Abstinence Dominates School Sex Ed

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Fewer than half of the country's sex education classes offer information on where to get birth control (45 percent) or how to use condoms (35 percent), according to recent twin surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Alan Guttmacher Institute of secondary school principals and school district superintendents.

The studies released in December show that most school districts have changed their sex education policies over the past decade, with more than one in three districts now using an abstinence-only program that permits a discussion of contraception only in its potential for failure. The surge in these programs can be pinpointed to the GOP-championed Title V provision of the 1996 Welfare Reform Bill, a five-year program that divvies up $50 million annually to 48 states and the District of Columbia. (California has its own program and New Hampshire declined funding.)

"This trend abandons kids who choose not to abstain," commented Dorothy Mann, executive director of the New York-based Family Planning Council. "The vast majority of teenagers are having sex and we're turning our backs on them. We are very concerned."

But Libby Gray, a spokeswoman for the Glenview, Ill.-based Project Reality, a group that runs abstinence programs in more than 300 schools in the state, claims that the statistics are "sending a strong message that more and more schools are correctly embracing an abstinence-centered program."

So effective is the message, she said, that schools in the Project Reality program are showing a rise in "secondary virginity" percentages. "Those of our sexually active students enrolled in our program who have vowed not to resume sex until marriage has gone up from 58 percent to 71 percent," said Gray.

Peter Brandt, a spokesman for the Colorado Springs-based National Coalition for Abstinence Education, stated that "Guttmacher's own data" revealed that "communities where abstinence programs were taught supported their schools more than those communities in which contraception and birth control were taught."

Another study, released last month by the D.C.-based Advocates for Youth, charges that the federal government spends 275 times less money on teen pregnancy prevention than on support services for families begun by teen births.

Advocates for Youth President James Wagoner said some $38 billion is spent on families that began with a teen birth, as compared to $138 million spent on preventing teen pregnancy. The pregnancy prevention money represents the figure for FY '96, the last year data were available and before the federal abstinence-only funds kicked in.

At a press conference announcing his organization's findings, Wagoner noted that abstinence-only programs are "ineffective programs that are driven by politics and not by science."