoid them was through abstinence.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy says the most effective programs show abstinence is the best choice but provide comprehensive knowledge on birth control, contraceptives and other means to minimize risks to those who have sex. We think this is common sense -- those who do not have sex do not get pregnant -- but again they emphasize the need to educate students on the options available to them.

Research by the Guttmacher Institute has shown that by age 20, 75 percent of people have had premarital sex. It is important that we recognize this reality and remind everyone that there are a variety of ways to engage in sexual behavior safely, and not just those proposed in Tuesday's Penelope column.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Abstain from this money

Date: April 25, 2007
Source: The Boston Globe

A GOOD school sex-education program spells out the advantages of delaying sex until the proper age but also informs students about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. In some districts in Massachusetts and elsewhere, schools use federal grants funneled through the state to pay for an additional program that promotes abstinence to the exclusion of other means of birth control. Since a congressionally mandated study last week showed these additional programs have no effect on students' sexual behavior, Governor Patrick is right to stop applying for the $700,000 in federal grant money that has been supporting such programs.

His action, however, does not put an end to abstinence-only instruction in Massachusetts. The nonprofit organization providing the instruction, Healthy Futures, also gets $600,000 directly from the federal government for its work in about a dozen communities. School officials in those communities should draw the same conclusions as the governor has from the new study and reconsider their inclusion of this instruction in their curricula.

It isn't just money that the abstinence-only programs waste. They also waste the students' time, at a point when students, parents, and teachers all complain about the difficulty of finding enough time in the crowded school day for elective academic subjects while also preparing students for the MCAS tests. Sex education should be part of the public school curriculum, but it should be comprehensive and it should not be supplemented or replaced by a singular, ineffective approach to sexuality.

Until recently, the Commonwealth had used the grant money that Congress makes available to the state for abstinence-only education to pay for public-service announcements and supplementary educational materials. In late 2005, then-Governor Romney decided to change the state's policy and steer the federal money to actual classroom programs that were already being supported by the direct federal grants. It was one of several steps he took to win favor with social conservatives among Republican primary voters as he moved closer to his decision to become a presidential candidate.

Some state legislators still want the state to accept funding for the abstinence-only classroom programs. They should review the thorough, four-year study of four such programs that a Princeton, N.J., research firm, Mathematica, recently completed. The study showed no significant difference in sexual activity between students who had been in abstinence-only classes and those who had not. Even before the report, several states had decided to stop applying for the grants. The verdict is clear. Students need sex instruction that is complete, not based on one all-too-fallible strategy.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Honesty about abstinence-only

Date: April 24, 2007
Source: Christian Science Monitor

It wasn't supposed to turn out this way. The abstinence-only sex-education programs on which the federal government has been spending around $176 million a year have been shown to have zero effect. That's right: zero.

"Abstinence-only" classes in public schools, funded by provisions of the 1996 federal welfare reform law, focus on the message of waiting until marriage. They do not teach about contraception or safe sex.

But a national study that tracked 2,000 young people over several years has found no evidence that such classes as currently taught actually increased rates of sexual abstinence. It found that program participants had similar numbers of sexual partners compared with peers who were not in the specialized abstinence programs.

Among teens who had sex by the end of the period of the study, the average age of their first intercourse was the same for participants as for nonparticipants: 14.9 years.

This is especially disappointing given that earlier research seemed to indicate that abstinence programs were at least changing teen attitudes, if not behavior.

The study, carried out by the nonpartisan firm Mathematica Policy Research Inc., did turn up some interesting threads for further study. It suggests that peer relationships are important predictors for abstinence - in other words, that young people will refrain from sex if their close friends do, too. The study also found no particular increase in unprotected sex.

Sex education, of course, is primarily the responsibility of parents, and shouldn't be confined solely to the classroom. Parents, along with religious communities, can impart messages of restraint, unselfishness, and commitment that shape relationships. Where these values are lacking in the home, then public schools can have a role, one with difficult policy choices, as this report points out.

