HHS study reveals flaws in sex education
Posted on Jun 19, 2007 | by Erin Roach
WASHINGTON (BP)--Comprehensive sex-education classes taught in public schools across the nation contain medical inaccuracies, present information in an amoral way, and do not delay the onset of sexual activity among youth, according to a study released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The study, released June 12, came just two days before the full House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to vote on abstinence education funding. But in a victory for abstinence education supporters, the vote has been postponed until after the July 4 recess.
"I think that it's really good that we have some additional time to educate both members of Congress and the American public in general because -- as we've communicated before -- there's so much misinformation about what abstinence education is, what comprehensive sex education is, and what even the new term abstinence plus is," Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, told Baptist Press.
"If we have a couple more weeks so that those members of Congress can vote on a more informed basis, I think it's good," she said.
The HHS study reviewed nine popular comprehensive sex-education programs and found that hardly any emphasis is placed on true abstinence from sexual activity. The focus, rather, is on contraception and ways to lessen the risks associated with sexual behavior.
"Of the curricula reviewed, the curriculum with the most balanced discussion of abstinence and safer-sex still discussed condoms and contraception nearly seven times more than abstinence," the study, requested in 2005 by Republican Senators Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, found.
The appropriations committee was expected to consider a bill that would increase the largest federal funding stream for abstinence education, the Community Based Abstinence Education Program, to $141 million per year. Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is allowing another funding stream, Title V, to expire June 30 after the committee's chairman, Rep. John Dingell, D.-Mich., called abstinence education "a colossal failure."
"We're hoping, even though we're down to the final two weeks, that Rep. Dingell will listen to his colleagues -- and even more importantly his constituents who favor abstinence education continuing -- and that in this 11th hour he'll make a decision that's in the best interest of those teens that are going to lose abstinence education if he doesn't change his mind," Huber said.
In a report similar to the one released by the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) asserted that in recent years comprehensive sex education proponents have tried to "rebrand" their programs by calling them "abstinence plus," which is misleading since the programs hardly ever promote abstinence.
What the programs do teach, NAEA said, are overstated, exaggerated claims of condom usage rates and effectiveness; understated benefits of abstinence, including inaccurate suggestions that abstinence and "safe sex" are equally safe and healthy choices; and promotion of provocative alternatives to intercourse often described as "outercourse."
Furthermore, NAEA said, comprehensive sex education curricula often provide students with ambiguous, inaccurate definitions of abstinence, present sexually explicit and inappropriate content, and undermine the importance and involvement of parents.
"Americans, particularly parents, need to closely examine what their children are receiving under the guise of 'comprehensive' or 'abstinence plus' sex education. Most will be appalled," the NAEA report, titled "Straight from the Source" and released in June on the association's website, said.
Sex education programs, NAEA noted, typically teach teens that if condoms or other forms of "protection" are used, then sex is safe. One of the texts the association examined even warned facilitators not to mention any limitations of condom effectiveness to students.
"Not a single [Comprehensive Sex Education] text encourages teens to delay sex until at least out of high school, much less, waiting until marriage," NAEA reported. "Further, CSE programs make continual suggestions that abstinence and sex with contraception are equally viable options, which is a violation of basic medical accuracy and is dangerously misleading."
In addition to ignoring the risks for sexually transmitted diseases even without intercourse, the comprehensive curricula also dismiss the emotional effect of sexual activity on teens, especially girls, NAEA said.
One program, called "Making Sense of Abstinence," instructs facilitators to "write the benefits of outercourse on the board/easel paper and ask participants to brainstorm all the advantages of outercourse as compared to intercourse." The same program also tells leaders to let participants "define sexual abstinence for themselves" and then "ask participants what sexual behaviors a person could engage in and still be 'abstinent.'"
"This is not education but rather abdication of the role of guiding youth with the full information they need to make personally informed decisions based on sound reasoning and facts," NAEA said in its report.
Also, comprehensive sex education programs undermine the role of parents by discouraging parental awareness and ignoring parental support for abstinence education, NAEA said. Such programs tell teens they can obtain birth control pills from family planning clinics and doctors without permission from parents, and at least one, called "Safer Choices," urged students to visit a store to see how comfortable they would feel purchasing protective products.
"CSE is entirely different from abstinence education, and this fact must be made clear," NAEA said. "Sex education programs hide behind a façade of 'abstinence' because of the overwhelming support for this approach. Abstinence programs teach abstinence and sex education programs teach sex."
A Zogby poll this year found that parents prefer abstinence education over comprehensive education by a 2 to 1 margin, and parents want more funding given to abstinence education than to comprehensive sex education by a 3 to 1 margin. The overwhelming majority of parents surveyed said they want their teens to be sexually abstinent until they are married.
In Georgia, officials recently announced new figures showing a consistent and dramatic drop in teen pregnancy rates during the past 11 years since the institution of abstinence education in the state.
"There are so many pressures facing our nation's youth today," Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R.-Ga., said. "I think it is very important that we educate our young people about consequences and accountability, and encourage them to make the right decisions and maintain a healthy lifestyle. I believe abstinence education is a necessary investment in their future."
Leslie Unruh, president of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse, told the Colorado-based Family News in Focus that it's time for parents to speak up about what is being taught via comprehensive sex education in public schools.
"It's teaching some really different kinds of thinking that really you would expect to see in pornography," Unruh said. "What is going to happen if people do not stand up is they will get this kind of radical sex ed in all the schools in America."
To read the full Health and Human Services study and the National Abstinence Education Association report, visit www.abstinenceassociation.org.