DALLAS (BP)--Early in the Obama administration, the White House and Congress began taking a scalpel to most Bush-era sex education programs that exclusively preached abstinence.
Now some members of Congress are attempting to restore part of this funding. In July a bipartisan group of 40 House members delivered a letter to the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee lamenting the fact that abstinence-only sex education programs have lost federal support. These lawmakers are not requesting any new money. They just want a more equitable distribution between abstinence-only and contraceptive-based sex ed. The letter stresses the importance of encouraging "risk avoidance" in a dangerous world where there's an epidemic of sexually transmitted disease. Who can argue with that?
Apparently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can. HHS has released a Funding Opportunity Announcement for initiatives that promote healthy marriages in high school classes. They have $75 million to hand out for "healthy marriage promotion" and "responsible fatherhood grants." But HHS has been very specific. Projects that teach abstinence need not apply. Abstinence education is "an unallowable activity." In fact, groups are asked to include in their grant requests a written statement pledging that abstinence education is not part of their program.
Valerie Huber, director of the National Abstinence Education Association, says HHS is omitting a potent tool. She points to a growing body of research that links teen sex to divorce. A new study shows that females who had sex in their teens had nearly double the risk of divorce later in life compared to their peers who waited. Teaching abstinence until marriage is a great way to foster lasting marriages.
The latest analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that virginity is increasing among teens and young adults. The data was collected from 2006 to 2008 on nearly 14,000 young men and women ages 15 to 24. Twenty-seven percent of males and 29 percent of females said they'd never had any sexual contact with another person. In 2002, a survey of young people in the same age group revealed only 22 percent of young men and women had never had sex.
Perhaps the Bush administration's emphasis on abstinence education has had a much bigger impact that even its proponents expected. Research does show that abstinence education helps teens to delay sex. The Heritage Foundation cites at least 10 studies showing that abstinence education prevents early sexual activity. There's no way to know for certain all the factors involved in these good results, but we'd be crazy not to give some credit to the greater emphasis on abstinence education. Some great programs were implemented that go beyond "Just say no." They included the risks and the science, but also encouraged self-restraint and self-respect.
Sure, sex ed is best done at home and at church. But, as long as schools and communities are going to do it, this is no time to zero out funding for abstinence education.
Penna Dexter is a conservative activist and frequent panelist on the "Point of View" syndicated radio program. Her weekly commentaries air on the Bott and Moody radio networks.
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