It's hard to imagine a more stinging indictment of the Bush administration policy that supports a "just say no" approach to sex education than the current collision of popular culture and real life. Teen sex and unintended pregnancy are everywhere -- from television to movies to the cover of People magazine. In fact, the only place these topics aren't being discussed are in health classes in high schools.
Despite a rising teen birthrate, and the fact that outside of Russia, the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate among Western industrialized nations, the current administration has spent more than $1billion in taxpayer money to proselytize to teens that they should just say no. It has been a colossal failure by every measure, including Congress' own 10-year study, which concluded that abstinence-only programs are completely ineffective at either delaying sexual activity among teens or in preventing pregnancy. And while it is too soon to know whether the government's refusal to allow health instructors to answer basic questions about birth control has anything to do with the first increase in teen births in more than a decade, it's very clear that this country is not on the right track to turning those numbers around.
In the coming year, researchers predict that 750,000 teens in America will become pregnant, and more than four million will contract a sexually transmitted disease. If that isn't an epidemic, it's hard to say what is.
This is one reason why every year, Planned Parenthood helps parents and teens communicate with each other about family values and responsible decision-making. It's also why we work with thousands of teens across the country who are trained as peer educators to be a resource to other teens in their community who need honest, straightforward information about prevention and contraception. Because without information at school, or for those teens who can't talk to their parents, sometimes the only sex education they get is on Gossip Girl or One Tree Hill, where sex is prevalent but birth control, not so much.
Ironically, all our experience shows that the more young people have their questions answered openly about contraception, relationships, and sexual health, the more likely they are to delay sexual activity. And when they do become sexually active, whether in their teen years, or optimally, later on, the more likely they are to have safer sex and use contraceptives correctly.
Congress just passed, and the president just signed, the new federal budget, which at the very least does not increase funding for abstinence-only programs. But it still authorizes $173 million in abstinence-only money, which by all accounts, has been stunningly unsuccessful and whose only supporters are the "Abstinence Only" lobby, who are profiting at our kids expense -- to the tune of more than $1 billion!
Three cheers for the 15 states and their governors -- from Montana to Massachusetts to New Mexico -- who have said no to the federal abstinence-only money for their young people. My fervent hope for the New Year is that reason prevails, and that we choose as a nation to set our young people up for success, by giving them the honest information they need to be responsible parents -- when they are ready.
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