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Abstinence Only vs Comprehensive Sex Education pdf

  • Book Title:
 Abstinence Only Vs Comprehensive Sex Education
  • Book Author:
Todd Summers
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Over the last several years, Congress has emphasized funding abstinence-only programs over comprehensive sexuality education. President Bush and leaders in Congress have called for “parity” in funding between abstinence-only sex education and family planning, safe sex pr o- grams. Congress increased funding for federal abstinence programs in fiscal year 2002, and has been asked by the President to increase it by another $33 million in fiscal year 2003.

The abstinence-only approach to sex education is not supported by the extensive body of scientific research on what works to protect young people from HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and unplanned pregnancy. An assessment of the peer-reviewed, published research reveals no evidence that abstinence- only programs delay sexual initiation or reduce STIs or pregnancy. By contrast, credible re- search clearly demonstrates that some comprehensive sex education, or “abstinence-plus,” programs can achieve positive behavioral changes among young people and reduce STIs, and that these programs do not encourage young people to initiate sexual activity earlier or have more sexual partners.

The growing prominence of the abstinence-only approach will likely have serious unintended consequences by denying young people access to  the information  they need to protect them- selves. And abstinence-only programs risk alienating the young people at highest risk of negative health outcomes by promoting a “one size fits all” vision of adolescence that matches the true experiences of only a minority of youth.

Unprotected sexual activity among young people can have severe personal, social and financial costs. Unprotected sex among youth results in nearly four million STIs each year, many with serious long term consequences. The great majority of the 10,000 annual new HIV infections among people under 22 occurs through sexual activity. The United States still has the highest rates of STIs and teen pregnancy of any industrialized nation.

The last decade has brought signs of encouragement. Sexual activity among young people has fallen while use of condoms is on the in- crease. Yet sex, and the potential for negative consequences from unprotected sex, remains a reality in the lives of young people. In 1999, one half (51%) of high school seniors said they had been sexually active within the last three months. Several sub-groups of young people are at elevated risk of HIV and STIs, including lesbian, gay and bisexual youth; youth of color; homeless youth; adolescents in the penal or foster care systems; and young people who have been sexually abused.

Responding to the continuing health threats of HIV, STIs and unplanned pregnancy among young people, the widely respected Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences recently recommended eliminating congressional, federal, state and local “requirements that public funds be used for abstinence-only education.” And surveys consistently show that the public wants schools to deliver strong abstinence messages alongside information about self-protection for young people who find them- selves in sexual situations. The vast majority of parents support sex education in the schools, including the provision of information about contraceptive and condom use.

Unfortunately, federal policy is grossly out of step with the wishes of most parents and students, as well as the scientific research. Since the early 1980s, Congress has devoted significant resources to abstinence-only programming. Partly as a result of federal policy and funding changes, public schools are increasingly sup- porting abstinence-only curricula that are less likely to include information about birth control, STD prevention and sexual orientation. The evidence tells us that these trends represent a dangerous disservice to America’s younger generation.

“A mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity.” Different people will disagree about the veracity of this statement, but we know that it does not reflect the experiences of the majority of young people. Yet sex education funded by the federal government is re- quired to be delivered in a way that is consistent with this declaration.

Abstinence-Plus EducationAbstinence-Only Education
Abstinence-plus education programs explore the context for and meanings involved in sex.   Promote abstinence from sexAcknowledge that many teenagers will be- come sexually activeTeach about contraception and condom useInclude discussions about contraception, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases and HIVAbstinence-only education includes discussions of values, character building, and, in some cases, refusal skills.   Promote abstinence from sexDo not acknowledge that many teenagers will become sexually activeDo not teach about contraception or condom useAvoid discussions of abortionCites sexually transmitted diseases and HIV as reasons to remain abstinent

The sex education debate in America takes on special relevance because sex, and its related health implications, are a reality in the lives of many young people. One of the best data sources on sexual and self-protective behaviors of young people is the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System (YRBS) prepared by the

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For years, the YRBS has been reporting a gradual decline in the percentage of young people reporting any sexual activity. According to the CDC surveys, the percentage of high school-aged youth (freshman through seniors) reporting they have ever had sexual intercourse fell from 53% in 1993 to 50% in 1999.1, 2

There has been slightly less change in the per- centage of these young people who reported current sexual activity, defined as sexual inter- course during the preceding three months. In 1991, 38% reported current sexual activity. Eight years later, 36% reported such activity. Older students are more likely to currently be having sex.2 Of students in grade 12 in 1999, 51% said they were currently sexually active.1 Some students choose abstinence after initiation of sexual activity, with about one in four students

who report having had sex also reporting current abstinence.1 In the 1999 YRBS, among those students who reported any sexual intercourse, 27% said they had been abstinent during the last three months.1

A significant percentage of sexual encounters among young people are not wanted. In the 1999 CDC survey, eight percent of 13- and 14- year-old girls reported their first sexual encounter was not voluntary.1

Definitions of Sexuality Education

The content of sexuality education curricula in America varies widely by region, by school district, and, sometimes, by classroom. The highly charged political debate concerning sex education could lead most people to believe there are hard and fast divisions between educational approaches. In fact, there are multiple program designs, many of which resist clear classification, or share components of seemingly opposing approaches.

For this monograph, we use the definitions commonly found in the sex education debate: curricula are grouped into the two broad categories of comprehensive sex education (also often called “abstinence-plus”) and abstinence-only- until-marriage (or “abstinence-only”) education. The former generally emphasizes the benefits of abstinence while also teaching about contraception and disease-prevention methods, including condom and contraceptive use.3 By contrast, abstinence-only programs generally teach abstinence from all sexual activity as the only appropriate option for unmarried people.3 Abstinence- only programs often do not provide detailed (or

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