Raising Expectations in the Rockies: Colorado’s Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Industry and the Imperative for Real Sex Ed

The debate between abstinence-only-until-marriage and comprehensive sex education can seem deceptively simple.  Youth are either given an education that demonizes sex and withholds information about contraceptives or STDs, or, if they’re lucky, they have access to programs that teach them how to make responsible and informed decisions, without fear or shame.  The right choice is clear, and once state governments decide to devote funding and attention to comprehensive sexuality education, the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry will vanish like a bad dream.

A glance at Colorado, though, shows us that nothing is ever that easy.  Despite its increasingly progressive policies on sex education, the state is quickly becoming a testing ground for implementation of comprehensive sexuality education programs where abstinence-only-until-marriage programs continue to flourish despite a lack of federal funds.  The Healthy Colorado Youth Alliance and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) teamed up to create a report, Raising Expectations in the Rockies: Colorado’s Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Industry and the Imperative for Real Sex Education, detailing both the failures of Colorado’s abstinence-only-until-marriage industry as well as the advances made in the state in the fight to implement comprehensive sexuality education. This new report provides an extensive overview of abstinence-only-until-marriage providers and the ways that these programs, without changing their fundamental message, have adapted to Colorado’s new policies while continuing to misinform the state’s youth. The report also address the gains made and the challenges local schools districts still face to implement comprehensive sexuality instruction consistent with state law.

It would be hard to find a state that represented a more fascinating microcosm of the country’s complex attitudes toward sex education.  In terms of the numbers, Colorado’s youth are not unusual, with median rates of unintended teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) compared to adolescents across the country.  As in the rest of the United States, parenting is a primary reason for school drop-out among young women.  Some of Colorado’s youth populations, including black and Latino youth, are disproportionately affected by high rates of teen birth and STIs, and these disparities are frequently cited by both sides as ballast for their own particular programming.

But Colorado has also seen increasingly progressive political action on sex education since 2007, when the state first rejected Title V abstinence-only-until marriage funding.  In the spring of that same year, Governor Bill Ritter signed HB07 1292 into law, a piece of legislation that established science-based content standards and, for the first time, set minimum requirements for curriculum used to teach human sexuality by school districts.  Although Colorado schools are not compelled to teach sexuality, pregnancy, or STI-prevention education, districts can decide whether they want to include the subject.  These new requirements established that although abstinence needed to be emphasized, programs also needed to encourage family communication and help students develop skills for making responsible and healthy decisions, as well as providing instruction on STIs and contraception. These seem like obvious minimum standards for any sex education program that seeks to prepare students to make healthy choices.  But our investigation revealed that the curricula promoted by Colorado’s abstinence-only-until-marriage providers didn’t just neglect to teach basic skills like helping young people clarify their own values or make decisions for themselves about relationships, they also omit crucial information about STIs and birth control. They supplement a lack of information with lessons that combined gender stereotypes with condemnations of non-traditional families, topped off by a heavy dose of fear and shame.

In our report, we examined the programming and curricula administered by the state’s four former Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) grantees, which include Friends First, Life Network, WAIT Training, and the YMCA of Pueblo.  All of these organizations received funding during the 2009 fiscal year.  These organizations focus their programming on Colorado’s nine most populous counties, which are also the areas of the state most affected by unintended teen pregnancy and STIs.  Although these are clearly the places where comprehensive sexuality education is most essential, the programs promote a narrow vision of an acceptable and moral life, demonizing abortion, elevating marriage as the only responsible relationship goal, and marginalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth and their families.  Their curricula aren’t benign; they are downright dangerous.

Some grant recipients are explicitly faith-based and, in addition to providing curricula for Colorado public schools, they even linked to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), organizations that pretend to offer medical services to pregnant women and instead delude the women who seek their help with anti-abortion propaganda and straight-up misinformation in an attempt to frighten them out of exercising their right to choose.

