"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Just Saying No to Abstinence Only

Since 1996, seventeen states have decided to decline free federal money for sex education programs based on abstinence only. If that doesn't say enough in itself, STDs in teens are up, and so are teen pregnancies.

From the LA Times:
WASHINGTON -- Continued federal funding of abstinence-only sex education in public schools was debated before a House committee Wednesday amid questions about whether the government should sponsor a program that many experts say doesn't work.

Most of the 11 witnesses who appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform advocated instead for comprehensive programs that include information about how teenagers can protect themselves from pregnancy or disease if they choose to engage in sexual activity.

"The concern that many of us have with abstinence-only programs is the idea that one size fits all," said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a member of the panel.

Both sides agreed that abstinence should be the core of any sex education program for teens. Concerns were raised, though, over how much information students should receive about issues such as condom use and methods of protecting against sexually transmitted diseases.

There was also discussion on the role of communities and school districts in deciding what types of sex education young people are exposed to, instead of abstinence being mandated by the government through funding.

"I see an ideological discussion versus a reality discussion," said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). "We deal with the realities of our diversified communities."

Proponents of abstinence education argued that society should set high standards for teenage sexual behavior. They would prefer, they said, that programs focus on the emotional, physical and societal repercussions of sex outside of marriage.

But several witnesses emphasized that despite 11 years of federally funded abstinence programs, at a cost of more than $1.3 billion, teens are still having sex and becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Those who support comprehensive plans said teens should get the information they need to protect themselves.

A study released in December by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a rise in the teenage pregnancy rate in 2006, the first such increase in 15 years. Between 1991 and 2005, the rate dropped 34%.

When the government began funding abstinence-only sex education in 1996, 49 of 50 states signed up for such programs. California did not, and it has never sought such funding. Currently, only 33 states receive federal funds for the programs.

"Seventeen states have now said they will not accept funding," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, director of the American Public Health Assn. "For a health department to give up funding is a very important fact." . . . .

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