Critics of abstinence-only have used the study to say, "I told you so!"

"This is social agenda masquerading as teen pregnancy prevention," said Martha Kempner of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US. "This administration has allowed ideology to trump science." Voices on the other side have called for the programs to continue. And a top federal official, commenting that the study lacked rigor, said the government has no intention of changing funding priorities in light of the study - which was conducted for the US Department of Health and Human Services.

So where do we go from here?

To confront the apparent failures of abstinence programs is not to give up on teen abstinence as a standard.

The welfare reform that led to these classes was a collaboration between President Clinton and a Republican Congress. Now the Bush administration, faced with allegations of ignoring science, has an opportunity to refute that charge by heeding these findings and retooling its efforts.

It may be that sex education that includes abstinence is more useful than abstinence-only classes. The head of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy said Mathematica's research supports what other studies show: "The most effective programs are those that say abstinence is the best choice but birth control and protection are also worth knowing about."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Facts should be only sex-education agenda

Date: April 23, 2007
Source: Des Moines Register

Abstinence-only sex education doesn't stop - or even delay - teen sex. This was among the findings in a recent study commissioned by Congress.

Researchers tracked 2,000 children from elementary or middle school into high school. Just under 60 percent were assigned to an abstinence-only education program. The remainder were assigned to a control group. By the end of the study, members of both groups had their first sexual encounter at the same average age. In both groups, only 23 percent reported always using a condom when having sex. Those who were sexually active reported having two or more partners.

Teens have sex. Even when educators encourage them not to.

That's why sex education should not be driven by ideology. Abstinence-only programs please certain right-wing constituencies. But they apparently don't do much for teens.

Sex education can and should promote abstinence as the best option for teens. But the programs must also acknowledge that many of these students will not abstain from sex. Classes should teach about contraceptives and safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases. Sex education should inform teens about the real world - a world where people have sex outside of marriage. It should help them understand the risks and responsibilities that come with sex.

Abstinence-only education is not only ineffective, it can be misleading.

A 2004 investigation by staffers of U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman of California found 11 of the 13 most popular abstinence programs taught to millions of youth misled students with misinformation - such as HIV is spread through tears and a 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person."

Iowa schools used curricula among those found to contain "false, misleading or distorted information."

In 2004, the Register's editorial page examined a textbook for abstinence-only classes in several Iowa middle schools. One lesson claimed that problems from poverty to depression "can be totally eliminated" by being abstinent until marriage.

You won't be poor if you don't have sex until you get married?

That was news to us.

The Iowa Legislature took a step toward improving sex education when it passed legislation requiring these programs be factual and based on research. Gov. Chet Culver signed the proposal into law Friday. Telling teens the truth should be the only agenda in sex ed.

Read the report: To read the report on abstinence-education programs visit www.mathematica-mpr.com and look under New Publications.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Teen sex; A lot of money to state the obvious

Date: April 23, 2007
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale)

The Bush Administration has spent about $176 million on abstinence-until-marriage programs for teens to find out what many people already know: abstinence classes alone don't dissuade young people from having sex.

A four-year study ordered by Congress basically came up with findings that most 15-year-olds could have told the government for free. Youngsters in abstinence education classes -- a program in Miami was one of four that were reviewed nationwide -- first had sex at about the same time as other students who did not attend the classes, 14.9 years.

In a perfect world, abstinence until marriage would be ideal. We do not live in a perfect world. Most disturbing about the report is that among those who did and didn't take the classes, only 23 percent said they always used condoms.

Hopefully, the study leads to more wide-ranging sex education. And maybe next time, Congress could save a few bucks by just getting out and talking to teenagers.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Abstinence education

Date: April 22, 2007
Source: Winston-Salem Journal

Abstinence education isn't working. It's not persuading our children to delay sexual activity until marriage, and it is not reducing unwed pregnancies.

That finding from a congressional study should be enough to spur legislation currently before the General Assembly. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Linda Garrou, expands the sexual education curriculum for North Carolina's children and brings with it a more realistic understanding of what is happening in the lives of young people.

