Failure to Launch: Obama’s New Teen Initiative Can Be Fixed, and Here’s How

President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget is to be
applauded.  The President has proposed an
end to abstinence-only-until-marriage funding as we have known it for the
better part of the last decade.  This marks
a significant change in direction, one that finally brings science and evidence
back into government policy. His leadership on this new direction will be
essential in the coming negotiations with Congress.

He has also offered up a new initiative that has become the
source of much discussion among advocates and between these same groups and the
White House.  The President seeks to
reallocate the funding previously spent on abstinence-only-until-marriage to teen
pregnancy prevention in a "silo-ed" approach that will inhibit the comprehensive
approaches needed to address the challenges facing teens today. 

Preventing teen pregnancy is incredibly important.  But unintended pregnancy among teens is not
the only sexual and reproductive health issue facing our nation’s youth.  We also have an epidemic of sexually
transmitted diseases among youth and every hour, at least one young person
acquires HIV in our country.  These and
other adverse outcomes of unprotected sexual activity among youth–outcomes that may result simultaneously in one act of intercourse–are the
consequences of a complex set of circumstances representing the failure of our
nation to strategically and systemically provide the education and information
young people need to make responsible decisions about their sexual health. This
is why our organizations, Advocates for Youth and the Sexuality Information and
Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), have been staunch advocates
for a much broader approach to these and other issues, through efforts that empower
young people to make good and healthy decisions now and throughout their

From a sexual and reproductive health perspective, vertical
or silo-ed programs don’t work.  In fact,
if persistently high teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates,
including HIV, prove anything, it is that addressing these outcomes separately
has consistently failed.

SIECUS and Advocates for Youth, along with nearly 200 of our
nation’s leading health organizations, are seeking change that breaks from this
mold. That is why, during the 2008 election and subsequent transition, for
example, this large and informal coalition strongly advocated for deep
investments by the new Administration in comprehensive sex education, rather
than solely on one aspect of a broader problem. 
Comprehensive sex ed provides teens with information and life-skills
training that will reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections while
addressing other aspects of sex and sexuality, such as responsibility, respect,
mutual consent, identification of abusive or controlling relationships, and
other critical skills. 

sex ed is an approach that has been shown to be effective, for which Americans have consistently shown
support in poll after poll, and which promotes prevention and good health across a range of outcomes rather than only one outcome.  So while
the proposed new initiative is a step in the right direction, there is a great
deal of consensus among the groups who have been working on these issues for
decades that some changes are necessary to achieve maximum benefits in regard
to improving reproductive and sexual health, which in turn will contribute to
reduced health care and social costs. 

This week, more than 175 organizations reiterated the need
to do better and sent letters to the White House and Congressional
toward this end.  These
letters underscored that just a few simple modifications to the President’s proposed
initiative can achieve what is needed.

First, expand the scope of the program.  The current teen pregnancy
prevention language must be expanded to include other proven interventions that
address sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.   To do otherwise hamstrings this initiative
before it even gets off the ground.  By
supporting language that is inclusive of additional approaches, we can bring to
scale comprehensive programs that meet the diverse needs of all young people in
all communities, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning
youth whose needs fall wholly outside of the narrow teen pregnancy prevention
framework.  Admittedly, this step alone hardly
gets us out of the "disaster aversion" silos, but we have to work with what has
been so far advanced by the White House and these few additional words can at
least ensure that broader interventions are supported.

Second, make schools a priority.  By prioritizing schools, the new initiative
can help ensure smart and multi-faceted investments toward a sustainable legacy
to improve the health of our nation.

Over the past several years, significant policy shifts and
the adoption of evidence-based programming in schools have created a unique and unprecedented
opportunity to support a systemic change.  The tired arguments that schools cannot do
this are outdated.  Dozens and dozens of
school districts are at the ready but need resources to make it happen.  By assisting schools in institutionalizing
comprehensive programs aimed at helping improve adolescent sexual behaviors, we
can provide the needed educational information to the widest range of teens. The
current language excludes important public entities, such as schools, from
accessing funds. 

