- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A federal report issued before today’s expected House Appropriations Committee vote on abstinence-education funding says the curricula for comprehensive sex education overwhelming push condoms and downplay abstinence.

For instance, the “Making Proud Choices” curricula, developed for middle-school students ages 11 to 13, mentions “condom” or “condoms” 650 times and “abstinence” or “abstain” 18 times, said the report issued by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

The accepted definition of “comprehensive” sex education is that it teaches youth about both sexual abstinence and protective methods for sexual activity, said the report. However, the review shows that “abstinence is a very small part of these curricula,” said Harry Wilson, associate commissioner of ACF’s Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

Thus “many programs labeled ‘comprehensive’ fail to provide children and youth the information that most parents say they want for their children — information that would help them abstain from sexual activity,” Mr. Wilson said.

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to approve a bill today that boosts funding to the Community-Based Abstinence Education Program by $27.8 million, to $141 million, and adds the same amount to the Title X family-planning program, bringing its funding to $311 million.

Another abstinence program — the $50 million-a-year Title V program — expires June 30. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, has said he will let it expire. However, Republican members are expected to seek an extension for the program.

The HHS study, which was requested in 2005 by Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, focused on nine respected comprehensive sex-education curricula.

Eight programs had evaluations; of these, several programs helped teens delay sexual debut and several resulted in sexually active teens having fewer partners and/or less sex. The most common result was an increase in teen use of condoms and/or other forms of birth control.

The HHS report found a few medical inaccuracies — nonoxynol-9 spermicide is no longer recommended to prevent disease, it noted, and not all condoms sold in the United States “meet federal assurance standards.” It also found “misleading statements” about condom-failure rates “in every curriculum reviewed.”

“Young people deserve both medically accurate information and the best medical advice to protect themselves,” said a spokesman for Mr. Coburn, who is also an obstetrician. The HHS review, he added, was conducted in less than two years and “underscores the intentional foot-dragging” of the Food and Drug Administration to enact a six-year-old law requiring medically accurate condom labels.

Debra Hauser of Advocates for Youth, which supports comprehensive sex education, said the HHS report shows that the curricula benefits teens, asking rhetorically whether it was more important to mention abstinence thousands of times or improve teen sexual behavior.

Douglas Kirby of ETR Associates, which is affiliated with three of the curricula, said the HHS report mischaracterizes the “Safer Choices” curricula. Four of its 10 lessons are devoted to abstinence, he said, but they all avoid the word “abstinence” because youths think it “sounds too preachy.”



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