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Trump’s Plan to Fund Abstinence-Only Sex Ed is Grossly Misled

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April 27, 2018

Last Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that grants for sexual education programs available through the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program will favor programs that focus on abstinence-only sexual education.

Both The Hill and The New York Times report that the grants will focus on supporting programs that follow one of two models: “sexual risk avoidance” and “sexual risk reduction.” The Times also notes that “the announcement … mentioned an ‘emphasis on cessation support,’ a phrase many involved in teen pregnancy programs interpreted as urging sexually active teenagers to stop having sex.”

In essence, Trump’s administration is favoring abstinence-centric sex ed programs over comprehensive sexual education. They see avoidance as the main option, and the administration is leaning away from evidence-based programs. Here’s why this is a big issue.

First, abstinence-only sex ed programs don’t produce the intended results of sex education: less sexually transmitted infection cases, less unintended pregnancies, and so on. Advocates for Youth writes that in a 2007 study of four major abstinence-only programs found that the students in those programs did not change their sexual behavior when compared to the control group. They “did not achieve later sexual initiation or lower rates of pregnancy or STIs,” so abstinence-only education does not work effectively—probably because these programs, for the most part, don’t educate teens on different methods of birth control and how to avoid pregnancy and/or STIs while being in a healthy sexual relationship, which relates to the next point.

Abstinence-only education may be all right for teens who want to wait until marriage to become sexually active (and that’s an OK choice to make!) but teens who are already sexually active will not benefit. What they need is information on what consent entails, where to get birth control, how to put on a condom, et cetera.

Plus, comprehensive sex ed would still be helpful for people who want to wait until marriage—after all, marriage doesn’t protect you from sexual risks; you can still contract an STI from your spouse or happen to have an unintended pregnancy. Knowledge of preventative methods beyond celibacy benefits everyone, whether their sexual debut is at 15 years old or 30.

Relating a sexual script around marriage is a flawed way of advocating for abstinence, anyway. For people who don’t want to wait until marriage, or those who don’t want to get married at all, an abstinence-focused education just does not apply to many people’s lifestyles.

Finally, because many abstinence-only programs focus so much on sexual avoidance, they do not educate teens about proper birth control usage, reproductive anatomy, and factual information concerning STIs. Without a decent knowledge of preventative methods, teens may go into their sexual relationships with more anxiety about their body, pregnancy prevention, and what rights they have in the relationship (in short, consent).

Comprehensive sexual education programs benefit every student, regardless of the past, current, and future statuses of their sexual activity. A more educated population will turn out to be healthier, more confident, more diligent with their choices, and less likely to buy into sex myths and stigmas. They will be better sexual partners cognizant of respect, boundaries, safety, and comfort.

Supporting abstinence-only sex ed programs with the hope of teen pregnancy and STI transmission reduction is a terribly misled endeavor. With this administration’s focus on abstinence-only programs, we know that they are not looking out for teenagers’ health. If they cared for teenagers’ health and autonomy, they’d support programs that provide a comprehensive education on sexual health and sexuality, not pinky promise pledge papers to save ourselves until marriage.

Image via The True North Times

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