Classroom Clashes: What Should Teens Learn About Sex?

Seventeen states, including California, have now opted out of accepting the federal money for abstinence-only programs. Commitee Republican Christopher Shays, whose home state of Connecticut is among them, said officials in Connecticut have rejected the money because, "they think it is ultimately going to result in young people being deprived of knowledge that will save their lives."

The American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are among several organizations that maintain abstinence should be one aspect of a larger sex education effort that also includes information about contraception.

"Umbrellas don't cause rain," Knox said. "Young people are smart enough to make responsible decisions when they're given all of the information."

Today, 95 percent of Americans have premarital sex, as people are having sex earlier and marrying later, said Dr. John Santelli, professor of clinical pediatrics at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. Santelli told lawmakers that a recent decline in sexual activity appears to be unrelated to the abstinence-only program, but rather a product of contraceptive use.

Those who favor abstinence-only education over more comprehensive sex education programs also came armed with statistics.

Stan Weed, director of the Institute for Research and Evaluation, said he has studied more than 100 abstinence-only education programs and collected information from more than 500,000 teenagers. His work, he explained, reveals the programs are working, and are "much broader, much richer, much deeper" than many people think.

Weed cited anaylsis of three specific programs, all of which reveal how students in programs were about half as likely to initiatiate sexual activy than a comparable group of students who weren't.

The House Oversight panel heard from 11 people Wednesday, with just two who favor abstinence-only education over more comprehensive sex education programs. That imbalance did not go unseen, as Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., charged, "this is as stacked a panel as I have ever experienced."

Committee chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the panel accepted every witness who was recommended to it from the Republican side of the aisle.

A 2006 report from the Government Accountability Office voiced concerns about government-funded abstinence-only education programs and recommended the Department of Health and Human Services adopt measures to ensure that abstinence-only education materials contained medically accurate information about the effectiveness of condoms.

HHS has since taken steps to assess how abstinence programs are working to combat teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, according to GAO health care director, Marcia Crosse.

"The administration continues to support abstinence education programs, as one among several methods used by educators, to address the continuing problems created by adolescent sexual activity, the result of which includes unacceptably high rates of non-marital child-bearing and sexually transmitted diseases among America's youth," said acting deputy assistant secretary for policy at HHS' Administration for Children and Families, Charles Keckler.

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