Third, ensure effective implementation.  According to the Administration’s current plan,
all of the funding for these efforts rests within a single agency within the
Department of Health and Human Services, one which currently oversees
abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. While we believe this agency can and
should play an important role in supporting community and faith-based
organizations, the agency does not have the necessary experience or
infrastructure to improve school-based programming.  Investments must be made through agencies
that have a public health framework, existing structures and relationships with
schools, and a proven record of the necessary support services to help ensure
success.  For example, allocating some
funding under the new initiative to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC), which already has established working structures with our
nation’s state and local educational entities, will save the government from "recreating
the wheel" – a process that all too often plagues good intentions.

This is not about semantics. 
We need to create a bold new investment that can be sustained beyond
electoral cycles, Administrations, and the occupant of the White House at any
given time.  We need a lasting commitment
with lasting effects. As currently written, the new teen pregnancy initiative
does not represent that bold, new investment. 

But it can.

Congress and the White House must listen to the chorus of
consensus within the majority of the advocacy community and support the changes requested by the broad
community of advocates and experts engaged in this issue.  Given that the White House rejected the initial
requests to specifically support sex education, these few modifications seem
hardly too much to ask.

Without these changes, the much-sought after end
of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs will not result in the ushering in of the
first ever federal program supporting comprehensive sex education about which President Obama spoke so eloquently during his campaign.  Instead, it will be the same emphasis on teen
pregnancy prevention, launched a dozen years ago by the Clinton Administration,
which was easily highjacked by social conservatives after the mid-term
election.  The result: more disjointed
patchwork prevention programming that fails our youth and blows with the
political winds. 

We have a chance to do something fundamentally different
this time around but the first step is a critically important one and has to be
placed on terra firma.  The job of advocacy groups is to push for a
firm foundation that will withstand changing political winds and to
differentiate that foundation from the thin layer of top soil that can easily
be washed away.

The President’s budget launched us in a new and important
direction. Now we just need to make sure that we arrive at the right

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  • invalid-0

    I agree that the abstinence only approach is ridiculous and I agree with most of what is written in this article. In other words, our youth in this country should have the availability of education when it comes to issues such as sex and drugs.

    According to the statistics mentioned in this article, more than 3 million kids acquire HIV in this country every year. I find this estimation very difficult to accept. I have read that .5% of our population has acquired HIV. If this is true, that would mean that 1.5 million people have HIV in America. Even if that number were doubled to 3 million, that would still only be the same number mentioned in this article as occuring every year within youth populations. I don’t think this is an accurate guess.

    Perhaps the writer meant that any std is transmitted every hour, and not HIV.

  • invalid-0

    Dear Blaster –

    Not sure where you got the 3 million figure from but what we know is that every 9 1/2 minutes, someone in the U.S. acquires HIV (check out and among youth, it is one every hour. That amounts to about 56,300 new infections each year according to new estimates from the CDC.

    Overall, the toll of sexually transmitted disease is enormous in the United States. Approximately 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted disease occur each year and about half of these are among young people ages 15-24. (

    I hope this is helpful.


  • invalid-0

    The real issue here is the lack of discipline and morality among teens. You can give the all the sex-education that they “need” but that won’t solve anything. For as long as teens live selfishly and promiscuously, nothing will change. In fact, the problems of STDs will only get worse.

    Teens act the way they do because most aren’t raised to uphold basic values. And how could they be raised properly when more than half of American families are broken???

    Funding can’t solve the real problem.

  • invalid-0

    Perhaps J. Grants, you should be more concerned about forcing YOUR value system on “more than half of American families” than you should on the idea that engaging in teen sex is indulgent, especially if it is safer sex. When you feel that way about your kids, that’s just misguided parenting, but when you feel that way about so many other families’ teens, well that’s just judgemental and unfounded. I bet you as an adult make some terribly “selfish” choices and probably often. And as an adult, shouldn’t you have lots of that worked out by now, even more so than those “selfish” broken teens should? I would venture to guess that the idea of indulgence would become a much more relative term if you took a look at your own life…..But hey, what do I know. I actually believe in the ability of teens to make better choices if they have the correct information about how to do that. Think about the idea of selfishness or indulgence the next time you’re out on the golf course, the lake or at your nearest steak house or burger joint.

