Finally! When Obama released his budget, cutting funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) education, we were ecstatic but knew that there was a long way to go. Last week, the House voted by an overwhelming majority to eliminate almost $99 million in spending for these failed programs. Yay! It’s about time to try something new—like putting $114 million of new funding into programs that actually educate teens about how to stay safe. Good start.
Opponents claim that giving money to already “well-funded” comprehensive sex ed programs is unnecessary. Perplexingly, it would only decrease the amount of money going to youth education since it doesn’t look like AOUM is coming back anytime soon (fingers crossed!). Abstinence-only supporters bemoan these changes citing “studies” like the 2006 Zogby poll which they claim found that adults approve of AOUM over comprehensive sex ed 2:1. No surprise, as the study was commissioned by the National Abstinence Education Association. Fine. But it was never meant to be a public opinion poll, according to the Guttmacher Institute. More troubling is the way abstinence education was described to respondents. Of course a majority of American adults would support a program which “promotes an age appropriate discussion of contraceptives within the context of promoting abstinence as a healthy choice” (the definition of abstinence programs provided in the survey). Um…isn’t that comprehensive sex ed? Or are we mixing up our labels?
Maybe it’s all so confusing because the abstinence movement is struggling to create a more mainstream image. Jessica Valenti discusses how the “virginity movement” (her label for abstinence proponents) is troubled by their loss of standing due to budget cuts, studies showing their programs are failing, and the new pro-comprehensive-sex-ed administration. By publicly claiming that they are moving away from their “abstinence only and absolutely never mention contraception no matter what” approach they probably hope to garner more support. But, if teaching about STIs involves projecting gruesome images of syphilis infections on a big screen (newsflash: the rate of syphilis among teen girls increased by almost half during the abstinence-loving previous administration) and teaching about contraceptives means claiming that condoms fail more often than they work, we should all be wary.
But enough with depressing old news…in with the new! The House has taken a great step in the right direction towards the health of America’s youth. Next stop, the Senate. And then, hopefully, our schools!
Ruth and Dina in Philadelphia