- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008

A House hearing on the effectiveness of abstinence education loosed a flurry of statistics, studies and anecdotes, but concluded yesterday with little movement on the contentious issue.

“Maybe we should just have a block grant” and let states use sex education funding for the kind of programs they want, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, said near the end of the four-hour hearing.

The “let the states choose” idea followed powerful testimonies from three panels of witnesses, including one composed of leading medical and public health officials.

Republicans complained that the hearing was lopsided, but the three witnesses who supported abstinence — Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican; researcher Stan Weed; and Charles Keckler of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — were assisted by friendly comments and questions from numerous Republican committee members who made a point of staying at the hearing.

Most of the health professionals argued that since major studies have not found abstinence education to be effective in changing teens’ behaviors, the federal government should stop funding it and instead fund more-effective comprehensive sex education.

Mr. Weed and others brought up successful abstinence findings, and noted that pervasive sex and AIDS/HIV education, which stresses condom use, haven’t blunted the nation’s growing sexual disease epidemic.

Two witnesses — Max Siegel and Shelby Knox — testified to the harmful effects of abstinence education. Mr. Siegel, 23, said he contracted AIDS from his first sexual experience.

“I took out a condom but he ignored it,” he said of his older male partner.

“I knew enough to suggest a condom,” Mr. Siegel said, but because abstinence education didn’t address the issue, “I had no idea how to discuss condoms with my partner.”

Ms. Knox said officials in her Texas school stressed virginity pledges, but in reality, children took the vows because of peer pressure and then felt guilty when they had sex. Children were also shamed, she said.

In one meeting, a teacher asked a female student which toothbrush she would use — a filthy one or a “pristine” one. His message was that “If you have sex before marriage, you are a dirty toothbrush,” Ms. Knox said.

In his remarks, Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican, said a popular comprehensive sex education curriculum lists “showering together” and several noncoital sexual activities as safe for teens. Are these things appropriate to teach in schools as an alternative to abstinence education, he asked Rep. Lois Capps, California Democrat, and Mr. Brownback.

Mrs. Capps, who testified against abstinence-only education, demurred, saying she had never seen such messages taught in a school; Mr. Brownback said neither he nor most American parents would want their children taught such things.

Marcia Crosse of the General Accountability Office (GAO) said her agency has found some medical inaccuracies in federally funded abstinence materials, but HHS was actively implementing a system to ensure accuracy. Moreover, she said, while abstinence programs are gathering data on outcomes, this information is insufficient for the GAO to draw conclusions about the programs’ effectiveness.

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