- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

A new science-based sex-education approach that goes beyond disease prevention or risk-reduction techniques was introduced last week by a group of doctors, researchers and scientists.

The main goal of this type of “integrated sexuality education,” said Joe Webb of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, is to get people, communities and societies to live in “optimal sexual health,” free from unwanted sex, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and expensive health problems related to risky sexual practices.

Mr. Webb, president and chief executive of the Austin-based institute, said he also envisions a norm of mutual intimacy and joy that comes from lifelong, mutually monogamous relationships, such as marriage.

“Condoms are discussed factually as to the amount of risk reduction they provide against various STDs,” Mr. Webb told an audience at a conference last week. However, “because sexual restraint is an aspect of emotional health and maturity, it must be the foundation of sexual public-health policy.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has begun to pursue holistic health policies for youth, said Dr. Julie Gerberding, agency director.

“In many cases, the same teens who are struggling with sexuality and sexual decisions are also struggling with issues” such as tobacco, obesity or drunk driving, Dr. Gerberding said. The CDC supports youth programs that understand how these issues are connected and work with youth “in a holistic manner,” she said.

The director also said it’s time to “get over the dichotomization” of sex education — “that you’re either for abstinence or you’re against it, either you’re for condoms or you’re against it.”

“We need a comprehensive, integrated approach, and it starts with abstinence in our kids. And it may have to move forward into other forms of prevention, depending on the target populations,” she said.

Uganda’s “ABC” message of “abstain, be faithful and use condoms consistently and correctly” follows this approach, she said.

“My own personal bias is to add ‘D’ for diagnosis,” she said, because two-thirds of new HIV/AIDS cases in the United States occur among people who had sex with people who don’t know they were infected.

The reference to Uganda was well-received because the audience had just heard that nation’s first lady, Janet Museveni, speak the previous night. Uganda’s policy has garnered world attention because it is the only country in the world to have lowered its HIV/AIDS infection rates by 66 percent.

The nonprofit Medical Institute for Sexual Health — founded in 1992 by obstetrician Dr. Joe McIlhaney Jr., and other doctors, researchers and scientists who were troubled by the growing STD epidemic — researches and publishes materials on STDs and sexual behaviors.

Today, a group that supports comprehensive sexuality education but not abstinence-until-marriage education will release a state-by-state report on the latter issue.

The new report will detail “the amount, type and use of federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funds in every state” and “relevant controversies” related to sex education, said a spokeswoman for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

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