November 7, 2006
Saying no to saying no
Not for the first time, Americans prove they aren’t as stupid as the religious right believes they are:
Most Americans, regardless of their political leanings, favor comprehensive sex education in schools over abstinence-
only programs, researchers reported Monday.
Currently, the federal government champions the abstinence-only approach, giving around $170 million each year to states and community groups to teach just-say-no sex education. This funding precludes mention of birth control and condoms, unless it’s to emphasize their failure rates.
However, critics point out that studies have failed to show that abstinence-only education delays sex or lowers rates of teen pregnancy.
This latest study, according to the authors, suggests that the federal government is out of step not only with research, but also with public opinion.
Of the nearly 1,110 U.S. adults they surveyed, 82 percent supported programs that discuss abstinence as well as other methods for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Half were in outright opposition to abstinence-only education.
Even among self-described conservatives, 70 percent supported comprehensive sex ed., while 40 percent opposed the abstinence-only strategy.
… To receive federal funding, abstinence-only programs must meet eight criteria set down in 1996. Among these is the stipulation that abstinence until marriage be taught as the “expected standard of human sexual activity.”
Only a handful of studies have examined the effectiveness of such programs, and the results have been mixed, according to an editorial published with the study.
Many more studies have looked at comprehensive sex ed. and found that some programs do increase condom and contraceptive use, but may also help delay sex, writes Dr. Douglas Kirby of ETR Associates in Scotts Valley, California.
… “Until we have strong evidence that particular abstinence-only programs are effective,” Kirby argues, “we certainly should relax the funding restrictions and fund programs (including comprehensive programs) that effectively delay sex among young people.”
Bleakley agreed with that conclusion. But beyond the issue of balance in funding, she said, is the fact that there is evidence comprehensive sex education can help prevent the potential consequences of teen sex — including HIV and other STDs.
The full study can be found in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
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