Study Casts Doubt on Assumptions behind Abstinence-Only Education

Responding to a large-scale study from the Guttmacher Institute showing that the vast majority of Americans do engage in premarital sex – “which calls into question the federal government’s funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for 12- to 29-year-olds,” as the study’s author said – Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Wade Horn defended abstinence-only programs, claiming that by withholding comprehensive education on safer sex, the programs “help young people delay the onset of sexual activity” and thus reduce the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases.

Governmental funding of abstinence-only education has been windfall for many small-time religious groups that create extremely dubious programming for use in public schools. A congressional report found that students in federally-funded programs are taught “that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person’s genitals ‘can result in pregnancy,’” as the Washington Post reported. A program funding by the state of Louisiana directed students to a pamphlet from the far-right American Life League, which informed them that “the condom’s biggest flaw is that those using it to prevent the conception of another human being are offending God.” The Government Accountability Office has decried “inaccuracies” and the lack of accountability in federal funding.

The widespread promulgation of medically inaccurate or misleading information and religious doctrine, while ignoring the reality that the vast majority of students will have sex anyway, may be why 82 percent of Americans support comprehensive sex ed. Nonetheless, one politically influential constituency doesn’t: the Religious Right. Before the election, the Family Research Council warned that “If Congress changes hands,” it might institute oversight over abstinence-only programs. More recently, the Traditional Values Coalition urged emergency funding in the lame-duck session and FRC is circulating a petition demanding Bush veto any “anti-abstinence” bills.

The Right’s response to the Guttmacher study has been disbelief. “Any time I see numbers that high, I’m a little suspicious,” Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America said. “The numbers are too pat.”

Horn, the HHS official in charge of these programs, also denied that money was going toward abstinence-only programs targeting adults. Absolutely not,” he said. “The Bush administration does not believe the government should be regulating or stigmatizing the behavior of adults.” However, he admitted to such programs less than two months ago:

Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007. …

The National Center for Health Statistics says well over 90% of adults ages 20-29 have had sexual intercourse.

But Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the revision is aimed at 19- to 29-year-olds because more unmarried women in that age group are having children.