Make no mistake about it. Abstinence education is extremely important, and it remains part of the curriculum under the Garrou bill.

But schools cannot adequately teach abstinence by themselves. Children arrive at the school door bearing the values instilled by parents - either values that parents with years of hard work taught them or values learned on the street because parents relinquished their obligations.

In the real world, a school teaching abstinence to a child who is getting no similar encouragement from home is probably wasting its time. Parents, families and support groups have a far greater impact on a child's moral values than do teachers and schools. They are the bedrock of the growth of a young person.

That's why this study, ordered up while Republicans controlled Congress, is so important. It says to people who really care about driving down the rate of teen promiscuity that their focus on the schools has been misguided. Their focus should be on families, churches and other social institutions.

Abstinence education belongs in the curriculum. Students need to learn the many health reasons why abstinence is best. But, in a diverse population of children from families with a variety of attitudes toward sexuality and human reproduction, children will not adequately learn moral values in a public-school system. Morals are best taught in churches and homes.

North Carolina children need good, solid health and science education about sexuality. The congressional study found that children who take an abstinence-only sex-ed program engage in teen sex at the same rate as those who have a broader program or none at all.

The difference between the two groups, however, is that one is learning how to protect itself from sexually transmitted diseases and the other is not. One is learning how to prevent pregnancy when engaging in premarital relations, while the other is not.

It's time for parents to take their jobs seriously, to teach their children their values. The schools can reinforce those values and provide the health and science education needed in this area. North Carolina students need a comprehensive sex-education program.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Honeymoon's over for abstinence-only fad

Date: April 22, 2007
Source: Sunday Oregonian

Oregon never embraced the "abstinence-only" movement funded by the Bush administration. It never decided, as a matter of state policy, to fight teen pregnancy and promiscuity by treating premarital sex as a sin and contraceptives as contraband.

Oregon instead supports comprehensive sex education that encourages abstinence without enshrining it. The approach has paid off. The state's pregnancy rate for girls under 18 has plummeted by almost 50 percent since 1990 and remains well below the national average, equaling fewer young families stuck in poverty and thousands of abortions prevented.

Meanwhile, the federal government's billion-dollar investment in abstinence-only education appears to be money down the drain. This shows the value of public policy grounded in reality rather than wishful thinking -- and of sex education that develops teenagers' brains and communication skills rather than flogs their morals.

The federal government threw about $1.5 billion into abstinence-only programs over the past decade, with a sharp increase in spending under the Bush administration. These programs teach teenagers to abstain from sex until marriage. They avoid facts about contraceptives, under the theory that this information undermines the abstinence message.

Unfortunately, the programs don't do much good. A much-anticipated national study, authorized by Congress in 1997 and released this month, found that abstinence-only programs don't keep teenagers from having sex.

About half of the 2,000 students in this long-term study remained virgins by age 17. The other half lost their virginity at around 15 years old, on average. The teenagers who received abstinence-only education behaved no differently than the ones who didn't. They were also just as likely to have two or more sex partners.

This is the uncomfortable reality: Though today's teenagers are less likely to get pregnant than their parents were, they still grow up in a culture that sells sex.

Oregon gets about $400,000 a year in federal money to promote abstinence and additional funds for family planning. It uses most of the "abstinence-only" money for a worthwhile program that trains high-school leaders to talk to preteens about dealing with peer pressure and avoiding premarital sex.

Mostly, however, Oregon strives for a comprehensive approach to sex education and family planning. The state requires school districts that teach sex ed to stress abstinence while also providing thorough information about contraception. Oregon further ranks among the nation's top 10 states for its family-planning efforts and access to contraception.

It's no surprise that Oregon's broad approach pays off in fewer abortions, fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer teenagers in the dark. The feds should take notice -- and spend taxpayers' money on policies that work.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

End ineffective abstinence education

Date: April 21, 2007
Source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

For nearly a decade, Congress has spent upwards of $50 million each year to spur abstinence-focused sex education for teens; Minnesota, in turn, has spend several million dollars of state matching funds on ENABL, its version of the program. This year it's time to stop the experiment at both levels of government.

