I learned this morning that this first week of October is National Sex Education week (I’m not sure how these weeks get to be declared, but a quick google search confirms that a number of reproductive health organizations are on board).
In what seems to NOT be a coincidence in timing, Rebublican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah introduced a proposal this week to restore $50 million a year in federal funding to abstinence-only sex education (the same funding that Obama has vowed to eliminate).
In his statement to the press, Hatch proclaims that:
“Abstinence education works” … “My amendment restores a vital funding stream so that teens and parents have the option to participate in programs that have demonstrated success in reducing teen sexual activity and, consequently, teen pregnancies.”
In response to this news, Elisabeth Garber-Paul of RH Reality Check writes:
I thought we all decided that abstinence only education doesn’t work. And I don’t mean “we” as in the pro-choice reproductive rights community—I mean students, teachers, parents, school boards, and even the president.
But I guess some members of congress didn’t get the memo.
It *is* really striking how, even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, Abstinence-only proponents insist that this form of education “works.”
But this is because the movement toward more abstinence-only approaches is driven almost entirely by conservative religious ideology, not scientifically reliable evidence.
Virtually no public health professionals and no credible scientific assessments support it (Santelli et al 2006c). In fact, public health scholars broadly support comprehensive sex education (Duberstein et al 2006) and have offered vociferous critiques of abstinence based approaches and policies, both domestically (Fortenberry 2005; Santelli et al. 2006 et al. 2006a; 2006b; Dworkin and Santelli 2007) and internationally (Human Rights Watch 2004; Cohen and Tate, 2005). The majority of parents in the United States also report that they prefer comprehensive sex education for their children (Henry Kaiser Family Foundation 1998; National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy 2003).
Fortunately, Hatch’s proposal (which barely passed in the Senate Finance Committee by 12-11), will still need House and Senate approval. Let’s hope that our Representatives in the House and Senate consult with credible public health researchers before they vote on this important topic.
- Cohen, J. and Tate, T. (2005). “The less they know, the better: Abstinence-only HIV/AIDS programs in Uganda.” Human Rights Watch. Available: http://hrw.org;reports/2005/uganda0305/uganda0305.pdf.
- Dworkin, S. and Santelli, J. (2007). “Do Abstinence-Plus Interventions Reduce Sexual Risk Behavior among Youth?” PLoS Medicine 4, 9, e276.
- Fortenberry, J.D. (2005). “The Limits of abstinence-only in preventing sexually transmitted infections.” Journal of Adolescent Health 36, 269-270.
- Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation/ABC Television. 1998. Sex in the 90s: 1998 National Survey of Americans on Sex and Sexual Health.
- Human Rights Watch. (2004). “The Philippines. Unprotected: Sex, Condoms, and the Human Right to Health.” New York: Human Rights Watch, May 2004.
- National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. 2003. With One Voice: America’s Adults and Teens Sounds Off About Teen Pregnancy. Washington, D.C.: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
- Santelli, J.S. et al. (2006a). “Abstinence and abstinence-only education: A review of U.S. policies and programs.” Journal of Adolescent Health 38, 72-81.
- Santelli, J.S. et al. (2006b). “Abstinence-only education policies and programs: Aposition paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine.” Journal of Adolescent Health 38, 83-87.
- Santelli, J.S. et al. (2006c). Letters to the Editor. “The Authors Reply.” Journal of Adolescent Health 39, 152-153.