Wow! If even the Wall Street Journal has noticed, there must be a groundswell of objections to abstinence-only programs. Federal funding for abstinence programs has skyrocketed in the past few years — from $82 million in 2001 to $176 million this year — so many cash-strapped schools have turned to the growing number of abstinence-based nonprofits that offer to teach sex ed classes at little or no cost. But some parents are beginning to wake up and realize that their children are getting inaccurate “information” from people who want to demonize sex.
Though parents and health professionals generally embrace the idea of encouraging teens to abstain from sex, some are starting to question whether kids are getting the adequate and accurate information that they will need to make responsible decisions as they grow older. Educators, parents and politicians are starting to lobby for sex education that goes beyond abstinence teachings. Bills that support this approach, known as comprehensive sex education, are under review in the legislatures of several states, including Illinois and Massachusetts. One bill in New York state, dubbed the Healthy Teens Act, calls for funding for programs that emphasize contraception as well as abstinence….
…Schools and other groups that accept the federal funding have to promote abstinence and play down the effectiveness of contraception. In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services effectively tightened its restrictions on what abstinence courses can teach. In a request for grant applications, new and detailed guidelines said that an acceptable curriculum should include teaching about “the potential psychological side effects (e.g., depression and suicide) associated with adolescent sexual activity” and stress points such as the following: “Non-marital sex in teen years may reduce the probability of a stable, happy marriage as an adult” and “Teen sexual activity is associated with decreased school completion, decreased educational attainment and decreased income potential.”
These statements “misuse” scientific data, says John Santelli, a professor of pediatrics and of population and family health at Columbia University, as well as a former official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There may be some truth to the associations they draw, but their conclusions are confused,” he says.
And why am I not surprised that groups in Kansas, Missouri, and South Dakota are pushing for bills that would further limit access to accurate information about sex?
Other groups that support the abstinence approach are urging states to further limit sex ed. Earlier this month, Kansas’s board of education recommended to local school districts that teachers secure written permission from parents before students attend sex-ed classes. Some state legislatures are considering bills that would circumscribe the teaching of sex ed: A bill in South Dakota seeks to prevent any instruction in the use of contraceptives in sex-ed classes. A bill under consideration in Missouri would prohibit groups that provide abortions from teaching sex ed in the schools, effectively banning organizations such as Planned Parenthood.
I don’t want my girls to grow up thinking that sex is something nasty that only “bad people” do. How on earth will they ever have healthy adult relationships if that’s all they hear now? I do want them to understand that sex is special, that it is not a game, and that it can have life-changing results. I want them to have goals and dreams that will encourage them to postpone sex until they are old enough to handle the physical and emotional aspects.
But I also want them to have good information about pregnancy and disease prevention. No matter when they start having sex, they’ll need to know. And I’d really like for all their friends to have that same information.