Scientists Plead – “No More Ab-Only Funding!”

Abstain_2 President Bush has proposed increasing funding for abstinence-only education to $204 million in 2008, despite the fact that the programs promote marriage as the only acceptable family structure, stigmatize and encourage silence in sexually abused youth, deny information to sexually active youth, and ostracize and condemns LGBT youth based on views that are entirely religious in origin. (This is not to mention all the studies, surveys, and reports that follow, which demonstrate the danger and sheer ineffectiveness of the AOE programs…)

In fact, abstinence-only programs have such freedom with the federal dollar that they recently broadened their target base to include all unmarried adults under the age of thirty! The escalating nature of this climate prompted a group of scientists to rally against Bush’s proposal with a hard-hitting, fact-filled response backed with plenty of scientific documentation.

Earlier this week, professionals from institutions such as Columbia, Yale, and the University of California sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging her to discontinue federal funding for abstinence-only education. The letter went on to cite the mountain of recent documentation demonstrating the inefficacy and potential damage of these programs. They note the condemnation of abstinence-only teachings by the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine.

The opinions of these organizations is further enforced by recent Congressional testimony from former Surgeon General Richard Carmona:

Dr. Carmona’s testimony confirms the political motivations behind abstinence funding and the failure to address issues of efficacy and scientific accuracy. He suggested that ideology and theology have taken priority over women’s health in the current administration. Dr. Carmona reported that the Bush administration “did not want to hear the science but wanted to, if you will, ‘preach abstinence,’ which I felt was scientifically incorrect.”

The letter highlights “multiple deficiencies” in ab-only ed and expresses “surprise and dismay” that Congress proposes to “extend and even increase” funding abstinence-only education programs. They attach various national and international studies and surveys, which fortify their position, including those sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By design, abstinence programs restrict information about condoms and contraception – information that may be critical to protecting the health of young people and to preventing unplanned pregnancy, HIV infection, and infection with other sexually transmitted organisms. They ignore the health needs of sexually active youth and youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning for counseling, health care services, and risk reduction education. Withholding lifesaving information from young people is contrary to the standards of medical ethics and to many international human rights conventions.

The letter goes on to show that little evidence supports the efficacy of these programs to promote abstinence or reduce pregnancy and STDs in teens, while strong evidence suggests

…that many comprehensive sexuality education programs, which include information on both abstinence and contraception, do help young people delay initiation of intercourse.

AOE did succeed in heightening teenagers’ doubts that condoms were effective in preventing HIV or other STDs. (Presumably decreasing the likelihood they will be used for this purpose once the boy or girl becomes sexually active.)

Virginity pledges were shown to temporarily delay the onset of sexual activity, but once these teens did begin to have sex they were much less likely to use condoms or seek reproductive health care.

Abstinence until marriage programs, which recently extended to target unmarried adults up to 29 years of age, presented an increasingly unrealistic goal as the average onset of sexual activity has lowered to 17 years of age, while the average age Americans get married is around 26 and continues to rise.

The letter also cites the 2004 Congressional Report , headed by Rep. Henry Waxman, that found disturbing inaccuracies in ab-only educational materials.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Reform – Minority Staff found that 11 of the 13 most frequently used curricula contained false, misleading or distorted information about reproductive health – including inaccurate information about contraceptive effectiveness, purported health risks of abortion, and other scientific errors. Recent reviews of these abstinence curricula from Santelli and colleagues at Columbia University have found similar inaccuracies, particularly misinformation about the efficacy of condoms and contraception.

At the very minimum, the report can be summarized as finding that AOE programs typically

  • grossly underestimate the effectiveness of condoms and other contraceptives in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs);
  • make false claims about the physical and psychological risks of abortion;
  • offer misinformation on the incidence and transmission of STIs;
  • replace scientific facts with religious views and moral judgments; and
  • distort medical evidence and basic scientific facts.

Lets look at this in a little more detail. The Washington Post reported:

Many American youngsters participating in federally funded abstinence-only programs have been taught over the past three years that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person’s genitals “can result in pregnancy,” a congressional staff analysis has found.

In addition, the report found education materials that asserted

• A 43-day-old fetus is a “thinking person.”
• HIV can be spread via sweat and tears.
• Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse. (Actually, it’s less than 3% when used consistently and correctly, as much as 14% with incorrect or inconsistent use)

One curriculum, called “Me, My World, My Future,” teaches that women who have an abortion “are more prone to suicide” and that as many as 10 percent of them become sterile. This contradicts the 2001 edition of a standard obstetrics textbook that says fertility is not affected by elective abortion.

Another curriculum tells youth that a long list of personal problems — including isolation, jealousy, poverty, heartbreak, substance abuse, unstable longterm commitments, sexual violence, embarrassment, depression, personal disappointment, feelings of being used, loss of honesty, loneliness, and suicide — “can be eliminated by being abstinent until marriage.”

