Policy and Advocacy
What's going on in my state with sex education and abstinence-only programs? Print

State Sex Education Resource Center:
Policy & Advocacy Tools

How do I figure out what’s going on with sex education at school?

Start by checking out your state law, then see if you have more specific school board or health class regulations and policies. (You can view your state’s law at our youth activist web site, Amplify.) Also, ask students, health teachers, or the principal for the school’s sex education policy.

How would an abstinence-only program coming into my school or in my community be funded?

These programs may be operating through federal Title V abstinence-only funding, through federal Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) funding, through state funding, through federal earmarks, or may be privately funded.

What is the difference in these sources of funding?

Title V abstinence-only funding goes through the federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to states, and states typically distribute these funds via the health department to schools and community organizations. States have the ability to reject this federal Title V abstinence-only funding. States are also required to match this federal funding with state funds or in-kind services. (For more information, read The History of Federal Abstinence-Only Funding) This year, our government dedicated $50 million to Title V abstinence-only funding. The portions of Congress in charge of these funds are the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate’s Finance Committee.

Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) funds go directly from the Administration for Children and Families’ Family and Youth Services Bureau to organizations and schools in your community. Community organizations apply directly to the federal government’s Family and Youth Services Bureau for CBAE funds. This year, our government dedicated $113 million to 80 CBAE grantees. The portions of Congress in charge of these funds are the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee and the Senate’s Appropriations Committee. Earmarks are special funds that members of Congress request to go directly to a specific organization or project in his or her state. Earmarks are much less common than Title V abstinence-only funds or CBAE funds, and this year our government dedicated $1.32 million to abstinence-only earmarks.

The organizations that receive Title V abstinence-only funds, CBAE funds, and abstinence-only earmarks can receive funding from more than one funding source.

Can you tell me more about Title V abstinence-only programs?

The federal government began the Title V abstinence-only program funding stream in 1996 through Title V, Section (§) 510 of the Social Security Act (welfare reform). The funding amount is determined by the Appropriations Committees. States that accept these funds are required to meaningfully honor all points of the government’s definition of “abstinence education:”

A) has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;

B) teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children;

C) teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;

D) teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity;

E) teaches that sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;

F) teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child's parents, and society;

G) teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances; and

H) teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.

To date, 23 states have rejected Title V abstinence-only federal funding: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

What does Congress have to do with abstinence-only funding?

The federal government began funding these programs in 1982, and vastly increased the amount of funding in 1996 with the introduction of the Title V abstinence-only program. In 2000, Congress created the Special Projects of Regional and National Significance Community-Based Abstinence Education Program (now known as CBAE). Congress has the power to increase or decrease funding for these programs, or to eliminate them entirely.

Can a state reject CBAE funds? Do CBAE programs need to follow the federal government’s “abstinence education” definition?

As with federal Title V abstinence-only funds, an organization that accepts CBAE funds must meaningfully represent the above eight-point “abstinence education” definition. Unlike Title V abstinence-only funds, a state cannot reject CBAE funds, which go directly from the federal government to community organizations or schools that have successfully applied for this funding. However, a community or school can block CBAE programs from operating by organizing to have the program removed from the community, or changing school or state code to allow only comprehensive sex educators.

What if my state has rejected federal Title V abstinence-only funds? Does that mean we now have comprehensive sex education in schools?

Not necessarily. The absence of these harmful federal dollars in a state or community does not automatically mean your state or school will have comprehensive sex education. You need to check your state law, your statewide school health standards, and local or school district code.

What can I do about the abstinence-only program in my school?

First, find out what’s going on! Is it part of your state’s law that you have abstinence-only “education”? If so, a student can possibly be opted-out of this program, and you can work to change the law or your state’s health standards.

Is the abstinence-only program being funded through Title V abstinence-only funding? If so, work with your governor’s office or state’s department of health to get the funding out of your state!

Is the abstinence-only program being funded through CBAE funds? If so, you can organize your school or community to get these harmful programs out! (See Advocates for Youth’s Advocacy Kit (pdf) for more information about how to do this.)

If my state’s law includes comprehensive sex education, how can these abstinence-only programs exist?

Many state laws do not include a mandate that states must teach comprehensive sex education, but do say that if sex education is taught, it must be comprehensive. This is called an “if-then” law. Additionally, state law about school code does not necessarily apply to out-of-school activities. Many programs also operate through the state’s health department, and the school has little oversight. If you have concerns about the legality of an abstinence-only program (whether they are operating in a public school in a state that requires comprehensive sex education, or if you believe they may be using federal dollars to proselytize or preach), contact your local or national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

What are other steps I can take to eliminate these failed abstinence-only programs?

Educate yourself on the nature of these programs and why abstinence-only funding is a waste of taxpayers’ dollars. Compare comprehensive sex education (which includes information about abstinence) with abstinence-only programs. See our fact sheet, Sex Education Programs: Definitions & Point-by-Point Comparison for more information.

Finally, join Advocates for Youths’ Youth Activist Network (YAN) and get involved with Advocates, and check out our website, www.amplifyyourvoice.org. You can take on an abstinence-only program on your high school or campus, or contact us to learn more about what you can do in your community!

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