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Shifting the National Dialogue on Sex Education Policy Print
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From:  James Wagoner, President, Advocates for Youth
“Shifting the National Dialogue on Sex Education Policy”
April 23, 2008

Congressional Hearing Spotlights Failure of Abstinence-Only Programs:

Today, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on the Bush Administration’s abstinence-only sex education policy with scientific experts highlighting the vast preponderance of evidence demonstrating that these programs simply do not work.

The U.S. has spent more than $1.5 billion on these programs over the last ten years. This “decade of denial” has left the United States with some of the worst sexual health outcomes in the developed world. One in four U.S. teen girls now has an STD and our national STD rates are exceeded only by those of Romania and the Russian Federation. Our teen birth rate is nine times that of the Netherlands, five times that of France, and nearly three times that of Canada. Teen pregnancy in the U.S. costs the federal government more than $9 billion a year.

Information and education are the cornerstones of responsible decision-making. Provide young people with all the facts and they will be far more likely to take personal responsibility for the important life decisions that relate to sexual health. Indeed, the experience of European countries that boast the best public health outcomes for youth prove this point - - an open approach that stresses education and prevention is far better than an approach that censors information in the attempt to sweep sexual health issues under the cultural carpet.

So, Where Do We Go From Here?

The time has come to shift our national policy on sex education and prevention to a realistic, evidence-based, comprehensive approach that includes information about abstinence, birth control, and condoms.

We need to take three bold steps that will help restore science and common sense to sex education policy and put America on track to becoming a sexually healthy nation.

  1. In the immediate term, Congress must eliminate abstinence-only programs and fund comprehensive programs that include abstinence and contraception. We challenge the Democratic Leadership and, most notably, Chairman David Obey of the Appropriations Committee, to move in this direction. Unfortunately, Chairman Obey attempted to increase funding for these failed programs last year using them as “bait” for Republican votes for his omnibus appropriations measure. The public health stakes in this country are far too great to use the sex education issue as a political pawn in partisan congressional fights.

    We must invest in programs that work.
    This week, Advocates for Youth released a report - - Science and Success, Second Edition - - citing 26 programs that had been proven to reduce teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections or cause at least two beneficial changes in sexual risk behaviors, including delaying sexual initiation, reducing the frequency of sexual intercourse, reducing the number of sexual partners and/or increasing the use of condoms or contraception. Despite their success, under the strict guidelines of the federal abstinence-only policy, these programs are not eligible for federal sex education funding.

  2. Under a new Administration, the CDC should launch a national campaign to combat STDs. We face an epidemic of STDs in our country and the solution is a nationwide social marketing campaign aimed at sexually active teens and young adults that stresses prevention and condom use every time.

    Already, we have seen leadership from the private sector and from young people themselves attempting to fill the vacuum left behind by government inaction. The Trojan Company recently launched its “evolve” campaign which includes a nationwide bus tour to encourage college students to take a personal pledge to practice prevention and sign a petition to encourage the U.S. to become a “sexually healthy nation.” Last year, a group of youth activists launched the Great American Condom Campaign - - an effort to distribute free condoms to sexually active youth on college campuses. The program, which is set to launch again in the fall of this year, enrolled more than 9,000 young adults on 1,300 campuses around the country to act as “safe sites” for the distribution of condoms.

    The advent of a new administration will provide a golden opportunity to combine public and private sector initiatives that bring prevention truly up to scale in the United States.

  3. Under a new administration, the Surgeon General should renew the Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior issued in 2001 by Surgeon General Satcher. While that document was “deep sixed” by the Bush administration, a new Surgeon General should initiate a national dialogue on sexual health in this country. America’s norms around sexual behavior are deeply conflicted with shame, fear, and denial competing with openness, pleasure, and prevention. These conflicts lie at the core of many of our failed policies.

    There is no excuse for the U.S. to remain at the bottom of the heap when it comes to preventing unintended pregnancy and STDs. The research is there to point us forward. All we need to do is develop the political and cultural will to follow it!

Advocates for Youth is a national, nonprofit organization that creates programs and supports policies that help young people make safe, responsible decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.

For additional information, contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , Vice President, Communications and Policy, Advocates for Youth at 202-419-3420.

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