President-elect George W. Bush has given personal assurances that abstinence education will thrive under his administration, say veterans of the issue, one of whom predicts a “real war of ideas.”
“I’ve had conversations with President Bush myself, and he did agree that he would be giving us equal time to the Planned Parenthood message of safe sex,” said Leslee Unruh, president of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“So we know abstinence education will grow under his administration. We have his word on that.”
“We think he realizes that [abstinence education] is a solution to many different facets of the adolescent health problem … and we’re very hopeful that we’ll be able to work with him in developing this,” said Kathleen Sullivan, head of Project Reality in Golf, Ill.
As governor, Mr. Bush supported abstinence education, approving millions of dollars in supplemental spending to federal abstinence funds and appearing at a True Love Waits rally in 1998.
“If he holds true to what he did in Texas, that will be very positive for abstinence education in the future,” said the Rev. Paul Turner, spokesman for True Love Waits, an international campaign in which young people sign pledges to refrain from premarital sex.
Mr. Bush has since proposed increasing federal funding for abstinence education from about $80 million a year to $135 million a year.
This dismays Tamara Krenin, the new president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, which views abstinence-only messages as unproven and misguided.
“I would hope he would read the polling data that tells us that 98 percent of the American public would like comprehensive sexuality education,” Ms. Krenin said.
Most people, she said, want young people to be told to abstain from sexual activity. “But, if they are going to be sexually active, we want them to have medically accurate information about contraception and access to services.”
Some abstinence-education advocates are taking a wait-and-see approach about the new administration.
Mr. Bush is on record as being supportive of abstinence education, but his definition of abstinence education will be very important, said Dr. John R. Diggs Jr., of South Hadley, Mass.
“I’m hoping that his definition of abstinence is the same as mine, which is abstain until marriage,” not something that says “everything except sexual intercourse is abstinence,” as other groups have taught, Dr. Diggs said.
A study released earlier this week pointed up the need for clear definitions, several abstinence educators said.
The study, published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, found that in 1995 more teen boys were engaging in noncoital sexual acts, such as oral sex, than in 1988.
In a companion piece to the study, AGI researcher Lisa Remez asked whether teens were viewing oral sex as abstinence. She implied that abstinence education may be helping to cause the confusion, quoting one teen as saying, “To me, the only thing that would take away my virginity is having sex. Everything else is permitted.”
Abstinence educators, such as LeAnna Benn, director of Teen-Aid Inc. in Spokane, Wash., rejected such a connection.
For nearly 20 years, safe-sex groups have been encouraging young people to do “outercourse” mutual masturbation and oral sex as safe alternatives to intercourse, Mrs. Benn said.
Now there’s a concern that these are ways to transmit diseases, she said. But instead of asking young people “where did you learn that this was a good behavior,” safe-sex advocates want to see more studies on oral sex, she said.
Mrs. Sullivan of Project Reality said that a full discussion about sex education was near. “It’s going to be a real war of ideas,” she said. “And it’s going to be good.”