Wednesday :: Apr 2, 2008

Another Failed Fantasy

by Turkana

Reuters had the unsurprising news:

Comprehensive sex education that includes discussion of birth control may help reduce teen pregnancies, while abstinence-only programs seem to fall short, the results of a U.S. survey suggest.

Using data from a 2002 national survey, researchers found that among more than 1,700 unmarried, heterosexual teens between 15 and 19 years old, those who'd received comprehensive sex ed in school were 60 percent less likely to have been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant than teens who'd had no formal sex education.

Meanwhile, there was no clear benefit from abstinence-only education in preventing pregnancy or delaying sexual intercourse, the researchers report in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study found that teens who'd been through abstinence-only programs were less likely than those who'd received no sex ed to have been pregnant. However, the difference was not significant in statistical terms, which means the finding could have been due to chance.

In addition, there was no evidence that comprehensive sex education increased the likelihood of teen sex or boosted rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) -- a concern of people who oppose teaching birth control in schools.

While comprehensive sex ed did not clearly reduce the STD risk, there was a modest, but statistically insignificant reduced risk of engaging in sex. The abstinence-only approach had no effect on either factor, the researchers found.

"The bottom line is that there is strong evidence that comprehensive sex education is more effective than abstinence-only education at preventing teen pregnancies," said lead researcher Pamela K. Kohler, of the Center for AIDS and STD at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Which is all so obvious that it shouldn't need studying. Teens need no help in discovering their sexualities. It has to do with hormones. Ignoring them won't make them go away. Not that there's anything wrong with them, to begin with. But if they're going to happen, isn't it better to teach teens about them, rather than just telling them they're bad? I know: it's very very very complicated. To medievalists, anyway. But that pretty much describes the U.S. government, doesn't it? As CBS News reported, last November:

Programs that focus exclusively on abstinence have not been shown to affect teenager sexual behavior, although they are eligible for tens of millions of dollars in federal grants, according to a study released by a nonpartisan group that seeks to reduce teen pregnancies.

"At present there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence or reduces the number of sexual partners" among teenagers, the study concluded.

The report, which was based on a review of research into teen sexual behavior, was being released Wednesday by the nonpartisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

The study found that while abstinence-only efforts appear to have little positive impact, more comprehensive sex education programs were having "positive outcomes" including teenagers "delaying the initiation of sex, reducing the frequency of sex, reducing the number of sexual partners and increasing condom or contraceptive use."

But abstinence-only receives the federal funds. Because sex is bad. If you're used to having bad sex, perhaps.

James Wagoner is President of Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based non-profit that focuses on adolescent reproductive and sexual health. As he wrote in the Huffington Post, last November:

Late last week, the Democratic controlled Labor HHS Appropriations Conference Committee endorsed a record $141 million dollar budget for community-based abstinence-only-until-marriage programs which prohibit information about condoms and birth control.

The record-level increase, pushed by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI), flies in the face of a congressionally mandated evaluation showing that abstinence-only programs have "no impact on adolescent behavior." Astonishingly, the windfall was larger than what President Bush had been able to obtain from the prior conservative, Republican-controlled Congress!

In one outrageous move, the Democrats managed to put the health and safety of millions of young people at risk, promote programs that spread ignorance in the era of AIDS, and slap their party's brand on one of the biggest ideological boondoggles in recent congressional history. Over $1.5 billion dollars have been spent over the last decade on programs that simply do not work!

The architect of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, must be pinching himself to make sure he isn't dreaming. When these programs were created as a beneath-the-radar amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill in 1996, ultra-conservative opponents of sex education knew they had launched a major strategic initiative with the potential to achieve many of their goals relating to sexual health in America.

By censoring health-saving information about condoms and birth control and stressing only "failure rates," they seriously undercut the credibility of contraception with America's youth. By placing sexual health information in an ideological, rather than a public health frame, they were also able to promote their own narrow views on topics like abortion, sexual orientation, and gender roles.

And the Kaiser Network had this update:

A House-Senate conference committee on Thursday approved a fiscal year 2008 appropriations measure that would include a $27.8 million increase in funding of abstinence education programs, CQ Today reports. The legislation combines a Labor-HHS-Education spending bill (HR 3043) with a spending bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction (HR 2642) (Wayne, CQ Today, 11/1).

The Senate version would have cut the abstinence only garbage by some $28,000,000, but even that wasn't acceptable. The conference committee went with the House version. Yes, sexual repression is a bipartisan effort. And just to underscore the depth of the insipidity, note that the webpage of the Department of Health and Human Services openly labels abstinence-only as part of its Faith-Based and Community Initiative. Because it's the government's job to be promoting "faith." And faith is certainly a necessity, when it runs counter to science. But there may be some good news coming. According to ABC News:

The political and ethical debate over what to teach teenagers about sex is being reinvigorated after a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. Now some say the study, the first of its kind, reveals why it's so important to teach teens not to have sex at all; others argue that the study proves that federally funded abstinence-only education isn't working.

Stoking the fire, a study published in the April edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health found that those who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to become pregnant than those who received abstinence-only education. The study also found that those who received comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to become pregnant than those who received no sex education at all.

"I do think that there's strong evidence that comprehensive sex education is more effective at preventing teen pregnancies," said Pamela Kohler, lead author of the study and program manager at the University of Washington's Center for AIDS and STD. "I think we pretty much debunked the myth that comprehensive sex education causes teenagers to have sex."

And then there's the obvious news:

In Washington, D.C., however, the debate continues to be politicized.

And the hopeful:

On March 20, 76 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to the House panel that considers federal funding levels, arguing that the government's abstinence-only education program should be eliminated.

And while it is obviously a good thing that 76 Democrats want to eliminate this ludicrous and counterproductive waste of money, it's astonishingly disappointing that only 76 Democrats want to eliminate this ludicrous and counterproductive waste of money.

For further reading, the magnificent Guttmacher Institute has a page full of sober-minded information.

Turkana :: 12:33 PM :: Comments (7) :: Digg It!