Abstinence-Only Ed Doesn't Work; Doesn't Belong In Healthcare Bill

You know how Obama recently cut funding to abstinence-only education programs, and we all rejoiced? Yeah, well, don't get too comfortable.

Today is National Comprehensive Sex Education Call-In Day, an effort to inform Congress that we won't stand for $50 million' worth of abstinence-only funding being tucked into the all-important healthcare reform bill. Feministing has a list of talking points for a 5-minute call to your senator, but Newsweek has a more in-depth look at why we should be resisting any move to pour another pile of money into abstinence-only education, especially when it's been cynically tacked on to such an important bill.

The most obvious reason: They don't work. During the '90s and early '00s, government cash flowed freely into programs that told kids not having sex means nothing bad will happen, and having sex means trouble, end of story. "But as funding grew, so did a body of research showing that abstinence didn't change the sexual behaviors of students; pregnancy and STD rates did not go down, the age of initial sexual activity did not go up." Comprehensive programs that included education about contraception actually fared better in terms of reducing "frequency of sex or number of sexual partners," not just unwanted consequences of sex.

But just as importantly, "Two major reviews of abstinence curriculums-one in 2004 from the House of Representatives' Committee on Government Reform, another by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund earlier this year-found unsourced and incorrect information about STDs, contraceptives, and the consequences of sexual activity." For example, one curriculum taught that condom use has "little to no benefit" and another declared, "a young person who becomes sexually active at or before age 14 will contract an STD before graduating from high school. This is no longer the exception, but the rule." Who needs nitpicky shit like science and data when you can get federal funding for lying through your teeth?

Additionally, several of the programs raised separation of church and state issues; "the American Civil Liberties Union mounted a number of lawsuits (some successful, some not) against abstinence-only curriculums in public schools and state-sponsored events that advanced a specific religious perspective." And ultimately, it's that religious perspective that keeps so many people in the business of abstinence-only education, despite all of the evidence that it doesn't work. Leslee Unruh, director of the Abstinence Clearinghouse — which "exists to bring families closer to each other and to our Creator" and bases its work "on a set of foundational Christian beliefs" — told Newsweek, "If the funding is for a different worldview, one that says you should give condoms to kids, that's not my belief system. I think it's very harmful." Scott Phelps, who directs A&M Partnership — which produces the Excel Christian Bible Study on Purity, among other things — says, "Our program indicates that sex is more than physical. It's emotional. There's a lot of different aspects. If I'm teaching all of that, and then I'm teaching contraception, what is contraception going to do for all those consequences? It would be sort of nonsensical."

Since Obama cut off abstinence-only funding in May, folks like Unruh and Phelps are now forced to raise private funds to support ineffective programs that advance a religious agenda — oh, the humanity! But other abstinence-only educators are accepting reality. Over the summer, the North Carolina State Legislature approved a compromise, which happens to reflect what studies show works best: Telling kids that abstinence is the most reliable method of pregnancy and STD prevention, but contraceptives are an option they should be fully informed about. Both Planned Parenthood and the NC Christian Action League are cool with it — now, how hard was that? The effectiveness of such a compromise only underscores how fringey and fundamentally unreasonable it is to insist that offering kids accurate information about contraceptives is somehow "harmful" — and how utterly nauseating it is that so much federal money has already gone into promoting that message.

Of course, there are still those fighting to restore federal funding for abstinence-only education, and there's no way of knowing if they'll ultimately be successful. But one thing is for sure: Trying to sneak that shit into the healthcare reform bill is unconscionable. Call your senators and tell them so.

The Future Of Abstinence [Newsweek]
Reminder: National Comprehensive Sex Education Call-In Day Is Today! [Feministing]