  • invalid-0

    So abstinence is not the answer, teach them about real love and responsibility. Teach them about The Theology of the Body. These same statistics cannot continue. Our Lady of America – Pray for us. Purity is not known. God bless. Purity must be made known.

  • carrilte

    So abstinence is not considered the answer anymore…hmmm. So modern day thinkers suggest otherwise. One comment was made about other types of issues such as banning abstenance in regard to drugs, and incest. the reply was that they could not be compared. I would disagree. Sex seems to be on everyones mind now a days and trying to keep relationships private is not possible anymore. Everyone thinks that their way is the right way and if anyone suggests differently it is absolutly wrong. We seem to have many individuals that are either terrified of Gods commandments or blatently ignorant and/or in full disregard when it comes to the design for sex and its purpose for pro-creation. Science has proven its purpose and anything outside of that is pure pleasure for the individual. Homosexuality is advocated and becoming widely accepted in our soceity today because many refuse to acknowledge or go up against those who engage in sex outside of natures norm and intention. This is absolutly a choice that each person makes for themselves, just as it is for those who engage in incestial relationships that involve a grown father and daughter or any other relationship one may choose for their own personal and private pleasure. According to society today, We should let all sexual beings engage in whatever they choose as long as it is between two or more people over the age of 18 and who cares about the outcome because no one can stop it anyways. Abstence should not be suggested because humans are no different than the rest of the animal population and should freely be allowed to engage in all things pleasuable.I support this rediculous attitude towards sex as long as all people are properly represented and given authority to such personal choices that others such as the straight and gay individuals have. There is no God in modern day civilization therefore no "one" man who is just as filthy minded as the next can offer any moral suggestions. Good work on the promotion of sexual freedoms for all! Who cares about good morals and virtue anymore when we have sex!

    Back to Basix

  • invalid-0

    carilte- two word suggestion for you: continuing education (preferably with a focus on Language arts) And I know there might be some science thrown in but don’t be scared.

  • invalid-0

    It’s not that abstinence isn’t the answer–it’s that believing that everyone will abstain is an ideal that is far removed from reality. I would LOVE if people only had sex inside of committed relationships.

    That isn’t happening.

    Instead, by denying teens a full sexual health education, we are only putting them at higher risk for the negative consequences of sex. I went through a very comprehensive sex ed program. Abstinence was pushed as the BEST way to avoid those consequences, and the teacher was very clear on that. But we also got information on which BC methods worked best for preventing pregnancy and STIs, so that when we did become sexually active we would be able to protect ourselves as much as possible.

    Abstinence as an ideal doesn’t have to be ignored. But these comprehensive sex ed programs are necessary given reality.

  • carrilte

     Your very funny… I think just typing at 3 in the morning is good enough considering the material being discussed. And actually education is not mine or most of the readers of this blogs problem, it is the lack of pure common sense and understanding of human nature. but as was told to us 3,000 years ago in the bible the ignorance of man would come to this, and many would believe that good is bad and bad would become good. But terrified as you are to be proven wrong you, just as many others refuse to even look into a bible to see for yourself. I have studied science and it has only confirmed God and His purpose for all mankind- yes even reproduction and the problem with "free for all sex". The bible tells you everything you will ever need to know about the good and bad outcomes of such lifestyles of the married and unmarried individual. Yes the results are now in and people act surprised as if society had not been warned. You sound like you know it all based on science, but science doesn’t seem to answer the basic questions that need to be answered in order to solve some of lifes basic dillema’s, now does it. I am glad to know that you at least believe in science, that makes you a "quarter" informed. congrats!



