How should the federal government respond when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1-in-4 teenage girls has contracted an STD? The number of cases of STDs has tripled in the past six years; now more than 15 million new cases are reported every year. President Bush recommended $204 million for abstinence education in his 2009 budget. Now it is up to Congress to make sure that proposal gets funded and the programs put in place to teach teenagers the facts about premature sexual initiation. Many don’t know that those who start having sex as young teens end up having more partners in their lifetime and thus are prey to two dozen different sexually transmitted diseases and other negative outcomes.
A study in the American Journal of Health Behavior indicates that students in abstinence programs are 50 percent less likely to engage in sex. In contrast, the longstanding comprehensive sex education program that prevails in most public schools was studied by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last year and found to have no impact on teens’ behavior.
But never mind the facts.
Even though they work, in 2002 abstinence programs received only $102 million in federal funding compared to at least $427 million allocated to comprehensive sex education and contraception programs that do not work. Why? Because nearly 200 liberal advocacy groups (Planned Parenthood, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, the Human Rights Campaign, and similar leftist organizations) lobbied against abstinence education.
This year, those leftist anti-abstinence campaigners are joined by a powerful group of nearly 80 legislators who sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee demanding that abstinence funding be eliminated.
Not surprisingly, all the groups and the legislators are strong abortion proponents. Why would they promote policies that are contrary to a teen’s best interests and well-being?
After more than a decade of working with liberal advocacy groups, here’s my assessment:
It is incomprehensible that leaders of organizations working with teens would oppose abstinence. The increase in abstinence programs has been effective in reversing trends that some believed were irreversible. It is clear from my analysis of official data that abstinence education is behind the current decreases in teen births, teen abortion and the number of teens engaged in sexual activity.
While the left claims that abstinence education is a too-simplistic “just say no” campaign, the programs teach teens how to say “no” and give them the skills and character development needed for them to be able to say “no” effectively. And many teens need to learn that sexually active girls regret their early sexual activity — nearly two-thirds (63 percent) state that they wish they had waited to have sex.
The left claims that comprehensive sex education provides strong abstinence messages along with thorough sex education. Actually, most of the literature is filled with topics that parents find offensive (recommending masturbation as a substitute for intercourse, promoting homosexuality, discussing oral and anal sex, etc.) with only token coverage (less than a page) of abstinence. [Note that with more parental involvement and their outrage at some of the content in sex education programs, the objectionable materials are sometimes in the teacher’s manuals and other supplemental literature rather than in the books that the students take home.]
Many teens don’t know the facts, and the comprehensive sex education programs do not inform them. A Maryland teenager, Stephen, was part of a conversation with friends who claimed that “everyone is doing it.” Stephen told them that, statistically, teens today are less sexually active. They were surprised; they had not heard that important fact in their so-called “full-coverage” sex education program.
Stephen summed up our view when he asked, “Don’t you think our sex ed programs should tell us that more and more teens are choosing to stay abstinent and how they are doing it?”