Monday, May 11, 2009

Abstinence-Only: Gone

Abstinence-only "education" was a strange experiment, where students were brought into a classroom and taught ... nothing. This could only happen in America, we would call something "sex education" and then teach nothing about sex. You might think that in a perfect world everybody would abstain until they were married, and there is in fact a solid one percent of our population who do that, but it seems to me a more, let's say, realistic approach is to give young people accurate and thorough information so they can make responsible choices.

Interesting little note on a Time blog:
The President's FY2010 budget was released this morning (you can search through all 1376 pages here) and among the proposed changes it includes is the elimination of Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) funding. Under the Bush administration, CBAE grants went to programs that teach kids the only way to prevent pregnancy and avoid sexually-transmitted infections is to postpone sex until marriage. Budget language explicitly prevented those programs from providing students "any other education regarding sexual conduct."

As I explained in the magazine a couple of months ago, abstinence-only programs have not proven nearly as successful as approaches that combine the message that abstinence is a good goal for teenagers (see: Bristol Palin) with comprehensive and accurate education about contraception, disease prevention, and decision-making skills.

The Obama budget eliminates the main federal funding streams for abstinence-only education (some of which have been around since welfare reform) and replaces them with $110 million in competitive grants to "fund teen pregnancy prevention programs," with at least $75 million reserved for "programs that replicate the elements of one or more teenage pregnancy prevention programs that have been proven through rigorous evaluation to delay sexual activity, increase contraceptive use (without increasing sexual activity), or reduce teenage pregnancy." It also authorizes $50 million in new mandatory teen pregnancy prevention grants to states.

Notably, $25 million of the funding for what the budget calls a new Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative is set aside for the development and testing of innovative approaches to preventing teen pregnancy. So many of the programs that annoy opponents of abstinence-only education--and those that annoy proponents of abstinence-only--are out-dated and ineffective anyway. With teen pregnancy rates inching up again after a nearly 15-year drop and the vast majority of parents in favor of comprehensive sex education (95% of parents of middle-schoolers in a 2004 Kaiser Foundation poll thought contraception was an "appropriate topic"), it's long past time to develop sex ed programs that work.

You hope that your teenagers abstain from sex until they're ready. But there will likely be a day when they are ready, when it's time, it may come sooner and it may come later but nearly everyone has sex at some point. It only makes sense to prepare people for that moment, it's one of those lifetime skills like balancing a checkbook or filling out a job application, you need to know what to do and what not to do.

The absence of information about sex does not result in the absence of sex, it only results in ignorance about sex.

A lot of people are watching to see how the new guy is going to do, and there are a few concerns about how he's going to handle some things. The removal of abstinence-only programs from the budget is a huge step in the right direction.


Anonymous Robert said...

Our own Dr. Dana Beyer gave a fabulous talk to youth at the 10th annual Passing the Torch at the Arlington LGBT and allies prom on Saturday. The young people loved her (several of them spoke to me later). Thanks, Dana.

Robert Rigby, Jr.

May 11, 2009 11:43 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This may be old news for some, but I think it bears repeating that a report on Texas’ 18 million dollar abstinence disaster is out.

They link to the report, but also have some mock videos on that page. My favorite line:

Ab Only Coach: “Condoms fail 30% of the time…

…Oh yeah, these things will protect you, just like elbow pads with protect you WHEN YOU JUMP OFF A BRIDGE!”

May 11, 2009 12:18 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Thank you, Robert! It was my pleasure.

The possibilities that have been presented to these young adults are so much greater than were available to me, and for that I am very grateful.

May 11, 2009 4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon
I thought Wanda Sykes hit it when she said the Obamas should have given the Queen Texas instead of an Ipod.

May 12, 2009 11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Abstinence-Only: Gone"

Not quite, Jimbo.

You show your liberal bias.

Just becuase the government isn't funding something doesn't mean it's gone.

Not all education is public.

Abstinence education started reducing teen pregnancy long before the government got involved.

Abstinence education doesn't involve ignorance but, instead, a traditional values-based context for the decision-making of teens.

If achieved, and I've never heard a teacher concede that any truth is non-teachable, it produces a healthier society.

May 13, 2009 1:09 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

I'm glad Obama has eliminated CBAE funding. Under that funding mechanism it was required that programs "must not talk about the health benefits of using condoms -- only about how they fail."

These programs should give the advice the CDC gives, which is that unless pregnancy is intended, you should use a condom correctly and consistently for every act of sexual contact. These programs should also give advice on interpersonal relationships, decision-making (an agreement with Anon), and how to treat yourself and others with respect, like the MPSC sex education program does.

Salon reports on federal funding:

Last week, it seemed that the White House was ignoring the advice of Bristol Palin. While one of the country's most recognizable teenage mothers did her best to tout abstinence, the Obama administration released a budget proposal that cuts funding for two abstinence-only education programs.

But now comes news that the proposed cuts don't necessarily mean that abstinence will have no place in the Obama team's plan to reduce teenage pregnancy in the U.S. After speaking with a White House official, Christian Broadcasting Network White House Correspondent David Brody points out that abstinence-only programs could still receive federal money through the Obama budget. The official told Brody the budget "increases overall funding for teenage pregnancy prevention, which may include education on abstinence, and supports programs based on research."

The official added that 75 percent of the funding would go to "programs that have [been] demonstrated by rigorous research to prevent teen pregnancy." It's doubtful that abstinence-only programs, which received over $1 billion in government funding during the Bush administration, will qualify to receive federal assistance based on this criterion. A 2007 Congressional study found that the programs did not stop teenagers from having sex.

However, the official told Brody that the other 25 percent of the federal funds could go towards "promising, but not yet proven, programs for which we have some indication that they achieve the goal of teen pregnancy prevention." The official added that abstinence-only education could qualify for that money, but any programs -- abstinence-based or not -- receiving that funding would "have to agree to participate in a rigorous evaluation."

The White House seems to be trying to eat its proverbial cake on this issue. Obama is leaving the door open to abstinence-only education in principle, but putting the pressure on program advocates to prove that it works -- something that the White House has already acknowledged isn't the case at present.

Last week, the administration said it had proposed cutting the abstinence-only programs because there was no evidence that they were effective. Melody Barnes, the President’s Domestic Policy Adviser and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, said, "In any area where Americans want to confront a problem, they want solutions they know will work, as opposed to programming they know hasn't proven to be successful. Given where we've been in recent years, I think this is a very important moment."

In January, the National Center for Health Statistics released a study showing teen birth rates were up significantly in 26 states during 2006 - the most recent year for which reliable data was available.
I'm glad we won't be wasting any more tax dollars on programs like the Silver Ring Thing with its 88 percent failure rate. No matter what the basis of the sex ed program, it must have a proven successful track record to be funded.

May 13, 2009 9:11 AM  
Blogger ron said...

Why do you keep this anonymous idiot. He distracts and he puffs up like a blowfish, but with no substance.

May 13, 2009 8:35 PM  

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