Public health officials and parents alike recognize that teens who delay having sex until they're older reap personal and societal rewards. The question is how best to affect not only teen attitudes and beliefs but teen behavior as well; we've now learned that the programs evaluated in a multiyear study failed that crucial test.

A scientific, congressionally mandated study reported last week that young people in the Title V, Section 510 abstinence programs initiated sex at the same age as other teens, and had the same number of partners. About half of the teens in each group abstained from sex.

In short, teens who received abstinence-focused education behaved just the way other teens do. The only good news for abstinence education in the report was that "contrary to concerns raised by some critics ... program group youth were no more likely to have engaged in unprotected sex than control group youth." They used condoms at the same rate.

What this all means is that while these programs did no harm, they did no more good than any other sex-education program. As Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., put it, "American taxpayers appear to have paid over $1 billion ... for programs that have no impact."

The implication is clear: While values and instincts led Congress to pay big bucks to encourage "abstinence-only" education, its own research effort points toward a new direction: innovative, comprehensive pilot programs to establish what actually works best.

Such programs would undoubtedly include advice about abstinence. As Martha Kempner of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States told the Washington Post, "Comprehensive education means teaching about abstinence and a myriad of other topics." She included among those subjects "contraception, critical thinking, one's own values and the values of your family and your religious community."

Several states, including Wisconsin, have rejected Title V funding, which requires participating states' programs to refrain from discussing contraception and to use marriage as the "expected standard" for sexual activity. If Congress renews this program despite its lack of efficacy, Minnesota should join them.

NO MORE, NO LESS: "Findings indicate that youth in the program group were no more likely than control group youth to have abstained from sex and ... they had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same mean age."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Abstinence failing as sex education tool

Date: April 20, 2007
Source: Daily Kansan (Lawrence)

A recent study commissioned by Congress revealed last week what pragmatists have long suspected: That abstinence-only sex education is failing. The study found that students who participated in abstinence education programs were not only just as likely as non-participants to have sex, but also frequently had the same number of sexual partners.

Programs that promote abstinence more than safe sex have been criticized for years as ignorant and wholly impractical, and perhaps even dangerous, in their opposition to birth control. Not surprisingly, the debate has often been heated and fraught with theological implications. Further, the implementation and execution of abstinence programs in American schools has cost taxpayers around $175 million a year, making it an issue that affects every taxed American.

Though many critics will tell you differently, the primary problem of abstinence education has never been its admittedly unsettling religious overtones, which can come perilously close to religious education in public schools. The real problem with abstinence education is that it is rooted in absolutism, and thus refuses to acknowledge both adaptations and realities of the evolving world around it.

The programs make one dangerous assumption: That with proper motivation, hormone-saturated teenagers can be convinced to overcome their most primal urges. This goal is noble in purpose and perhaps someday achievable in practice, but, as this study confirms, has proven both impractical and costly in practice.

In the face of increasing teenage sexual activity, the answer is not to retreat into a shell of blind ignorance of the world around us. Uncomfortable though it may make us, educators must acknowledge and address practical solutions.

The roads of history are littered with institutions and organizations that refused to adapt to changing realities -- sex education is too integral to children's health to become one of those institutions.

The study did include one positive note: Students in abstinence programs were no more likely to have unprotected sex than those in other programs. A criticism of abstinence programs has been that their ignorance of birth control can lead to more unprotected sex, but this study dispels that point. At the very least, we can take solace in this result of abstinence programs.

Abstinence-only programs may someday be suitable in American education, but for now they have proven too costly and too unfeasible. Proponents of such programs would do well to recall the strange and new tension of their own teenage years, and to recognize that absolute and unilateral solutions rarely fit complicated health dilemmas.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Just say no; Congress should not fund discredited technique

Date: April 19, 2007
Source: Telegram & Gazette (Worcester)

The federal government must stop pouring millions of dollars of taxpayers' money down the rat-hole of "abstinence-only sexual education."