Similarly, other curricula teach that mental health problems are a consequence of sexual activity, without considering the evidence that these problems might themselves cause premature sexual activity, or that they might have a common origin.

Gender roles got roped into the fray, with materials that often

present as scientific fact notions about a man’s need for “admiration” and “sexual fulfillment” compared with a woman’s need for “financial support.”

Another curriculum instructs: “Women gauge their happiness and judge their success on their relationships. Men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments.”

One book in the “Choosing Best” series tells the story of a knight who married a village maiden instead of the princess because the princess offered so many tips on slaying the local dragon. “Moral of the story,” notes the popular text: “Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.”

As you might imagine, abstinence groups were displeased with the report and found all sorts of ways to call it inaccurate, especially since the teaching materials are all still in place. Choosing the Best responded to the fairytale criticism by explaining that the story

is designed to illustrate the differences in communication style between men and women. In addition to missing the point of the story, Waxman fails to mention that this program is for older teens, deals with “Making Marriage Work” and presents widely accepted, mainstream relational principles that encourage the development of listening and appreciation skills in a marriage relationship.

I guess the Choosing Best people consider this perfect justification for a federally-funded youth-targeted parable — taking fault not for critics’ interpretation of the message, which they uphold, but jumping to clarify the story’s “age-appropriateness” for teens and supposedly sound application to marriage.

Just for good measure, here are a few tidbits from a Seicus Fact Sheet “In Their Own Words: What Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs Say

* “There are always risks associated with it [premarital sex], even dangerous, life-threatening risks such as HIV/AIDS. Using contraceptives does not change this for teenagers.” – FACTS Middle School, Student Handbook, p. 50

* “…students who do not choose to exercise self-control to remain abstinent
are not likely to exercise self-control in the use of a contraceptive device.” – Game Plan, Coach’s Clipboard, p. 27

* “AIDS can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact.” – Reasonable Reasons to Wait, Teacher’s guide, Unit 5, pg. 19

* “A guy who wants to respect girls is distracted by sexy clothes and remembers her for one thing. Is it fair that guys are turned on by their senses and women by their hearts?” – Sex Respect, Student Workbook, p. 94

* “One thing that sex education and the media fail to communicate is the power of sex. Spies, who are trained not to give away government secrets, even lose their sensibilities and give in to the power of sex, often because of what a woman is wearing.” (SPIES?!) WAIT Training, Workshop Manual, p. 86

* “These are simply natural consequences. For example, if you eat spoiled food, you will get sick. If you jump from a tall building, you will be hurt or killed. If you spend more money than you make, your enslavement to debt affects you and those whom you love. If you have sex outside of marriage, there are consequences for you, your partner and society.” – Sex Respect, Student Workbook, p. 11

Seen enough? Let’s move on…

It gets even worse when our Christian Conservative abstinence “values” actually hamper the country from effectively saving lives in other countries that we’ve agreed to help. The letter to Pelosi cites the grotesque findings of the Government Accountability Office that reported that AIDS–ravaged countries qualify for US aid only if they spend one-third of the donated resources on abstinence-only education. This was mandated without consideration of the overriding health and poverty issues, deeply embedded cultural and religious differences, and rampant gender inequality which can eliminate a female’s option to abstain.

As a result, thousands needlessly fall ill in the absence of pervasive condom education and dispersion because we’d rather impose our Puritanical views of abstinence-over-information, in which most of our own citizens don’t believe. This restriction also greatly impedes our ability help the sick and dying, as it doesn’t allow funds to be allocated based on areas of need – at least not 33.3% of them.

Whether the letter will do any good or not remains to be seen. It would certainly seem that some response is called for. Read the letter for yourself with links to all the studies cited at

*** More info (if you really need it)
Physicians Oppose Inaccurate and Dangerous Abstinence-only Sexuality Education in Texas Textbooks

The Case Against Abstinence-Only Sex Education (article w/Shelby Knox on BeliefNet)

PBS Documentary: The Education of Shelby Knox

A self-described “good Southern Baptist girl,” 15-year-old Shelby Knox of Lubbock, Texas has pledged abstinence until marriage. But she becomes an unlikely advocate for comprehensive sex ed when she finds that Lubbock, where high schools teach abstinence as the only safe sex, has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STDs in the state.

Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education: Assessing the Impact
Doctors denounce abstinence-only education

Abstinence-only sex ed defies common sense: Education policy spreads ignorance, sends confusing message to teens

Abstinence-Only Goes Beyond Teens

The federal government’s “no sex without marriage” message isn’t just for kids anymore.

Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007. (for Abstinence Until Marriage Programs)
* In Their Own Words: What Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs Say
* Harmful Consequences Abstinence Only Doesn’t Work


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One Response to “Scientists Plead – “No More Ab-Only Funding!””

  1. music Says:

    very interesting.
    i’m adding in RSS Reader

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