As if medical misinformation topped with a sprinkle of religious messaging wasn’t bad enough, the gender stereotypes promoted in many of the curricula seem to be straight out of the latest episode of Mad Men. Positive relationship dynamics are illustrated through disturbing parables that encourage girls to think of themselves as “damsels in distress,” fragile creatures who are capable of offering occasional pieces of advice or wisdom but who should not overshadow their male partners, or have strong opinions of their own.  In the parables, the consequences for women who overstep these boundaries are severe; one “princess” who dares to offer suggestions about how to slay a dragon is abandoned by her rescuer for a less knowledgeable maiden.  The implications are clear: women are valued only for the support they provide to men.  It’s worrying to imagine that these kinds of messages can be found anywhere outside a history curriculum, not to mention in a twentieth-century classroom that ostensibly teaches about healthy relationships.

The lessons about marriage and families are no less disturbing.  Marriage is elevated as the only acceptable life goal, to the point where lessons in some curricula consists of a mock wedding ceremony, complete with tuxedo and white dress.  Students are given unrealistic expectations for their married lives (assuming, of course, that they can and want to get married), promoting the excitement of the wedding day rather than addressing the serious long-term commitment that marriage entails.  Marriage, these programs teach, will provide health and wealth; married people can expect all kinds of benefits, including longer lives and lower risk of domestic violence.  A refusal to marry or failed marriage, on the other hand, results in unspeakable catastrophe: delinquent children, higher incidence of sexual abuse, and increased risk of poverty.  These programs go far beyond affirming a couple’s decision to form a legal union and begin a family.  They marginalize LGBT youth, who may not be able to marry, and vilify young people who grew up in single-parent or “non-traditional” families.  All of these damaging lessons are couched in metaphors that rely on fear and shame.  In another disturbing parable, students are told that after pre-marital sex, their self-esteem will be crushed as easily as an empty soda can.  In yet another, that their bodies are as desirable as chewed gum or crumpled paper; they are impure, emotionally drained, and worthless.

The state’s most prominent abstinence-only-until-marriage program providers commonly target specific populations that they deem to be “at-risk,” including Latino/a students, teen parents, low-income youth, and single-parent families. The YMCA of Pueblo and Friends First conduct Quinceañera Programs, which work to “reinforce the traditional quinceañera [sic] values of purity and virginity until marriage,” and include a graduation ceremony where each girl pledges her commitment to abstinence until marriage and is presented with a purity ring “as a reminder of her promise to save her virginity for her future husband.” While the purpose of the Quinceañera is to mark a rite of passage for young women, particularly in the context of church and family, a “virginity pledge” has not been a traditional element of the ritual. Such programs undermine and remake a cultural tradition of Latino communities in order to further an ideologically driven mission.

Friends First and WAIT Training also target the “high-risk” populations that result from the “broken nature” of single-parent homes and uphold the notion that abstaining from sexual activity until marriage is a panacea that will bring “freedom from broken relationships.” These programs infer that abstinence will increase marital stability, decrease depression, and increase adult happiness, and present one family structure as morally correct and beneficial to society. In reality, any Coloradan classroom is likely to have children of never-married or divorced parents as well as children of gay, lesbian, and bisexual parents who cannot legally marry in Colorado.

Interestingly, the programs have adapted to changes in Colorado’s political climate.  They have shied away from total medical misinformation (like previous suggestions that young people who have sex should wash their genitals with Lysol after sex) or explicitly faith-based messaging, and instead provide just enough information about birth control or STIs to comply with new state regulations.  This information is often incomplete or confusing.  Curricula will tell students about the importance of using condoms correctly, but then provide no information about what correct use entails.  They do not, however, emphasize the need for young people to make their own decisions about relationships, or remove marriage from its pedestal.  Instead, the programs justify their existence under the new sex education guidelines by marketing their curricula as “poverty prevention” and “relational wellness,” while the core ideological message remains the same

Colorado’s students deserve better than these programs.  And although the state has made impressive strides toward implementing comprehensive sexuality education, our report shows the need for a strong and persistent commitment to advancing accurate and healthy programming in the Colorado schools. 

We have a few recommendations. First of all, individual schools can make HB07 1292 a reality by ensuring that all sexuality education taught in their schools is comprehensive.  Colorado can save money and resources by continuing to reject the failed, expensive Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds.  The state can continue to apply for Personal Responsibility Education Program funding, so that the comprehensive sex education programs in the state can grow through federal funding.  And the state can implement the state academic standards for comprehensive health education with evidence-based programs and principles and create a statewide resource for teachers and administrators on comprehensive sex education that supports consistent implementation of HB07 1292.

