On World Contraception Day, a Better Approach to Sex Education
Mary Frances Boyle /
It’s that time of year again, and the “safe sex” brigade is out in full force to educate your sons and daughters about their sexual and reproductive health.
According to a recent study, more young people throughout the world are having unprotected sex and know less about effective contraception. Now contraception enthusiasts are using this as a call for action to increase youths’ access to contraception.
The study shows that the number of young people in the U.S. having unsafe sex with new partners increased by 39 percent in the last three years. But, as Heritage research shows, access to birth control is not the problem. In fact, government-funded Title X clinics operate in nearly every county in the U.S., and they provide birth control to over 4 million women each year. In a recent survey, only 1 percent of low-income women who had children out of wedlock reported that lack of access to contraception played a role in the pregnancy.
However, for decades the United States has increased spending on programs to promote contraception among adolescents. Today, the government spends over $610 million annually on programs to promote “safe sex,” and the Obama Administration has put forth a major effort to expose all American children to comprehensive sex education.
Meanwhile, the ratio of funding for contraception-based education to abstinence-centered education is 16 to 1, and the Obama Administration is doing what it can to make this spending disparity even larger.
Not only does the policy miss the point that lack of contraception isn’t the real problem; it also flies in the face of what parents want to teach their children. According to a 2009 report for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 83 percent of parents support their teens receiving the abstinence message in school. Moreover, the survey shows that 70 percent of parents support abstinence until marriage.
And why not? Abstinent youths show better performance in school, have better emotional health, and are less likely to contract STDs. They also decrease their chances of living in poverty by avoiding childbirth outside of marriage.
Abstinence education is proven to be an effective option as well. A 2010 Heritage report analyzed 22 studies of abstinence education. Overall, 17 of the 22 studies reported statistically significant positive results for abstinence education, such as delayed sexual initiation and reduced levels of early sexual activity.
In the same report, policy analyst Christine Kim writes:
Teen sexual activity is costly, not just for teens, but also for society. Teens who engage in sexual activity risk a host of negative outcomes including STD infection, emotional and psychological harm, lower educational attainment, and out-of-wedlock childbearing. Genuine abstinence education is therefore crucial to the physical and psycho-emotional well-being of the nation’s youth.
Some congressional initiatives are taking this approach. Representative Randy Hultgren (R–IL) introduced the Abstinence Education Reallocation Act of 2011 (H.R. 2874) earlier this month, which would allow HHS to “award grants on a competitive basis to public and private entities to provide qualified sexual risk avoidance education to youth and their parents.” The bill seeks to reallocate current funds to more effective strategies.
In addition, the draft fiscal year 2012 Labor, Health and Human Services funding bill released Friday includes funding for abstinence education. The bill targets $20 million toward competitive grants to provide abstinence education.
This renewed focus on abstinence education better reflects the will of the American people, and it would give youth access to better options when it comes to sexual education.
According to FamilyFacts.org, more than half of all U.S. high school students report remaining abstinent, which represents an 18 percent increase since the 1990s. This is good news, and policymakers should do more to spread abstinence education. It’s healthy, it’s effective, and it’s what parents want. Most importantly, the message of abstinence promotes bright futures for our youth and all of civil society.