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Say No to Funding for Abstinence-Only Education! May 5, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Press Release.

Scientific research shows that abstinence-only sex education programs are ineffective, inefficient, and in some instances even harmful. Since their inception, these programs have failed to accomplish or even advance their intended goals and millions of teens and adolescents across the United States are losing out. Not only do abstinence-only programs fail to prevent premarital sex and teen pregnancies, they also threaten the separation of church and state and prevent funds from being used for other more effective programs.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, abstinence-only education programs have been the main focus of the Bush administration’s sex education. In total, over $1.5 billion in federal funds has been wasted on abstinence-only programs. But in his budget request for the 2009 Fiscal Year, President Bush is asking for $204 million more in abstinence-only funding.

Enough is enough. It is time for Congress to stop wasting money on ineffective programs. The Office of Public Policy recently urged members of Congress to eliminate funding for abstinence-only programs in Fiscal Year 2009 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill (S.1710). We believe that tax dollars should go toward funding effective programs that maintain the separation between church and state and will educate teens and adolescents about all of the options, instead of just one.

Even the government’s own research shows the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only education. A 2007 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHH) found no evidence that abstinence-only programs increased rates of sexual abstinence, the supposed purpose of the programs. The same study found that young people who took an “abstinence pledge” were one-third less likely to use contraception when they did become sexually active than their peers who had not pledged. Moreover, pledgers were more likely to engage in oral and anal sex than were their non-pledging peers.

Abstinence-only programs do not simply involve health and education issues. These programs can pose serious threats to religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Many advocates of abstinence-only programs, such as the Christian Medical Association, are driven by religiously inspired opposition to contraception in any form, believing it promotes “promiscuity.” Promiscuity is not a medical term. The public health community identifies risky sexual behavior and strives to reduce exposure to sexually-transmitted diseseases (STDs) but does not make judgments about consensual sexual behavior.

Lastly, funding for abstinence-only programs diverts funding away from other more effective and worthwhile programs, such as comprehensive sex education and family planning. It’s time that Congress and the President stop wasting money on ineffective and harmful programs and start funding comprehensive sex education that works. Contact members of Congress to tell them to stop funding abstinence-only education here.

Further information including references that support our statements can be found in the Center for Inquiry position paper “Public Health and Contraception,” by Dr. Margaret B. Brown. The full position paper can be found on CFI’s hompage.


1. Corey Neil - May 6, 2008

This is great. Was there much inclusion of the research that shows the ineffectiveness of abstinence only sex ed programs? The research is very compelling.
CFI Amherst

2. Valerie B. - May 16, 2008

Thanks for this wonderful post! Even if teens remain abstinant until adults, they still need to learn the TRUTH in sex ed. If these things aren’t taught in high school, they will never be learned, and ignorance about sexual health and reproduction will continue to endanger our society.

We learned abstinence-plus when I was in high school. The only way to completely prevent pregnancy and sexual diseases is to not have sex, but we were taught about all the options, for both present AND future reference.

3. cfidc - June 24, 2008

I work at The AIDS Project in PA. Our Prevention Educators are continually struggling to gain access to the high school age population here to provide risk reduction education. Because the Area School District does receive Federal Funding for health education, there is of course an abstinence only sex education curriculum in place. This prevents us from presenting our Risk Reduction educational programs in the high school.

Privately, a number of the health teachers in our school district have expressed to me their intense frustration about this. They see that many of their students are sexually active and yet even as health teachers they are prohibited by the rules of the abstinence only sex education curriculum from providing the important information their students need about STD/STI prevention. They feel as I do that the Bush Administration’s abstinence only sex education policy currently in place in most of our nation’s public schools is a disservice to young people and is not in the best interest of solid public health policy.

A friend alerted me to the Center for Inquiry’s
position paper “Public Health and Contraception,” by Margaret B. Brown and I’ve begun sending the suggested letters to many of the decision makers Washington. Purchasing a subscription to The Skeptical Inquirer seemed like an excellent way to support the good work of your organization and continue to educate myself at the same time.

Thank you for the wonderful work you do at CFI.

Teri C

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