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Obamacare, Sex Education and You

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October 11, 2013

With headline after headline, news story after news story since its introduction in 2010, the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) has been scrutinized, analyzed, loved, and hated by the American public. With the threat of defunding Obamacare hanging from the lips of politicians, there are a lot of issues to be concerned about, such as access to affordable healthcare. However, what worries me the most about defunding Obamacare is not about health insurance, but rather, sex education.

When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act on March 30, 2010, he not only made one of the greatest advancements in women’s health in a generation, but he also took a stance for youth sexual health. By establishing the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) under Obamacare, he established the first mandatory federal funding for comprehensive sex education in the history of the United States.

Now you might be confused. You might say to yourself, “But hasn’t sex education been around since before 2010?”

Well yes and no.

Yes, because there have been programs in school that try to address and educate students on sexual health. No, because the majority of these programs were abstinence-only programming that seems to have an agenda against positive youth sexual health. These programs promote the conservative social idea that sexual behavior is only morally appropriate in the context of a heterosexual marriage and suggest that all sexual behavior outside of marriage is inevitably harmful. You know, instead of teaching about safe sex, contraception, puberty, reproductive anatomy, and sexual health.

You might have heard of these programs as “abstinence-only-until marriage education,” or “abstinence-only education,” but I refuse to use the word “education” because the goal of sex education is to enlighten and empower individuals, which abstinence-only programs certainly do not. In fact, they do the complete opposite: they do not provide young people who choose to become sexually active with the tools they need to avoid pregnancy and stay safe. Moreover, they are wholly ineffective: they do NOT impact teen sexual behavior, do NOT affect rates of HIV infection or sexual behavior, and do NOT increase the rates of sexual abstinence- the whole POINT of these programs! But they aren’t a complete failure: they are effective in promoting heterosexual marriage as the only acceptable family structure, ostracizing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans youth, stigmatizing sexually abused youth, and denying information to sexually active youth.

On the side of reality, you have comprehensive sex education, which addresses the root issues that help teens make responsible decisions to keep them safe and healthy.  These programs use a holistic approach to provide young people with complete, accurate, and age-appropriate sex education that helps them reduce their risk of HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and unintended pregnancy. Moreover, these programs are effective (in the good way): Evaluations of comprehensive sex education programs show that these programs can help youth delay onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use.

YET, over the past 25 years, Congress has spent over $1.5 billion on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, under the auspices of three different streams of funding.

So how does PREP fit into all of this? I’ll explain.

Obamacare provides $75 million per year for five years to PREP to establish a state grant program to fund comprehensive sex education. States will only receive grants (minimum of $250,000 per state per year) if they utilize comprehensive sex education curriculums that are evidence-based, medically accurate, age-appropriate. These programs must also educate adolescents about both abstinence and contraception in order to prevent unintended teen pregnancy and STIs, including HIV/AIDS. Basically, before PREP, if states wanted money to teach sex education from the federal government, it had to be abstinence-only programming. Now states can do the right thing for their teens and get paid for it. Who would have thought?

So now do you see how miraculous it is that Congress finally changed its approach to match scientific research and established funding for comprehensive sex education? But with the previous attempts to defund Obamacare, we have to take a minute to realize what this could have done.  We would have had to kiss the more than $300 million in funding for comprehensive sex education goodbye. This “we” includes the 45 states and the District of Columbia who already applied for PREP funding since it was announced. What would these states have done if this funding is stripped away from them? How many new programs would have had to been shut down because of lack of funding? What would have happened to the teens who depended on their schools to provide them unbiased, medically accurate sex education? It’s a scary thought indeed, and I am so glad it didn’t happen, and probably won’t (knock on wood).

Well, at least we can say we won two victories here: keeping the funding for comprehensive sex education and Congress finally ditching abstinence-only programming. Oh wait, we can’t, because pro-abstinence-only politicians snuck in $50 million a year for failed abstinence-only programming into Obamacare. This new funding is supposed to run from 2010-2014, another $200 million towards harming America’s youth, because the $1.5 billion just wasn’t enough.

So if politicians and elected officials really want to have a serious discussion about wasteful spending, it would be focused on this blatant ignorance of scientific fact for conservative fiction. If any part of the Affordable Care Act should have been defunded, it should have been the funding for ineffective, harmful, and outdated abstinence-only programming. The most  scary and horrifying thing this Halloween month isn’t ghosts or goblins, but that there are still politicians out there who adamantly believe that abstinence-only is the best and only way to improving youth sexual health.

Now there’s something that should be in a lot more headlines and news stories this month.

Written by Alifa Watkins, a Choice USA Communications Intern. Alifa is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C. majoring in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and minoring in Psychology. 

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