During the debate on the Senate health care reform bill this week, Senator Hatch (R-UT) offered an amendment to reinstate funding for Title V Abstinence Education. Funding for this program ended in June. The Hatch amendment would restore the $50 million program. A similar amendment by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), however, suffered defeat during the House Committee mark up, and House Democrats inserted an amendment that would transfer the Title V money to state block grants to further promote comprehensive sexuality education. Policymakers should continue to fund abstinence education and jettison any new comprehensive sex ed program.
Zeroing out funding for abstinence education and putting more resources behind comprehensive sex education is lamentable for many reasons. Government spending on comprehensive sex education programs has already dwarfed abstinence education spending by a ratio of four to one. Schoolchildren will continue to hear the message of so-called “safe sex,” but will now receive less classroom instruction, if any, on how and why to remain abstinent. They will receive less support for a choice that research indicates will contribute to better academic achievement, a lower likelihood of depression, less risk of divorce, and a lower likelihood of parenting a child outside of marriage.
Moreover, evidence shows the effectiveness of abstinence programs in helping young people delay sexual activity, lower their risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, and decrease their chances of participating in risky sexual behavior.
The House’s choice to defund abstinence education also runs counter to what most parents report they want their children to be taught: that abstinence is best and that sex should be reserved for marriage or for a relationship heading towards marriage. While many comprehensive sex education programs claim they also are “abstinence plus”–meaning that they present the abstinence message along with information about contraception–a study reviewing nine of these programs showed that six times more curriculum content was devoted to teaching contraception than to teaching abstinence. When abstinence is discussed, it is often presented as one choice among many, not as the best option.
Abstinence education works. These programs teach the message parents want their children to receive because they promote the lifestyle that contributes to better health and future well-being, including financial security. Such benefits extend not only to youth but also create fewer burdens for taxpayers.
As Congress considers how to overcome the health care and financial difficulties facing Americans, policymakers have the opportunity to support a policy that makes advances in both areas: abstinence education.