    Back to Basix

  • carrilte

    I am also in agreement that sex education is a must, it has always been around, but why the attack on the concept of abstinence? People continue to use the excuse that young adults are  incapable to refrain from sex, that is a lie we would to tell ourselves in order to make excuses for our flippent behaviors. I have continued to reiterate to all my children the decent and noble practice of abstinence, and I am thankful that it has been a lifestyle choice that all my children have decided to practice. What would have happened had I never taught that concept to my children? what if I just said screw it, they will never listen, their in public schools and the world around them tell different stories? I as their parent would not be doing a good or fair job if I gave up on teaching good things that are good for my children. It does take work….so much time and effort was given on my part, but it was all so worth it. Imagine if the schools were to also tell my children similar possibilities of abstence and help me as a parent to teach this to them, my job could be much easier. My reward? Seeing my children given over to a marriage pure and clean. People must not think that this life lesson is a waste of time, when it comes to our youth. So much negitive messages and hardships are already a reality to young people, but if the message can spare the pain of having to face the reality of an unwanted pregnancy or a STD or worse, AIDS….then why not make the investment on them? If money can teach a child in school how to put a condom on the shaft of a penis, then why not also teach alongside, the idea of not haveing sex at all. What is so hard about that?

  • carrilte

     The real problem why kids are not responding to the call of abstenence is not necessaraly  the sex ed classes being taught in school, it is the mass media that slaps it in their face 24 hrs a day. If the nation would address this problem of sex on t.v., magazines, billboards etc. and go back to the time when people cared about what their children were seeing or having access to, we might find future generations of kids more innocent and safe from sexual diseases and pregnancy.


    Back to Basix

  • invalid-0

    There is a great deal here that ought to be addressed but one of the important things to clarify is that abstinence is neither being attacked nor its teaching. Or at least it should not be so attacked. Those who perpetuate the argument that abstinence is not part of what must be taught and strengthened among youth are not being consistent with the values and evidence — combined — that must guide our response. Teaching abstinence works, but it works best when taught alongside a host of other issues, not the least of them is age appropriate discussion of how to use and obtain contraceptives and other reproductive health care services when sex does happen. This notion of an either/or is false, counterproductive and fails to recognize that a combined, comprehensive approach to sex education is the common ground. The issue is that we have just emerged from a decade of federal policy that squandered nearly a billion and a half dollars on an approach that was not from the middle, but rather from the extreme position that abstinence-only-until-marriage was the only thing that could be taught in a positive light. That policy has failed and moreover, it was morally wrong from the start. But the hopeful end to that policy should not be misconstrued as an attack on abstinence itself. It should be seen as a genuine desire to see the restoration of evidence, common sense and moral integrity to our nation’s investment in helping young people navigate through adolescence and emerge on the other end as happier and healthier adults.

    The President’s new initiative has the potential to move us in a new direction and that is where our efforts must be focused.

  • carrilte

     If the policy of abstinence is moraly wrong, then what is moraly right? In the town in which I live in our 6th graders were supposidly being taught a class on aids prevention. What would you consider to be morallty right in this approach? I would FIRST discuss abstinence. Why? Because anything that has a 100% assurancy rate should be taught. If I thought that condoms or spermacides or any other preventitive would give the same results than I would advocate that just the same. However, in the public schools were I live, the teacher who was teaching this class had permission by the school board to show our young vulnerable young people how to give oral sex properly, and how to achieve an orgasim. Is this educating our young against aids or is this simply putting thoughts of sex and pleasure in thier minds.  Please tell me what part of prevention is that? I found that repulsive and unacceptable. Not only was that just the icing on the cake, but the teacher was very specific to keep all that they were learning in the classroom. When a young christian girl came home and told the mother of all that was taught that day, she was ostracized and humiliated in class the next day as being a "goodie to shoe". Is this not an attack on those with morals? The President does not have to really worry about what his kids are being taught does he…his children are immune to the teachings that will be taught to public school children outside of the white house. Believe me, I would hope that man had a little heart for the condition of his girls behavior, but what about kids who come from poverty? Would this not be contradictory to intice or even suggest anything other than the hope for abstinence to those who already have the odds against them? The system has totally set our country up for extreme failure for the youth and if we think our economy sucks now, just give it a couple more years of "Proper?" sex education- Barrak obama style. We should have every hormonal kid popp’n in no time.

