Government Funded Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs Don’t Impact Teens

A ten-year government-funded study of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs shows that the programs did not have an impact on teens. $1.5 billion dollars in public spending on these programs is being called a “historic ideological boondoggle”.

James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth, said recently:

“After 10 years and $1.5 billion in public funds these failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs will go down as an ideological boondoggle of historic proportions.”

“The tragedy is not simply the waste of taxpayer dollars, it is the damage done to the young people who have been on the receiving end of distorted, inaccurate information about condoms and birth control. We have been promoting ignorance in the era of AIDS, and that’s not just bad public health policy, its bad ethics.”

Noting that the study was posted on a Government web-site with no press release or advisory, Wagoner said: “The ‘stealth release’ of this study on an obscure government website on a Friday afternoon is clearly meant to bury its contents. But policy makers must now know that funds for these programs must now be eliminated.”

Citing the fact that the Institute of Medicine, the nation’s leading health authority, had called for the elimination of these programs, back in 2000, Wagoner said: “Congress must now move to de-fund these programs. Anything short of eliminating these programs would be a dereliction of its duty to promote public health and protect young people in the era of AIDS.”

Abstinence-Only-Until Marriage Programs
There is no scientific evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs—those that censor information about contraception—are effective.

On the other hand, research continues to show that comprehensive sex education, which teaches both abstinence and contraception, is most effective for young people. Youth who receive this kind of education are more likely to initiate sexual activity later in life and use protection correctly and consistently when they do become sexually active. Evaluations of comprehensive sex ed programs show that these programs delay the onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use. Importantly, the evidence shows that these programs do not encourage teens to become sexually active. In short, responsible sex ed programs work!

Advocates for Youth encourages you—the youth-serving professional, health care provider, educator, parent, policy maker, and youth activist—to join Advocates’ Rights. Respect. Responsibility.® campaign and change the way society deals with adolescent reproductive and sexual health. Together, we can work to save comprehensive sex education.

Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act. The bill would create federal funding, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for comprehensive sexuality education that is age-appropriate, medically accurate, and stresses abstinence, while also educating young people about contraception.

“The REAL Act represents a return to common sense public health policy that focuses on the well-being of all young people,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth. “We know that teenagers who receive comprehensive sex education that includes discussions on abstinence and contraception are more likely than those who receive abstinence-only messages to delay sexual initiation, to use contraception when they do become sexually active and to have fewer partners.”

Studies have shown that more than two-thirds of young people will have had sex by the time they graduate. Furthermore, young people under the age of 25 have been hit by the HIV epidemic particularly hard and the rate of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) continues to grow among them, with teens acquiring more than four million STDs every year. Additionally, in spite of recent decreases, there are still nearly 900,000 teen pregnancies in the U.S. each year. It is clear that young people are in desperate need for real, accurate sexuality education.

“We have high hopes for the REAL Act,” said Joseph DiNorcia, Jr., president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “SIECUS is seeing policymakers finally come to realize what educators and parents have known for a long time: that comprehensive sexuality education, not abstinence-only, makes the most sense. Ironically, the sexuality education programs that will be funded by the REAL Act do a better job of keeping kids abstinent than the abstinence-only programs do.”

Currently there is no federal funding stream dedicated to comprehensive sexuality education programs. Since 1982, however, the U.S. government has spent over $1.5 billion on unproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Of that money, over $800 has been spent during just the current administration. Under the leadership of President Bush there has been a continued expansion of investment in these programs with more than $175 million allocated in Fiscal Year 2007 alone. These programs are prohibited, by law, from discussing contraceptives except in the context of failure rates and have never been proven effective.

Programs funded by the REAL Act would also stress family communication, responsible decision-making, and negotiation skills.

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