A recent study conducted by the government itself concludes that young people who attended classes aimed at preventing pre-marital pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases by spurning sex are just as likely to engage in intercourse as those who have not participated in such classes.

Neither did abstinence-program participants have fewer partners, fewer pregnancies or fewer sexually transmitted diseases.

Apparently the master key to denying human nature has not yet been found.

Supporters of abstinence-only efforts say they need more time to work with young people. The control group studied had one to three years of abstinence education, and the advocates say they now realize that teaching must be ongoing. They attack the timing of the report's release: Grant funding expires in June, so Congress must act before then if efforts are to continue. They complain the sample studied was too small: four out of 700 programs.

Abstinence-only sex education is thinly disguised religious indoctrination. As such, it is totally inappropriate to make it the first, last and only word of purported public health classes in public school classrooms. Instead it should be a part of a young person's education about sex that comes from family and clergy.

While it would be a sad mistake to deny the social costs inherent in premature sexual activity, taxpayers' money should be used for safeguards with a good track record, not experimental deterrents.

Congress should just say no to the $87.5 million appropriation being sought for the abstinence only-program.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

'Just say no' is no guarantee

Date: April 19, 2007
Source: Daily Kent Stater

Well, it's official: Teenagers have sex.

Congress said so.

More accurately, a study ordered by Congress has found that abstinence-only education programs do not guarantee students won't have sex. The study, which began in 1999, surveyed 11- and 12-year-old students in four abstinence programs around the country and did follow-up surveys in 2005 and 2006.

The study found the students who attended one of the four abstinence classes were just as likely to have sex as those who did not go to the classes. They also had similar numbers of sexual partners. Even the ages at which they lost their virginity (14.9 years old) were comparable.

Granted, we're not experts, but if teens are having sex as young as almost 15, it seems the $176 million a year the Bush administration is giving to abstinence-only education could be put to better use.

Abstinence is an important part of a teenager's education. But that's what it is, a part of a complete education. Teenagers need to know how to practice safer sex. As critics of abstinence-only programs have argued and this study shows, some teenagers still choose to have sex, regardless of the education.

Schools are supposed to prepare students for the lives ahead of them. At one point or another, sex becomes a part of their lives. Any school that doesn't educate students about their sexuality is neglectful of the students' needs.

There is more to teaching safer sex to students than throwing a handful of condoms at a kid and saying, "Use them." They need to know how each form of protection and contraception works and the proper way to use them. They also need to know what they cannot do.

Along with physical protection comes the need to teach students how to mentally and emotionally prepare and protect themselves. Sex isn't just a simple act. Casting all of the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy aside for the moment, one of the biggest complications associated with sex is emotion.

Young adults before, during and after puberty have to deal with a whole new range of emotions and feelings, not to mention hormones. It's very easy to get caught up in the moment and go too far without thinking about all the consequences. Students need some preparation and explanation for what their bodies and minds are going through. It's very easy to go from love, lust and passion to regret, shame and embarrassment.

Sex education needs to be comprehensive in that it does not ignore any aspect of being a healthy, sexual human being. Abstinence and safer sex practices both need to be a part of it. Students need to know they will have to make a decision about their sex lives at some point in their lives, whether it's to abstain until marriage or to have sex before marriage. They also need to know about what goes along with sex, from the physical to the emotional.

It's not supposed to be an easy thing to teach because it shouldn't be an easy decision to make. Sex is complicated no matter how old you are. There isn't one right answer when it comes to deciding to have sex before or after marriage. That decision is different for each person because everyone feels ready at a different time.

That's why we need to be prepared.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Just Say No More Waste

Date: April 18, 2007
Source: The Boston Globe

EACH YEAR, Washington spends about $50 million and the states some $37.5 million on programs telling elementary- and middle-school students that the only way for young people to protect themselves from the harmful effects of early sex is abstinence. But the programs do not work, according to a four-year study mandated by Congress.

