With little debate and even less reasoning the Senate Finance Committee
recently included in its health care legislation 50 million dollars for
teaching abstinence only sex education classes in schools.
These programs teach students to avoid having sex as the only way to avoid pregnancy and stay healthy.
By definition, these programs are not reality-based and, therefore,
have proven to be ineffective. They deny the existence of condoms,
birth control pills, and other proven ways to stay healthy and avoid
pregnancy. They are ineffective because many young people will have
sex even if you warn them about the dangers, and not educating them
about the number of options available to have safe sex unnecessarily
places their health at risk.
You might call these "ignorance only" programs because their
objective is to keep young people ignorant of the facts of sex and
prevention of medical conditions that could harm them.
In 1996, Congress mandated that the federal government conduct a
nationwide study over many years of the effectiveness of abstinence
only programs in schools. Mathematica Policy Research Inc, conducted
the study from 1997 to 2007, and found that abstinence only classes for
middle school students had no impact on their sexual activity in middle school or later in high school.
The public recognizes what the abstinence only amendment sponsor
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah fails to see – that young people need to
hear all the facts about their bodies, their sexuality, medical
threats, and how to prevent illness. In a Belden Russonello &
Stewart survey, conducted nationwide in 2008, 71% of adults in the
country disagreed that "public high school sex
education programs should only teach abstinence, not other ways of
preventing pregnancy and disease;" a majority of 51% disagreed strongly.
The Mathematica study and the public opinion data show that the
Congress in Washington should not be subjecting our children to a
program that does not work.
I have a suggestion for Senator Hatch, other Republicans, and some
blue dog Democrats who feel the need to record a "yes" vote for
"abstinence only" to satisfy the extreme groups in their states that
want to impose their brand of morality on the rest of us.
My proposal could benefit individual Senators and cost the federal
government a lot less money: For $50,000 instead of $50 million we can
start an "abstinence only" class in the senate to help Senators not to
succumb to temptations of the flesh.
Although its impact on the senators will likely be the same as on
early teenagers, it may mollify some voters in the belief that a senate
program on abstinence only could have prevented Republican Senators
John Ensign of Nevada and David Vitter of Louisiana from falling into
scandals of sexual impropriety, and maybe with the right kind of
instruction, Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho would still be in
the United States Senate.
If we must have an abstinence only program in the health care bill
to satisfy a constituency, then I would rather experiment with the egos
of United States senators than with the health and lives of our
(Cross-posted from Think it Through)
John Russonello is a partner with Belden Russonello & Stewart: Public Opinion Research and Strategic Communications in Washington, DC. He writes the blog "Think it Through."