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School, Sex, and Secrets: How Do We Score?

PARENTS ARE PERPLEXED… "She doesn't need to be told a condom is something she needs because she's not even allowed to date at fourteen." …Mother of a 14-year-old daughter

STUDENTS ARE STARVED… "They didn't want to teach about condoms but they should have because I was already having sex when I was in that class." …Tiffany, age 14

TEACHERS ARE TRAUMATIZED… "Anonymous callers accused me of being the anti-Christ." …Linda, High school health teacher

THE CURRICULA CREATE CONFUSION… "If you have sex before you're married, you just have to be prepared to die." …No Second Chance, abstinence-only video

ABC News Correspondent, Judy Muller, moderated this informational briefing on the controversy over abstinence-only-until-marriage programs vs. comprehensive sex education. A panel of experts, teachers and students explored the definitions of both abstinence-only programs and comprehensive sex education, the effect both policies have on the behavior of today's young people and the political climate that has led to massive governmental support of abstinence-only education. 

Click here to read a summarized transcript of the briefing. PDF file [Please note: You'll need the PDF Reader to view a PDF file.]

In 1996, Congress passed funding for a program to encourage sexual abstinence for all unmarried people. The entitlement provides $50 million annually through the Maternal and Child Health Bureau and requires a sizable state match. The only states that have refused the federal funding are California and Vermont. Experts on the panel included Linda, a health teacher at a high school in California. She shared her experience of being ostracized within the community when she opposed the implementation of an abstinence-only curriculum in her school district.

Lucy, a teacher at a high school in Florida, gave the results of a poll she took of her students who are receiving an abstinence-only education. Brian Wilcox is the Director of the Center on Children, Families and the Law and a Professor of Psychology at the University of Nebraska. He reported on research findings that deal with both abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education.

Abstinence-only-until-marriage is defined as a program which teaches:

  • as its exclusive purpose, the social, psychological and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity
  • abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children
  • that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other associated health problems
  • that a mutually-faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity
  • that sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects
  • that bearing children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child's parents and society
  • young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances
  • the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.

The language allows no flexibility for discussing disease and pregnancy prevention methods other than abstinence. The program fails to address the facts facing today's teens:

  • America's teen birth rate is eight times higher than rates in comparable European nations
  • Nearly three million youth are infected with an STD annually
  • AIDS is the sixth leading cause of death for young peopled aged 15-24
  • Each year nearly half of all new HIV infections occur in people under age 25
  • By age 20, 80% of males and over 75% of females have had sex.

By contrast, comprehensive sex education programs' goals are:

  • To provide accurate information about human sexuality
  • To provide opportunities for young people to question, explore and assess their sexual attitudes in order to identify their own values, to increase self-esteem and to understand their obligations and responsibilities towards others
  • To help young people develop interpersonal skills, including communication, decision-making, assertiveness and peer refusal skills
  • To help young people exercise responsibility regarding sexual relationships, including addressing abstinence, learning how to resist pressures to become prematurely involved in sexual behaviors and encouraging the use of contraception and other sexual health measures.

Read the summarized transcript of School, Sex, and Secrets: How Do We Score? (PDF).

Visit Advocates for Youth's Web site to learn the facts about sex education.

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