Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Can We Talk About Abstinence-Only Sex Education?

It wouldn’t be fair to pile on to Republican VP choice Sarah Palin for her latest disclosure that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter is pregnant. This can happen to any family. But this unfortunate incident also helps to remind us that abstinence-only sex education which Palin (along with John McCain) so strongly believe in simply doesn't work.

But saying that it simply doesn’t work implies that programs like this only have a neutral effect on those it is aimed at. But abstinence-only programs for example, do not acknowledge the value of latex condoms which in addition to providing contraceptive protection, also provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases. So while teaching the value of abstinence to teens may well be worthwhile, don’t we want to see them protected from unwanted pregnancy and disease in the event that they choose to have sex? Or is there a secret urge by social conservatives that these people should suffer the consequences of violating what they feel are societal rules.

And speaking of rules, where does this rule come from that the only people allowed to have sex have to be married? For the most part, it is religion that has been the driver behind this rule of conduct. While nobody denies religions the right to teach their members moral values as they see fit, it is a slippery slope across that separation of church and state when these religiously driven values creep into government legislation.

Of course, nobody would try to pass a law especially on the federal level that outlaws sex outside of marriage. That would be a little too direct and may well provoke a Constitutional challenge. So programs like abstinence-only education take a more sneaky tact that offers
federal government funding with strings attached.

It’s bad enough to target this ideological approach to teens. But where does it stop? Incredibly, some government officials want to
expand this program to include adults! I find the endless TV commercials for Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra to be annoying enough. But as a single person, it ticks me off even more that all of these commercials make sure that you can't help but notice that their actors are all wearing wedding rings to reinforce the notion that sex is only for married people! And what about gays and lesbians? Since the same people who insist on abstinence for single people don’t want to see gay marriage, are these people expected to just give up sex for life? Or are we just supposed to ignore their existence?

Even worse, this funding with strings attached approach has even crept into
our global efforts to fight HIV and AIDS.

In 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush announced his Five-Year Global HIV/AIDS Strategy. Also known as The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the plan committed the U.S. to provide $15 billion over five years towards AIDS relief in 15 countries in Africa and the Caribbean, and in Vietnam. About 20 percent of the funding, or $3 billion over five years, was allocated for prevention. The program required that, starting in fiscal year 2006, one-third of prevention funding be earmarked specifically for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Global AIDS prevention advocates have criticized the funding restriction, and in 2006 a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) also criticized the earmark, outlined the challenges that the funding restriction posed to countries hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic, and urged Congress to reconsider how this funding should be spent.

So what can be done by those who believe this is all ideology that has run amok? Legislation titled
The Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act (S. 972/H.R.1653), would provide federal money supporting “education (that) would include science-based, medically accurate, and age appropriate public health information about both abstinence and contraception.” It is presently in committee and its ultimate fate will likely be decided as a result of whether the Democrats or Republicans capture the presidency this November. Once again, still another good reason to get out and vote!

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