In the study's two urban and two rural settings, high-school students who were graduates of abstinence-only classes were just as likely to have had sex as students from the four communities who did not attend the classes. In both groups, to which the students were assigned randomly, about half remained abstinent until interviewed in the follow-up, at an average age of 16..5.

The federal programs expire June 30 if Congress doesn't renew them. Based on the $7.7 million study of their impact by Mathematica Policy Research Inc., Congress should stop wasting taxpayers' money. Lawmakers should also mandate that the Bush administration do similar research on the effect of abstinence-only programs in President Bush's comprehensive effort to address HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. Congress has insisted that one-third of all HIV-prevention money pay for abstinence-only training in those countries. It is conceivable that such efforts are more successful outside the United States, but until that is shown to be the case the abstinence-only training requirement should be dropped in the overseas AIDS program.

It is striking in the US study how similar the results were for the 2,000 students, regardless of whether they went through the abstinence-only classes. About a quarter of students in both groups had had sex with three or more partners, and in both groups students initiated sex at the same mean age, 14.9.

One encouraging result is that the youths from the abstinence classes were about as likely as the other students to use condoms when they had sex, refuting the fear of critics of abstinence programs that such programs leave young people less informed about how to protect themselves during sex. In all four communities, all students also took health classes that in some cases included instruction about contraception.

Abstinence, especially when it is advocated by parents, clergy, and a student's peers, should be part of the message that young people hear about sex. But as a protection against sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies, the abstinence message goes only so far. Congress should drop its abstinence-only programs and encourage communities to offer comprehensive sex education that includes information on diseases and the various methods of contraception. Congress should also require a rigorous, study of abstinence programs in Africa before spending more on them.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Averting teen pregnancy; Sex ed should be stressed, as well as abstinence

Date: April 18, 2007
Source: Patriot-News (Harrisburg)

A study ordered by Congress has shown that students who took part in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex as those who didn't.

The findings come despite a $176 million annual federal outlay for such programs, a 17-fold increase since they were started in 1996. If this level of funding is to continue, Congress should insist that these programs incorporate comprehensive sex education that includes information on contraceptives.

Bush administration officials and other supporters criticized the study by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. as focusing on only a handful of the hundreds of programs available, and contend these so-called abstinence-only programs need more time to work.

But 11 years and hundreds of million dollars after their start begs key questions about how much more time and money is needed? The issue isn't whether a message of sexual abstinence should be sent to youth -- it should -- but the fact that supporters steadfastly oppose sex education, particularly that pertaining to the use of contraception in preventing pregnancy and disease.

This stubbornly ignores certain realities, including the potential that contraceptive use can have in holding down spending for a number of social welfare and health programs involving teen pregnancy, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

But forget the implications to society and bring it down to a personal level. If efforts at preaching abstinence to a teen don't work, is he or she better off having protected or unprotected sex?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Let's Talk About Sex; Just saying no is not enough.

Date: April 18, 2007
Source: The Washington Post

BLIND FAITH in abstinence-only sex education was seriously shaken last week with the release of an authoritative study showing that, at best, such instruction is like chicken soup for a cold: It doesn't hurt, but it doesn't provide a cure, either. Students who participated in abstinence-only programs were just as likely to have sex as those who did not. What makes this study noteworthy is that it didn't just gauge knowledge of sex. It looked at behavior. And the behavior of the 2,000 teens in two rural and two urban communities who were surveyed in 2005 and 2006 -- after they'd completed their programs -- would alarm any parent.

Students who received abstinence-only instruction were just as likely to have sex as those in a control group who did not receive such education. Among teens in both groups who had sex by the end of the study period, the average age of a first sexual encounter was 14.9 years. In both groups, a majority of those who were sexually active reported having two or more partners. And in both groups, only 23 percent said they always used condoms when having sex..

