A new wave of media has hit this week regarding a study that had somewhat favorable results with an abstinence-only sexuality education program. I could probably write a book on how and why this has been oversimplified, but here are the main points.
First of all, the study was well done. Control group, good methodology, well-respected authors. However, this program used an "abstinence-only" curriculum that did not meet federal guidelines for programs federally funded under the abstinence-only criteria, and it was significantly different from the bulk of "abstinence-only" programs reviewed in the past. Here are some of the differences.
- The program did NOT contain INACCURATE information. Many federally-funded abstinence-only until marriage programs do contain inaccurate information. Check out this site (skits are based on actual curricula material in the state of Texas). In fact, the State of Washington is one of several states that passed a law in 2007 rejecting federal money for these programs and requiring that any sexuality education provided in schools now be medically and scientifically accurate, developmentally appropriate, and inclusive. What's scary to me about that is that we had to pass a law to require that. It wasn't required, and it wasn't happening before that. It's still not happening everywhere in our state, since it's an unfunded mandate.
- The program did NOT portray sex in a negative manner, nor use a moralistic tone. See above link. Or check out this one about an Abstinence Clown (for real). Your tax dollars at work! In these tough economic times, when jobs are flying out the doors, don't you think there's a better use for our government's money?
- The training and curriculum manual explicitly instructed the facilitators not to disparage the efficacy of condoms or allow the view that condoms are ineffective to go uncorrected. In many federally-funded programs, facilitators were mandated to focus on failure rates of condoms. Seriously.
- The facilitators wer not mandated to say there was never a time when sex was inappropriate outside of marriage.
Look at all the hoops that had to be jumped through to have an effective result from the program! Reasonable and accurate information had to be shared to have effective results, measured by the fact that only a third of the 6th and 7th graders who took that program were sexually active 24 months later. Here's a question: how safe were those that were sexually active, since they had NOT been taught about contraception? Even though they were not to disparage condom use, they did not teach it, either. How many pregnancies and diseases occurred in that group as compared to the group that did have sex, but had had the information about contraception? No data yet.
By the way, comprehensive sexuality education programs teach about abstinence as a part of their program. The developmentally appropriate part of these curriclua emphasize that abstinence is the best choice for young adolescents--which the kids in the study were. They were in 6th and 7th grade, and average onset for sexual intercourse is actually age 17.
To quote our president from the National Prayer breakfast today, "You can question my policies without questioning my faith." Those people of faith like myself who teach comprehensive sexuality education in our churches and faith communities and communities believe what we are doing is right and good and for many of us, yes, a Christian thing to do. You can decide for yourself--just make sure you have all the facts.