Like the rest of the country, Colorado is at a crossroads.  There is significant proof that abstinence-only-until-education programs are a waste of money, and a glance at any of the curricula reveals the damaging stereotypes that these programs uphold.  The federal government is showing an increasingly strong commitment to funding programs that embrace comprehensive sexuality education.  Now Colorado has the opportunity to hold its sex education curricula to a high standard—and to get rid of programs that do more harm than good.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact press@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • danny-ceballos

    Terrific blog piece- really informative.  Interesting to put CO in relation to other states.  And to understand the nuances of how abstinence-only education skirts the requirements of being science-based.  Especially disturbing for me is how these programs disempower LGBT youth- already at a severe disadvantage in accessing health and safety. Thanks for posting!

  • joneen-mackenzie-rn

    Reality Check, I would like to thank you for constantly writing about the WAIT (Why Am I Tempted?) Training Curriculum in your reports. Every time you do, we get more inquiries, more parents and schools to take a second look at our programming efforts.

    I find it fascinating that the three themes of your most recent report about sexuality education in Colorado is the tired old “Fear and shame based” charge, the exclusion charge, and the religion charge. All three declarations have no specific examples cited. The reason for that is these accusations about this curriculum are false. 

    The truth about this curriculum is: 

    1. WAIT Training meets the criteria for the new Colorado Health Education Guidelines and Standards.

    2. WAIT Training is aligned with the 17 Characteristics of Effective Programs and the CDC Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT)

    3. WAIT Training meets the CDC Sexual Health Guidelines as outlined in the Healthy Youth Sexual Health Guidelines Report which can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/sexualbehaviors/guidelines/guidelines.htm  This report says:

    “School systems should make programs available that will enable and encourage young people who have not engaged in sexual intercourse and who have not used illicit drugs to continue to

    • Abstain from sexual intercourse until they are ready to establish a mutually monogamous relationship within the context of marriage.

    For young people who have engaged in sexual intercourse or who have injected illicit drugs, school programs should enable and encourage them to

    • Stop engaging in sexual intercourse until they are ready to establish a mutually monogamous relationship within the context of marriage.

    Any health information developed by the Federal Government that will be used for education should encourage responsible sexual behavior–based on fidelity, commitment, and maturity, placing sexuality within the context of marriage.

    Any health information provided by the Federal Government that might be used in schools should teach that children should not engage in sex and should be used with the consent and involvement of parents.”


    4. WAIT Training is aligned with the 9 target areas found consistently in the adolescent health literature to help students delay sexual debut which are:


    Target #1 Enhance knowledge of:
          a) physical development and sexual risks, and
          b) personal relationships              
    Target #2 Support personal attitudes and beliefs that value sexual risk avoidance                                                 
    Target #3 Improve perception of and independence from negative  peer and social norms                                               
    Target #4 Build personal competencies and self-efficacy to refuse sex
    Target #5 Strengthen personal intention and commitment to avoid sexual involvement                                         
    Target #6 Identify and reduce the opportunities for sexual involvement
    Target #7 Acknowledge and address common rationalizations for sexual involvement                                          
    Target #8 Strengthen future goals and opportunities 
    Target #9 Partner with parents


    5. WAIT Training is aligned with the parameters of Colorado State Regulatory Guidelines specifically HB 1292


    6.WAIT Training meets the criteria for the National Health Education Standards


    7. WAIT Training is aligned with the criteria for age appropriate messaging and cognitive development skill building


    8. WAIT Training has been through a rigorous medical accuracy review from the United States Health and Human Services; Administration for Children and Families medical team and has been certified as medically accurate


    9. WAIT Training aligns with what most parents say they desire for their children (see National Survey of Adolescents and Their Parents Report)


    10. WAIT Training is being evaluated by an independent educational evaluator whose preliminary findings are:

    v  Pre-post data demonstrates statistical significance from pre to post within 26 items which represent the following categories:  Peer Self-Esteem, Communication, Attitudes about Abstinence, Knowledge, Behavioral Intentions, and Present and Recent Behavior.

    v  Based on pre-post preliminary results, the initial assessment is that WAIT Training is demonstrating immediate impact among participating youth as demonstrated by percentage increases and statistically significant favorable shifts ranging from 4.2% to 22.8% to increase knowledge, change attitudes and intent towards early sexual debut.

    v  Present results are encouraging and reflect the goal of this program.

    v  WAIT Training has met its aim to educate and support teen decisions to postpone sexual activity in preparation for a lifetime committed relationship commonly known as marriage.


