Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sex (mis)education funding promoting abstinence only before Congress

Last week the Labor and Health & Human Services subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee approved funding for Title X Family Planning program that not only included the discredited Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program but increased its funding. This came as a shock because the Democratic leadership had previously indicated this program would be dropped and already had pulled the plug on abstinence-only education programs funding under Title V of the Welfare Reform Act. The subcommittee’s members saw the passage as a compromise in order to push through other legislation.

The abstinence-only sex education program under CBAE emphasizes complete abstinence from sex until marriage. Discussion of contraceptives is restricted to their failure rate.

Here is Lindsay Beyerstein’s assessement in In These Times:
Even opponents of abstinence-only education might concede that a few extra million for abstinence education is a small price to pay for easing the passage of a very important domestic spending bill that contains a lot of spending that’s important to Democrats.

Yet, principle is at stake here. Few people realize that the CBAE program promulgates out-and-out quackery and barely disguised religious dogma. These programs don’t just encourage students to remain abstinent as teenagers. By law, they are required to teach “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity,” among many other stipulations. In other words, the program must teach that all sexual activity outside of marriage, even between consenting adults, violates some nebulous “expected standard.”

Federally funded abstinence programs must teach the “the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity”—regardless of whether those gains are real. In an Orwellian twist, the government doesn’t care what educators promise kids as long as they’re told that abstinence is good for them. Some programs promise integrity, purity, self-esteem. Others say there’s a causal link between staying abstinent and being happily married. None of these claims has been substantiated by independent research.

Programs must also teach that “that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects,” again irrespective of any evidence. CBAE grantees don’t have the option of leaving out a core tenet if they don’t find enough evidence to support it. All eight of the core tenets must be taught.

Leveille argues that the current abstinence guidelines raise a number of troubling civil rights issues including gender discrimination, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and improper insertion of religion into public school curricula. The current guidelines also censor information about birth control and STD protection, except to point out the failure rates of contraception. “Information on contraceptives, if included, must be age-appropriate, medically accurate, and presented only as it supports the abstinence message being presented,” reads one of the official guidelines for CBAE curriculum development.

These programs are depriving students of basic medical information that they will need when they become sexually active, in marriage or otherwise. For gay and lesbian students, the logical upshot of abstinence-until-marriage programs is that they are never allowed to have sex—since sex is only allowed within marriage, and marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The House Committee on Government Reform reviewed the contents of federally funded abstinence programs at the request of Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and published the results of their inquiry in 2004. The investigators found that 11 out of 13 programs contained significant errors or distortions. The report also faulted many of the curricula they reviewed for blurring the line between science and religion and promulgating sexist stereotypes as fact.

The Bush administration has already sunk more than $1 billion into abstinence-only education during its time in office. While no evidence suggests these programs are effective in decreasing teen sexual activity, they are very effective at enriching the administration’s backers on the Religious right.

In their rush to achieve compromise on an important domestic spending bill, Democrats should not lose sight of the ugly reality of abstinence-only education. Having publicly acknowledged the worthlessness of Title V, the Democrats will be hard-pressed to justify giving even more taxpayer dollars to another program based on the same ineffective and prejudicial framework.
You can read her entire article here.

Philosophically, the bottom line of the abstinence only education approach is that knowledge is bad and ignorance is necessary for the preservation of innocence. This line of thinking simply runs counter to the Enlightenment concept that knowledge is power.

Abstinence only education is not education; it is indoctrination…that doesn’t work. Sexual abstinence for teenagers is desirable but the reality is significant numbers of teens are sexually active and need to know how to protect themselves and their partners. And regardless of whether they are sexually active or not they need to know what is going on with their bodies and the changes brought on by puberty. Common decency demands comprehensive sex education for our kids.

Right now there is a lobbying effort underway directed towards House leadership (particularly Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as individual Representatives contacted by their constituents to amend this appropriations bill. Go here to take action.

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