Maybe this report will be a bridge between the two extremes of the sex-education debate: the unrealistic no-sex-until-you're-married crowd and the untenable it's-okay-as-long-as-you-use-contraception gang. What's needed are sex education programs that deal with the real world -- programs that encourage teenagers to delay having sex until they are ready to handle the risk and responsibility and that encourage sexually active youths to use contraception. Such programs do exist. Becoming a Responsible Teen in Jackson, Miss., and Reach for Health in New York are two that have been cited by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy as being effective -- not perfect, but effective. The Bush administration should consider using some of the $176 million it spends on abstinence education to foster more programs like those instead of pooh-poohing the latest evidence that its efforts will not have the promised impact.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Abstinence programs don't solve the problem

Date: April 18, 2007
Source: Yukon News

Each year, Washington spends about US$50 million and the states some $37.5 million on programs telling elementary- and middle-school students that the only way for young people to protect themselves from the harmful effects of early sex is abstinence.

But the programs do not work, according to a four-year study mandated by Congress.

In the study's two urban and two rural settings, high-school students who were graduates of abstinence-only classes were just as likely to have had sex as students from the four communities who did not attend the classes.

In both groups, to which the students were assigned randomly, about half remained abstinent until interviewed in the follow-up, at an average age of 16.5.

The federal programs expire June 30 if Congress doesn't renew them. Based on the $7.7 million study of their impact by Mathematica Policy Research Inc., Congress should stop wasting taxpayers' money.

Lawmakers should also mandate that the Bush administration do similar research on the effect of abstinence-only programs in President Bush's comprehensive effort to address HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.

Congress has insisted that one-third of all HIV-prevention money pay for abstinence-only training in those countries.

It is conceivable that such efforts are more successful outside the United States, but until that is shown to be the case the abstinence-only training requirement should be dropped in the overseas AIDS program.

It is striking in the US study how similar the results were for the 2,000 students, regardless of whether they went through the abstinence-only classes. About a quarter of students in both groups had had sex with three or more partners, and in both groups students initiated sex at the same mean age, 14.9.

One encouraging result is that the youths from the abstinence classes were about as likely as the other students to use condoms when they had sex, refuting the fear of critics of abstinence programs that such programs leave young people less informed about how to protect themselves during sex.

In all four communities, all students also took health classes that in some cases included instruction about contraception.

Abstinence, especially when it is advocated by parents, clergy and a student's peers, should be part of the message that young people hear about sex.

But as a protection against sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies, the abstinence message goes only so far.

Congress should drop its abstinence-only programs and encourage communities to offer comprehensive sex education that includes information on diseases and the various methods of contraception.

Congress should also require a rigorous study of abstinence programs in Africa before spending more on them. (NYT)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Why is PA. riding 'abstinence' gravy train?: State should abstain from applying for these funds

Date: April 17, 2007
Source: Philadelphia Daily News

WITH THE election of a Democratic Congress last fall, Christian conservatives around the nation are afraid of losing their $191 million "abstinence-only" gravy train..

But not in Pennsylvania.

Over the past six years, the Bush administration -- while cutting food programs for poor kids and failing to provide body armor for the troops -- has increased seventeen-fold the money it spends for medically inaccurate, ideologically based sex-education programs. The programs preach, and we do mean preach, abstinence as the only way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, not only censoring information on contraception but also disseminating errors about the effectiveness of condoms to protect against HIV/AIDs.

Now Congress is on the brink of limiting this full employment program for the administration's religious right cronies. At least seven states, including Ohio and New Jersey, have said "Thanks, but no thanks" to federal funding for the programs.

But not Pennsylvania. The commonwealth says it will apply for federal funds to continue this widely discredited program, which was found ineffective in a federal study released last Friday.

We are tempted to demand of the governor: Who are you and what have you done with Ed Rendell? The Ed Rendell we thought we knew is "adamantly pro-choice" (including the right to medically accurate information) and supportive of gay rights. Evidence from a multitude of sources has shown abstinence-only programs to be neither.

Rendell's reason for putting Pennsylvania's hand out? Because the money's there.