    Back to Basix

  • invalid-0

    I won’t address the diatribe that really runs off the rails and into a nonsensical abyss… However, please re-read what I wrote….no one said teaching abstinence is morally wrong…in fact, I wrote quite the opposite.

  • invalid-0

    If the policy of abstinence is moraly wrong, then what is moraly right?

    No one said that abstinence is morally wrong. What we’re arguing here is that sex ed that teaches ONLY abstinence, let alone ONLY abstinence-until-marriage, is ineffective and setting young men and women up for failure (STDs, pregnancy, what have you). We’re arguing in favor of comprehensive sex ed, which includes abstinence, as well as how to mitigate the risks of sexual activity.

    I would FIRST discuss abstinence. Why? Because anything that has a 100% assurancy rate should be taught.

    And no one here disagrees with that.

    However, in the public schools were I live, the teacher who was teaching this class had permission by the school board to show our young vulnerable young people how to give oral sex properly

    You mean, using a condom, to prevent transmission of herpes simplex and other such orally-transmitted diseases? That’s fantastic—a lot of young people engage in oral sex because they don’t consider it to be “real sex,” often without being aware of the STD risks that activity poses.

    and how to achieve an orgasim.

    So they covered masturbation, too? Sounds like the public schools in your area have a bang-up progressive sex-ed program. Masturbation is an excellent skill to teach, and to destigmatize, because it allows youngsters to take care of their sexual urges in the safest possible way—by remaining abstinent. No risk of disease, of pregnancy… the worst thing you have to worry about is chafing!

    When a young christian girl came home and told the mother of all that was taught that day, she was ostracized and humiliated in class the next day as being a “goodie to shoe”. Is this not an attack on those with morals?

    Yes, it’s an attack on those who want our young people to be both promiscuous while remaining ignorant of sexuality, which is the worst possible situation. I’m glad that these people who wish youngsters harm have had no influence on your schools’ sex-ed curricula.

  • invalid-0

    Science has proven its purpose and anything outside of that is pure pleasure for the individual.

    This statement pretty clearly implies that “pure pleasure” is on its face an immoral reason to have sex. What does this remind me of?

    “Puritan – someone who adheres to strict religious principles; someone opposed to sensual pleasures”

  • invalid-0

    Teach them about The Theology of the Body.

    Our Constitution guarantees our religiou freedom. The government of the United States has no business teaching anybody any kind of theology whatsoever.

  • invalid-0

    I was told by friends that the National Campaign is the group that screwed this whole thing up instead of being part of the team and working with everyone else. In my state, we have had so many bad experiences with the National Campaign that I would not be surprised. So is this true? Who funds them? The right winger foundations?

  • invalid-0

    From a purely biological view, teen pregnancy is extremely low. In a natural state virtually every healthy woman would get pregnant well before age 20. It is just normal and natural. Average age of menarche is 13, so waiting more than 7 years before getting pregnant defies human biology, no matter how fashionable it currently may be.

    • invalid-0

      That’s such an interesting fact. It’s crazy to think so many of the girls out there would be mothers if this was just a couple centuries ago.

  • invalid-0

    Even with the decline of consumer and business spending there are still plenty of valuable investments for people to seek out and get them through these tough times. In fact, I think right now is the time to get wealthy, not be afraid.

    Panama Land Investments
    Business Stationary

  • invalid-0

    The real issue here is the lack of discipline and morality among teens. You can give the all the sex-education that they “need” but that won’t solve anything.

  • invalid-0

    Well, this should be interesting to see if the local governments follow through with their behaviors on this matter, as far as the teaching and the different change in direction way of thinking. There’s no doubt that through web promotion and online mocmunitesi discussing their feelings based on this change of funding, we will most likely get a lot of discussion with how to best deal with this issue, even if we dont all agree.