The Illinois Campaign for Responsible Sex Education, a coalition of more than 90 groups advocating for comprehensive sex education, is calling for an end to federal funding for abstinence-only programs.
The federal government, through Title V, Section 510 and Community-Based Abstinence Education grants, has allocated the state of Illinois more than $7.5 million to provide abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to students, parents and community groups. That’s the sixth-highest disbursement in the nation — with only Texas ($17.3 million), Florida ($10.7 million), New York ($10.6 million), Georgia ($9.1 million) and Ohio ($7.8 million) receiving more in federal grant money.
“At a time when statistics prove 50 percent of new HIV infections occur in people under the age of 25, 40 percent of Illinois’ new Chlamydia and gonorrhea cases are among youth age 10 to 19 and nearly 19,000 births occur each year to girls aged 19 and younger, it is clear that teens need a more comprehensive approach to sex education,” writes Jonathan Stacks, campaign manager for the coalition, on the group’s website.
Comprehensive sex education is defined as an instruction program that includes abstinence as a proven method for preventing pregnancy, but goes beyond “Just Say No” to provide medically accurate information to help young people make healthful choices over time. Stacks says it is age-appropriate and covers everything from “good touching/bad touching” in elementary school to STD prevention and contraception in later grades.
The group has commissioned two studies that surveyed the landscape of sex education in Illinois. The first, conducted in December 2004, was a statewide survey of registered voters regarding their feelings about school-taught sex education programming. The study concluded that those polled supported comprehensive, age-appropriate and medically accurate sex education.
Results from the second study, released in March 2005, found that while 93 percent of sex education teachers offered some component of sex education, two-thirds omit critical elements of responsible and comprehensive sex education. In addition 92 percent of the teachers said that their curriculum had a great deal or some influence on what topics are covered in the classroom.
After the second survey, the group embarked on a quest to review the state’s existing curriculum used in sex education. The report, released in May, was the first in-depth assessment of what topics are being covered as well as curriculum standards.
“Astoundingly, the curricula ranking in the bottom-third are the only ones that are directly supported by federal tax dollars and two of which will be supported by a $1.2 million investment in Illinois state tax dollars currently in the governor’s budget,” Starks said when the report was announced.
According to the study, the highest-ranked curricula in terms of taking a comprehensive approach to sex education are not supported by state or federal dollars and are in rare use throughout Illinois. In contrast, Project Reality’s curricula, developed in Illinois and receiving over $1 million per year in federal dollars and possibly $1.2 million from the Illinois state budget, ranked in the bottom-third out of the 17 curricula reviewed. These specific curricula, Game Plan and Navigator, are used in 34 percent of Illinois schools compared to Get Real About AIDS, which ranked third but is used in only 8 percent of schools.
A panel of experts was formed to review each curriculum to identify what topics they covered, how they covered them, and if the curriculum matched up to standards as outlined by the national medical and educational associations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, World Health Organization, American Nurses Association and Institute of Medicine. Those rated low failed to meet the criteria. Those scoring high contained many of the elements the panel recommended that a quality, comprehensive sex education curriculum should contain.
Just before to the Illinois announcement in May, the Mathematica Policy Research Inc. released the results of a congressional-mandated evaluation over 10 years of government-funded abstinence-only programs. The evaluation found that abstinence-only programs had no impact on students’ age at first intercourse, number of sexual partners, or condom usage.
“Over the last decade, over $1.5 billion of federal and state tax dollars have been spent on abstinence-only-until marriage programs to see if this is the best way to spend taxpayer dollars on the education of our young people,” said Stacks. “The results came in last week and the message is clear: the abstinence-only experiment has failed.”
National data compared with state data seem to indicate the group’s study is on the mark. In 2005, 46 percent of female high school students and 48 percent of male high school students in the nation reported they’d had sexual intercourse. At that same time, 50 percent of female and 65 percent of male high school students in Illinois reported being sexually active. In addition, 19 percent of male high school students in Chicago reported having sexual intercourse before age 13. Nationally, only 9 percent of high school males reported the same. Just over a fourth — 27 percent – of that same Chicago male population reported having four or more sexual partners. Only 9 percent of all male high school students reported the same nationally.
Nearly $2 million of the federal money for abstinence only programming in Illinois is a result of Title V, Section 510 grants. This money is distributed between 30 groups ranging from community-based organizations to county health departments to crisis pregnancy centers. The remainder of the federal disbursements are made through nine Community-Based Abstinence Education grants and one Adolescent Family Life Act grant.
CareNet Pregnancy Services of DuPage, one of the CBAE grantees, sponsors a program called “Wait 4 Your Mate,” which trains speakers to deliver abstinence-only-until-marriage messages in DuPage County. On its website, the group advocates that pornography is similar to illegal drug use: “There have been a lot of studies done and personal testimonies of how pornography can be very detrimental to the health of the individual that looks at it. The reason is that pornography causes your brain to react in the same ways as your brain reacts to illegal drugs. Using pornography to experience a ‘high’ is very addicting. Eventually, looking at pornography can lead to lack of satisfaction in a real relationship, an eventual inability to be sexually stimulated without pornography, a more violent and dominant attitude towards women or men, and a greater likelihood of acting out in a sexually violent way.”
While discussing masturbation on the website, the group states, “you cannot contract an STD from masturbating, nor can you become pregnant. However, very often masturbation is closely connected with the use of pornography which is not healthy. In addition, some teenagers find that masturbation becomes compulsive, which could be a problem.”
The Illinois Campaign for Responsible Sex Education may get its wish for suspending funding when Congress returns next week. At that time federal lawmakers are expected to resume discussions on Section 510, which was given a three-month extension to Sept. 30. If authorization is not made, the program will end. Lawmakers also might decide to re-authorize the program as-is or revamp the strict guidelines that many consider as prohibitive of research-based sex education.