    Here is just an example of the many skills taught in WAIT Training:

    ·         Self discovery: learning about personality, ones uniqueness,  learning the 5 love languages and how one gives and receives love,  discovering ones gifts, talents, passions, hopes  and dreams

    ·         The science of healthy relationship development and maintenance, the stages of attachment, the importance of friendship, the desire for attachment, connection and commitment, the steps of intimacy, the dimensions of relationship enhancement, conflict resolution, communication skills and the expression of feelings; resistance of peer pressure, warning signs of unhealthy relationships regarding dating or intimate partner violence, internet safety

    ·         Success sequencing, media literacy, decision making skills, self regulation and impulse control strategies, aviodance of drug, alcohol and tobacco use

    ·         Healthy family formation skills and strategies, compatibilities, healthy family planning / contraceptive information

    ·         Leadership skills, character development and  embracing ones personal power

    ·         The value and benefits of safe and stable families and marriage

    This curriculum is inclusive because it is our experience that ALL students need healthy relationship skills no matter what type of relationship they are in. In regard to discussing the benefits of marriage, the gay community obviously knows the benefits and are fighting for them. Let’s all fight for the benefits of a healthy marriage. 

    Reducting of poverty  and increasing  self sufficiency is extremely important to our nation.

    The research is clear. According to William Galston PhD, after his exhaustive meta-analysis of the literature, said there are three secrets to self sufficiency and poverty prevention:

    1. Graduate from high school

    2. Marry BEFORE having a baby,

    3. Don’t marry until mid twenties.


    Additionally, 1996 Welfare Reform and Social Responsibility Act enacted by President Clinton is dedicated to reducing poverty by reducing non marital birth rates and maintaining healthy marriages and safe and stable families.


    What we offer is new and refreshing. The WAIT Training Curriculum educates equips and empowers students with the relationship development skills to live and love well.  

    Empowering students to have the skills for a promising future, to stay healthy and to be connected in meaningful relationships is an important goal of the WAIT Training Program.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Joneen Mackenzie RN


  • prochoiceferret

    { Abstain from / Stop engaging in } sexual intercourse until they are ready to establish a mutually monogamous relationship within the context of marriage.


    So this WAIT curriculum (as well as the Bush-era CDC guidelines) completely leaves out people who can’t be married (e.g. gay and lesbian folks in most states), people who don’t want to marry, and people who don’t want to be monogamous. Why don’t you just leave out people who are not evangelical Christian conservatives and be done with it?

  • colleen

    WAIT ‘training’ establishes a standard that 97% of US adults failed to adhere to.

    It also produces the worst sort of men:  ‘pro-life’ guys like the ones who post here insisting that men are not at least 50% responsible for each and every unwanted pregnancy or who want to force pregnant 10 year olds to carry pregnancies to term.  

  • invalid-0

    The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association all call for comprehensive, medically accurate sexual education for our children.  The leading medical organizations in this field do so because we cannot expect anyone to make responsible, safe choices as teens (or as adults) in the absence of accurate information.

    We can continue make this debate about politics/religion/values or we could decide to consider what is actually happening around us: that 3 in every 10 girls are pregnant at least once before the age of 20 and that 82% of these pregnanices are unintended.  Teen births disproportionately affect teens of color, but this is not because they are more sexually active, it is instead because white teens use contraception and abortion at higher rates.

    In my practice I routinely see teens (and also many adults) who do not know how to correctly use condoms, who do not know what types of contraception is available for them to use, and who do not understand the basics of human reproduction (that is, sperm meets egg, implants in uterus, etc).  The amount of myths and misinformation around sexual issues is staggering- everything from what you can “do” and still be a “virgin” to “how dangerous” birth control pills are for teens to use.

    Teens need trusted adults in their life who can impart medically accurate knowledge. Physicians and other health providers who work with teens see the consequences of little, no, or misinformation. 

