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Reader Judy White wrote:

We still need to continue to work for comprehensive sex education in the schools, especially since recent studies have shown that abstinence-only programs have done nothing to reduce pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease numbers.

Judy makes an important point about the failure of abstinence-only sexuality education programs. These programs began to receive funding under President Clinton and were dramatically expanded under President Bush. As the father of a soon-to-be-teenage girl, I can say that, on the surface, these programs appeal to my inner-ostrich. When it comes to my own daughter and sexual activity the thought of a government program telling her “just say no” sounds almost as good as burying my head in the sand and leaving it there until her 21st birthday. 

But the startling statistics from European countries, where sexuality is treated as a positive human condition and not a source of shame or embarrassment, are very reassuring to parents and teens alike. By providing children with age-appropriate and medically accurate information about sexuality, and teaching teens how to stay safe from diseases and unintended pregnancy, European countries have far surpassed the United States in reducing unintended pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Most interesting is that European teenagers have responded to this demystification and respectful approach by voluntarily delaying sexual intercourse to a later age than their American peers.

Here in the United States, the differences between states offering abstinence-only programs and states likes California, which offer comprehensive sexuality education, are so stark that more states than ever are just flatly refusing any federal funding for abstinence-only.

One high school in Ohio, which has spent over $30 million on abstinence-only sex ed, saw the on-campus pregnancy rate rise to 13 percent before parents finally shouted “enough!” Numerous studies have shown that these programs do not delay the beginning of sexual activity, and because of the misinformation about contraception, make it more likely that teens will not use a condom if they do have sex.

According to a congressional investigation led by Congressman Henry Waxman, much of the federal abstinence-only sex-ed funds have been misused by local groups to engage in guilt and shame-based birth control, often with very religious overtones. Not only have these programs failed to provide helpful information about contraception, but they intentionally provide misinformation that puts teen’s health at risk.

Your tax dollars at work!

In our county, Grossmont High School District has violated state law on several occasions by bringing students to mandatory assemblies to hear abstinence-only speakers. Despite media coverage, the board has never acknowledged its error or committed to complying with state law in the future. The most recent abstinence-only event was just two months ago.

It’s important to remember that all sexuality education programs teach abstinence. In fact, the California law setting the curriculum for sex ed (which was sponsored by Planned Parenthood) mandates that our teens be taught that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective means of preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.  But that information must be accompanied by medically accurate information about contraception and disease testing because the sobering reality is that, despite the inner-ostrich within every parent, some teens are going to have sex.

The consequences of that decision will be heavily guided by the veracity and quantity of information we give them.

— VINCE HALL

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