Ashley Herzog

The sex-positive crowd is at it again. Energized by the news that the teen pregnancy rate went up three percent in 2005, they’ve gone to work blaming abstinence-only programs in schools. Abstinence programs are ineffective, they say—and they must be de-funded and replaced with contraception-based education.

They might be jumping the gun, since 18- and 19-year-olds accounted for most of the increase. The pregnancy rate among girls age 10 to 17 continued to decline, as it has every year since 1991. Still, there is no doubt that abstinence opponents will use the increase to push its version of sex education in schools.

Parents and educators should think carefully before taking their advice. As a researcher for Dr. Miriam Grossman, who is currently writing her second book about sexual health education, I’ve become familiar with the demands of the abstinence opponents. When it comes to sex ed, they have a very specific agenda in mind—and you can bet it won’t simply inform students about contraception. Instead, they’re itching to implement programs that actively encourage kids to have sex.

Consider the CDC-funded “Programs that Work,” which were introduced to schools a few years ago. Rather than simply teaching students about condoms, these sex ed programs actually required ninth- and tenth-graders to go out and buy them. The curricula included school-sponsored field trips to family planning clinics and drugstores to compare condom brands—preferably with a partner. As the program advised, “Go to the store together. Buy lots of different brands and colors. Plan a special day when you can experiment.” I wonder if they got extra credit for actually using the condoms on school grounds.

Abstinence opponents like to say that they’re not encouraging teens to have sex, they simply want them to be fully informed. Last year, a school-sponsored speaker at Boulder High School in Colorado promptly put an end to that myth. During a panel discussion on teen sexuality, the speaker explained to the students—some as young as 14—that he was “different” from their other teachers because “I am going to encourage you to have sex and encourage you to use drugs appropriately.”

SIECUS, the group that issues guidelines for comprehensive sex ed programs, recommends a list of X-rated Web sites that teens should visit for sexual health information. (You don’t have to take my word on these sites being X-rated; just go to or and browse through some of the pages.) Needless to say, abstinence is not high on their agenda.

SIECUS also advises students to visit, which includes a “Just Say Yes” campaign—creating doubts about their claim that they aren’t actively encouraging sexual activity.

Ashley Herzog

Ashley Herzog can be reached at