    Eliza Buyers, MD

  • prochoicekatie

    Those standards haven’t been updated since the Federal government decided to switch funding heavily towards CSE,


    All the references from that particular piece are from the 1980’s. We’ve come a little way since then, even though BUSH era policies prevented us from acknowledging that.

    Secondly, the report wasn’t written by RH, it was written by SIECUS (displayed prominently in the article, if you read it) and the report was HEAVILY researched. I know, because I saw it before it was released.


    WAIT Training hasn’t been held effective in any serious studies and even the man charged with defending Ab-only programs to Congress said nothing ‘so far’ had been found to be effective.

    But who cares about outcomes? Not WAIT, apparently.

    Waiting until marriage is a religiously-laden principle and frankly, should have no place in federal policy. How about waiting until you’re informed and ready? That comes well before marriage for many.

  • prochoicekatie

    Based on pre-post preliminary results, the initial assessment is that WAIT Training is demonstrating immediate impact among participating youth as demonstrated by percentage increases and statistically significant favorable shifts ranging from 4.2% to 22.8% to increase knowledge, change attitudes and intent towards early sexual debut.

    See, the problem is that INTENT is not preventing teen pregnancy and STI’s. Kids intend to WAIT but then they DON’T. MOST DON’T. The focus of the new federal guidelines – see PREP and even the Title V stuff – is OUTCOMES. So if it sounds nice but doesn’t work – we don’t care about it. Talk to me when WAIT actually works. When you have a statistically relevant amount of kids WAITING until they get married. In their mid 20’s.

    The research is clear. According to William Galston PhD, after his exhaustive meta-analysis of the literature, said there are three secrets to self sufficiency and poverty prevention:

    1. Graduate from high school

    2. Marry BEFORE having a baby,

    3. Don’t marry until mid twenties.

    As for the research ‘being clear’ you’ve highlighted that people should wait to get married and start families until they’re financially secure… but you realize that all these people that are waiting until their mid 20’s to get married have already had sex, right????? And Galston didn’t say wait to have sex. He said wait to get pregnant (yay, contraception!) and wait to get married. Don’t overdraw conclusions from that research. It’s called reaching, and it’s ruining the education of American teens.

  • gina-harris

  • cc

    “This is confirmed not only by the high demand for our programs since 1993, but by a recently released national study of adolescents and their parents which found that 70% of parents agreed that it is “against [their] values for [their] adolescents to have sexual intercourse before marriage” and that “having sexual intercourse is something only married people should do.” Adolescents gave similar responses.”


    The above statement is very misleading.  While it is correct that 70% of parents agree that it against their values for their kids to have sex, the responses from adolescents are more nuanced. But this is the type of facile and specious “logic” that the Jesus loves abstinence crowd traffics in. The survey provides a little more information than Ms. Harris does:


    “Adolescent Attitudes

    − While the majority of adolescents surveyed oppose pre-marital sex in general and forthemselves, on average adolescents expressed less conservative general views aboutsex and abstinence than their surveyed parents.
    − Similarly, adolescents were more likely than their surveyed parents to agree that engaging in sexual intercourse would be permissible for them in specific contexts.
    − In general, adolescents expressed more permissive views when asked specificallyabout their attitudes about their own sexual behavior, as opposed to more general statements about sexual values.
    − Older adolescents and male adolescents expressed more permissive views about their own sexual behavior, consistent with parents’ reported attitudes.
    − Non-Hispanic black adolescents reported the most permissive views about their own sexual behavior, despite the more restrictive views expressed by their parents. Hispanic adolescents expressed more restrictive views than adolescents of other race/ethnicities, more in line with their parents’ attitudes.”


    And speaking of reports, here’s a US House of Representatives report (2004) on the content of abstinence only program. Friends First is included in a list of programs that have “distortions and errors.” It was also cited as promoting information that condoms are not effective against HPV despite evidence cited by the CDC that condoms do reduce the risk of HPV – information that Friends First does not provide. Bottom line, it’s a disservice to the taxpayer for them to fund ineffective abstinence only programs. It’s also unfair to young people to not provide them with all the information that they need if they do choose to have sex which of course could lead to those nasty abortions (in addition to HPV and HIV) that the anti-choice movement is opposed to!