"We're applying for the funds because they're available," a spokesman said, "and because there are organizations in the commonwealth that want to do work with that funding."

But abstinence-only programs aren't "walking around money" a la Fumo, which spread around government largesse on innocuous programs to reward friends and neutralize potential enemies.

The "work" of these organizations includes denying young people information about preventing sexually transmitted diseases. That's a matter of life and death. The "work" these organizations do marginalizes, if not demonizes, gay and lesbian teenagers.

The governor's cave-in is even more disturbing because the promotion of "abstinence-only" programs has been a major front in the Republican War on Science: The Bush administration literally changed the scientific standards by which the programs are evaluated to keep funding them.

Earmarks for abstinence-only education were used as "pork" spending for Republican political purposes by our unlamented former Sen. Rick Santorum. The ACLU went to federal court and forced the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to stop funding a Pittsburgh-based program, the Silver Ring Thing, because it was using taxpayer money to promote "a relationship with Jesus Christ."

But the main reason to reject these funds is that these programs hurt kids by leaving them vulnerable to misinformation. The Government Accounting Agency last fall slammed HHS for failing to review the programs' medical accuracy. When asked about the GAO study, the governor's office said it would ask for evidence that the programs were being conducted in "a medically accurate manner," (something it apparently didn't do before.)

Ed Rendell maintains that his position is not at odds with his previous stands on reproductive rights. He knows better, and so do we.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Abstinence has role in broader, more realistic sex education

Date: April 17, 2007
Source: The Tennessean (Nashville)

Government-funded programs that promote abstinence until marriage over other sex education have increased dramatically over the past decade, but their effectiveness is coming under question.

Conservative members of Congress and then the Bush administration have steered sex-education programs that were established after the welfare overhaul in 1996 into abstinence-only instruction. The programs, which received about $10 million a year in 1997, now receive more than $176 million a year.

Critics have complained for some time that the focus should be on comprehensive sex education, including contraception and condom use, and it now appears they have strong supporting data as well as a sympathetic ear in the Democratically controlled Congress.

A study by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. found that students who participated in abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex a few years later as those who did not. The study tracked 2,057 youths over four to six years in four communities nationwide. The study's control group had one to three years of abstinence education. The youths were mostly ages 11-12 when the study began, and 16-17 at the end.

About half of the kids who were in the abstinence programs had remained abstinent — the same split as those who were not in a program.

As a result, critics have stepped up their call for Congress to remove the abstinence-only restriction on funding. Lawmakers should embrace that approach, but they should also acknowledge that abstinence education has a role.

As a lead researcher for the Mathematica study noted, abstinence education did not decrease unprotected sex, but it did not lead to an increase, either. Some critics of abstinence programs have contended that they lead to less frequent use of condoms.

Call it a learning process — on the part of the federal government. About $1.5 billion has gone into abstinence programs since 1996. That's a lot of money for a concept that can report only about a 50 percent success rate.

Abstinence should continue to be a part of sex education, but it must be well based in fact and guided less by a socially conservative agenda. Last October, a survey of 10 states by the Government Accountability Office found inaccuracies were being taught in some abstinence programs. In one case, texts "incorrectly suggested that HIV can pass through condoms because the latex used in condoms is porous." In another, kids were taught that "when a person is infected with the human papilloma virus, the virus is 'present for life.' "

Eight states have already opted out of the abstinence-only funds because of concerns over knowledge that is omitted as well as what is misrepresented. Tennessee, which currently has about 16 programs statewide that use the grants, is still in the program.

Comprehensive sex education would confront the reality of teen sexuality, promoting abstinence but also giving those kids who will have premarital sex necessary information about family planning and health concerns.

Such programs could aspire to better than 50 percent success.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Moving Forward is a partnership of the Communications Consortium Media Center (CCMC) and the Women Donors Network. For more information, please contact Laura Rogers, CCMC, lrogers@ccmc.org.



Back to Top

Send this page to a friend!

Home   About Us   Newsletters   News Archives