Sex education: Abstinence or responsibility?

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Students across the country may be misinformed about sex, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and abortion, according to a new study.

A recently released congressional analysis by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has found that students have been taught inaccurate facts about sex and abstinence through federally funded abstinence programs.

The analysis found that over two-thirds of federally funded abstinence programs taught inaccurate information on the effectiveness of contraceptives, the risks of abortion and misrepresented basic sex information such as how to get pregnant. Eleven of the 13 programs examined provided misinformation.

“It is absolutely vital that the health education provided to America’s youth be scientifically and medically accurate,” said Congressman Waxman.

Abstinence only education programs are defined by the federal government by having Fas their exclusive purpose teaching the social, biological and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sex. Such programs teach that abstinence is the only certain way to avoid unwanted pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases and have students realize the detrimental effects of sexual consequences.

The report, released last week, examines the scientific and medical accuracy of the most popular curricula used by abstinence only programs that receive federal funds.

“Federally funded programs must include comprehensive health education that will inform young adults about accurate health facts, turning a blind eye to our children is not only wrong, but irresponsible,” said Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.).

Abstinence sexual education falls under the Adolescent Family Life Act of 1981, designed to curtail teen pregnancy. The ACLU initially challenged the act in court. The act received $11 million in 1981 and since that time funding for abstinence only programs has increased nearly 3000 percent. According to the Washington Post, there are no abstinence-only programs being taught in the metropolitan Washington area, but the 11 programs that failed are used by 69 organizations in 25 states.

In 2005, the federal government will spend $170 million on abstinence-only education.

The effectiveness of Abstinence-only programs has been called into question with the increase of funding. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy’s Effective Programs and Research Task Force concluded in 2002, that “There do not currently exist any abstinence-only programs with strong evidence that they either delay sex or reduce teen pregnancy.”

That is to say, there is no evidence one way about the effectiveness of such programs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the teen birth rate in the United States dropped 30 percent from 1991-2002. The CDC also reports that 61 percent of high school seniors have had sex.

It is unknown how many children have participated in such programs, but Waxman’s report estimates it to be several million. There are over 100 such abstinence programs federally funded.

“Something is seriously wrong when federal tax dollars are being used to mislead kids about basic health facts,” Waxman said.

In a January 2004 poll conducted by National Public Radio, the Kaiser foundation and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, 93 percent of Americans said that sex education should be taught. Controversy has sprung up however, on the type of sex education. Forty-six percent of those polled felt sex education should follow an abstinence plus curriculum, where students learn that abstinence is best, but also learn about contraceptives and safe sex.

Copyright c2004 U-WIRE via U-Wire

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