  • yhamby
    “Sexual health is an important part of the overall health and well-being of teenagers,” Gottlieb added. “For too long, we as a nation have been far too squeamish about sexual health issues for teens, but we owe it to our kids to get over it.”

    FACT: Reducing unintended pregnancies, particularly among adolescents, would improve educational and employment opportunities for women, which would in turn contribute to improving the status of women, increasing family savings, reducing poverty and spurring economic growth, AND unintended pregnancies would decline by… more than two-thirds with a doubled investment in family planning and maternal health services.

    The key message that all federally funded family planning clinics are required and do provide the following counseling message: ABC=if not in a monogamous and mutually committed relationship, abstinence is the first choice; if you are in a monogamous and mutually committed relationship then be faithful and if you are not in the above defined relationship and cannot be abstinent then use condoms.

    There are some young women who don’t have the choice in being sexually active: a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 20% of girls in the seventh through 12th grades had been “physically forced to have sexual intercourse against [their] will.”

    “As many as one in four U.S. teenage girls have had a sexually transmitted disease (STD), many infected soon after their first sexual encounter”, a new government report shows.

    “The high burden of STDs among teen girls reminds us that we can’t ignore this,” said study author Dr. Sami L. Gottlieb, from the division of sexually transmitted disease prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention.

    “Moreover, in the year after having their first sexual experience [often against their will] and with only one sex partner, 19.2 percent of the teens developed an STD”, Gottlieb’s group found.

    “To counter these problems, teens need to have early sex education”, Gottlieb noted. “The vast majority of people have sex for the first time during their teenage years, so we need them to be prepared,” she said.

    “These are the facts of epidemiology, not ideology, and should be the basis for public health policy”, she said.

    “Adolescent girls need early access to comprehensive sex education, and barrier contraceptives,” Katz said. “This will not increase sexual activity, but it will attenuate the resultant harms.”

  • joneen-mackenzie-rn

    Moreover, in the year after having their first sexual experience [often against their will] and with only one sex partner, 19.2 percent of the teens developed an STD”, Gottlieb’s group found.

    “To counter these problems, teens need to have early sex education”, Gottlieb noted. “The vast majority of people have sex for the first time during their teenage years, so we need them to be prepared,” she said.

    “These are the facts of epidemiology, not ideology, and should be the basis for public health policy”, she said.


    You are kidding, right?? Being prepared (as in using a condom) for having sex against their will….is that your idea of early sex education?


    WAIT Training does not have as an outcome abstinence until marriage. That outcome could never be studied. It would be unethical and unrealistic to be the sex police and follow these young people until they marry. What we teach students is that self regulation is important to the success of any relationship.  WAIT Training does not teach abstinence until marriage, we teach healthy relationship education, life and love skills, marriage preparation strategies and skill building for healthy family formation in the future. This includes character   and positive youth development. The risk avoidance messaging we impart to the students helps them delay sexual debut. Every day they delay is a success!!

    The above posts continue to beat the drum regarding evidence. Abstinence education does work. It is the safe sex programs that need evidence of effectiveness. Junk science and curriculum developer self evaluations do not count as evidence.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Joneen Mackenzie RN

  • arekushieru

    Umm, I think you are seriously confused.  In one sentence you say “WAIT Training does not teach abstinence until marriage, we teach healthy relationship education, life and love skills, marriage preparation strategies and skill building for healthy family formation in the future.” then, in almost the next, you say “Abstinence education does work. It is the safe sex programs that need evidence of effectiveness.”  As *you* said, you don’t TEACH abstinence-only programs so you are PROving that comprehensive sex ed DOES work.  And the inefficacy of abstinence-only programs has been proven over and over, again.  Sorry.

  • cbowar

    Reaching over 1000 teens annually with Comprehensive Sexuality Education annually has taught us several things that work.  Our evaluation shows that youth who have recieved our programming – which includes information on abstinence, healthy relationships, understanding their values, decision making, goal setting, effective communication with partners, anatomy and physiology, STI prevention, contraception, health care, etc. – results in behavior change, including being more likely to delay the onset of sexual activity, and more likely to use contraception or condoms if they are choosing to be sexually active.  And yes, we do see statistically significant increases in knowledge, skills, and attitudes related to pregnancy prevention, but the behavior change is what tells us that we are effective.  We meet youth every year that are sexually active, and that are remaining abstinent, we can support both of these groups through real life accurate information that will support their health in the choices they make.  We are in the business of preparing youth for a bright, successful future.  This includes arming them with information about multiple topics that will be useful beyond their K-12 years.  Along side financial literacy, college prep, and job readiness to name a few, Comprehensive Sexuality Eduation will provide them with tools for a health life well into and beyond their “mid-20s”. 

