What is the Future of Abstinence-Only Sex Education?

by Cara on January 19, 2009

in Barack Obama, Democrats, education and schools, politics, reproductive justice, sex and sexuality

I’ve written quite a bit lately — either directly or more indirectly — about abstinence-only education and the dangerous, detrimental effects it has on youth and their ability to protect themselves from STDs and unplanned pregnancy.  Study after study shows that abstinence-only education doesn’t work.  Studies also show that countries that use an honest, comprehensive approach to sex education have lower teen pregnancy rates than the U.S., which uses ideological scare-tactics to push kids away from condom use.

But I haven’t tackled one big question.  What is going to happen to abstinence-only education once the Obama administration takes power?  The problem is that we still don’t quite know the answer.

Obama is considered an advocate of comprehensive sex education, which — unlike abstinence-only curriculum — includes advice to young people about using contraceptives if they do engage in sexual activity. However, Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to elaborate on what the new president would propose in his own budget plan.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of American, depicted the federal abstinence-only program as “an utter failure that has wasted more than $1.5 billion” over the past decade. Like other critics, she noted that several major studies — including a federally funded review — have found no evidence that the abstinence-only approach works in deterring teen sex.

“Talking with Obama, he totally understands the need for young people to have comprehensive sex education — they need information that protects their health,” Richards said. “I hope that will be the position of the administration, but when Congress gets involved, sometimes things get more complicated.”

That pretty much outlines to the two major problems.  The first is that while Obama has made his support for comprehensive sex education well-known, he has also made no promises, or really even much in the way of policy plans, concerning abstinence-only education and its funding future.

The second is that even though Congress is Democratic, there are plenty of anti-choice Democrats in the ranks.  As the above article notes, the Democrats have repeatedly voted to continue abstinence-only education.  Whether it’s because they didn’t have the needed votes to revoke the funding in Congress, or simply didn’t bother because they knew they didn’t have the votes to override the inevitable veto from Bush, is unclear.  And I guess it’s a question that we’re going to learn the answer to soon enough.

Personally?  I don’t think that we’re going to see an immediate revocation of funding.  There are two main issues at play here.  The first is that even though Americans do strongly support comprehensive sex education, convincing them that it’s a good idea to revoke the funding for abstinence-only education entirely might be a bit trickier — especially when you’ve got the really loud and and lying voices of anti-choice extremists claiming that comprehensive sex education equals teaching five-year-olds how to use condoms.  The second is simply convincing Congress that the statistics showing Americans support comprehensive sex education are accurate — again, especially with those really loud voices trying to convince them that the numbers are wrong.

It’s sad, and really pisses me off.  And I hope that I’m wrong, I really do.  But I also think that I’m being realistic here, and that unfortunately politics are going to be played while the lives and health of teenagers hang in the balance.

What do you think?

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{ 2 comments }

1 Nina January 19, 2009 at 12:32 pm

You’re absolutely right. There isn’t going to be an immediate revocation of funding. It’ll probably dwindle away over time, but taking away funding immediately will only fuel the anti-choicers’ rhetoric.

2 Neon January 21, 2009 at 11:44 pm

AOE is a joke. “Wait Training” was one of Bush’s approved programs and the facts within actually contradicted figures put out by the CDC. It’s one thing to push a backwards ideology into schools but to ignore hard facts in regards to safer sex is just inexcusable.

Few people realize that in the late seventies/early eighties condom use was encouraged in schools and even abortion was labeled a necessary evil. If Reagen hadn’t charged in on his moral high horse this wouldn’t even be an issue.

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