  • jenna

    The soda can experiment reminds me of the “tape” analogy they had us do in abstinence class in youth group when I was a teen. (I don’t remember if it was WAIT or not because they had us do that program too)  You get a piece of tape and if you stick it and remove it from too many people, it loses its adhesive and can no longer bond with anyone.  So I guess if you have too much sex you become a looser.

  • dfoley

    It is interesting to me that an organization such The Healthy Colorado Youth Alliance and SIECUS who claim to be science based could publish a report with such glaring misquotes, errant references, and unsubstantiated claims.   It is also important to note that clearly abstinence education is making a difference in the lives of Colorado youth because the percentage of sexually active students has decreased from 51% in 1999 to 40% in 2009 according to the Youth Behavior Risk Survey.  There has also been a decrease in percentage of teens who report having had 4 or more sexual partners in their lifetime. These represent healthy choices. 

    Education for a Lifetime has chosen curricula that meet the criteria for Colorado Health Education Guidelines and Standards as well as the parameters of Colorado State Regulatory Guidelines for sex education.  In addition, the curriculum was reviewed by the United States Health and Human Services Administration for Children and families and approved as age appropriate and medically accurate. 

    Education for a Lifetime’s abstinence-centered program does not promote or discuss religion.  The message is focused on the physical and emotional health of students, encouraging them to eliminate the risks associated with sexual activity by postponing sexual involvement until they are in a lifelong, committed relationship in the future.  Research has shown that students who are abstinent, when compared with high school students who are sexually active, are more likely to graduate from college (Adolescence, 2001), less likely to be depressed and attempt suicide (Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 2006; National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, 1996; The Heritage Foundation, 2003), less likely to experience dating violence (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2005; National Youth Risk Behavior Survey), and less likely to experience divorce in their own marriages in the future (The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth; Journal of Family Issues, 2002).  Abstinence tends to be a protective factor in the lives of teenagers. 

    Marriage is a societal institution, with proven benefits to each spouse as well as the children they may have.   Marriage has been shown to afford greater levels of income, personal happiness, and physical health to both spouses (Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2005) and provides the most stable environment for children: physically, emotionally and financially (The Case for Marriage, by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, 2000).  Marriage is also a protective factor for women and children against poverty and abuse (Marriage: Still the Safest Place for Women and Children, The Heritage Foundation, 2004).  Education for a Lifetime (EFL) programs focus on helping students understand that healthy relationships involve communication, trust, respect, and commitment, and they take time to develop.  Sex is discussed as a very beneficial thing in the context of a relationship built on these elements; marriage is the safest environment for such intimacy because it involves a clear expression of commitment on both sides and, ideally, limits an individual’s number of partners to just one- multiple partners is the highest risk factor for STDs. 

    When the medical community addresses other high-risk behaviors like drugs and alcohol among teenagers, primary prevention (teaching them the health dangers associated with these behaviors and skills to resist pressure) is the preferred method because research shows that these behaviors are not healthy for adolescents due to their physical development, brain development, and maturity.  Abstinence-centered education is the primary prevention approach to sexual activity, and it encompasses lessons about the physical and emotional risks of sex, the link between other high-risk behaviors (alcohol and drugs) and sexual activity, as well as teaching skills to resist pressure, set goals and make decisions that benefit students’ futures.  As participants of EFL programs, students receive medically accurate information on the effectiveness of condoms and birth control in the context of reducing the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  Abstinence is emphasized as the only way to eliminate the risks associated with sexual activity.  It is critical that our students continue to receive the message that teenage sex is high risk and primary prevention of this risk is choosing to remain abstinent until they are ready to establish a mutually monogamous relationship within the context of marriage. 


    Respectfully submitted,

    Diane Foley, MD, FAAP