Abstinence-only sex education puts Minnesota teens at risk

Published on The Daily Femme – Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Contributed by Annamarya

Last month, Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Star Tribune reported that Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty rejected a $850,000 federal teen pregnancy prevention grant but approved $500,000 in abstience-only sex education funding that will “cost the state $379,000 in matching funds,” a decision that has upset many adolescent health experts and political opponents, who allege Pawlenty was “putting his national political ambitions ahead of the health of young Minnesotans—at a time when the state faces daunting budget shortfalls.”

According to the article, State Health Commissioner Dr. Sanna Magnan said the Minnesota Department of Health wanted to submit applications for Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) grants, which would fund both programs (teen pregnancy prevention and abstinence-only sex ed) as part of the federal health care legislation President Obama signed in March, however abstinence-only education supporter Pawlenty decided to seek funding only for abstinence programs. A spokesman for the governor said the bigger grant was turned down because “’he’s striving to find ways to stop the implementation of health reform in Minnesota.” If the $850,000 grant was approved, says the article, it would’ve funded providing information to teens on contraception and disease prevention, while also promoting abstinence.  Such funding is sorely needed because, according to the piece, not only is the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) “skyrocketing” among teens, but minority Minnesota teens “have significantly higher rates of both teen pregnancy and STIs than the national average.” Somehow, this is lost on some people, like the head of the Minnesota Family Council and advocate of abstinence-only sex education, Tom Prichard, who was quoted as saying: “It’s better to spend no money on sex education if it’s going to have a condom message…You are pouring fuel on the fire.”

Aren’t we actually “pouring fuel on the fire” by not accurately educating adolescents on sex? Teaching the youth to abstain until marriage doesn’t ensure that they actually will, as proven by Advocates for Youth’s 2004 publication, “Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education: Assessing the Impact.” The report, which reviewed 10 public state evaluations from the first five-year funding cycle of Title V of the Social Security Act (it appropriated $25 million for state initiatives promoting abstinence-only education as part of the welfare reform in 1996), found that state-funded abstinence-only programs didn’t delay the initiation of sex. Instead, three out of the six evaluations that measured short-term changes showed no alteration in sexual behavior, two reported an increase in sexual activity pre- & post-test, and one showed mixed results. The Journal of Adolescent Health’s 2006 study, “Abstinence and abstinence-only education: A review of US policies and programs,” supports these findings.  In its review of abstinence-only programs and comprehensive sexuality education programs promoting abstinence, no scientific evidence was found that abstinence-only programs delayed first sex, but the study did find that comprehensive sexuality education programs promoted both abstinence and protective behaviors effectively, with a majority showing delays in initiation of sex or no impact on behavioral changes. Abstinence-only education isn’t a solution—it’s the rug we are sweeping the “problem” under.

Fortunately, although Minnesota students won’t be privy to accurate, honest, helpful and safe sex education in school, there are teen-centric websites on positive sexuality & sexual activity they can refer to, like Scarleteen andMidwest Teen Sex Show, as they swerve through their own sexual awakenings (or, to paraphrase Dan Savage from TV Guide Network’s “Sex on TV” July special: This is knowledge kids must have while they navigate sexuality because if they don’t, they’ll just “navigate through the dark.”)

I’m still dumbfounded that, even with the existence of the aforementioned studies, the belief that teaching sex education will increase youth sexual activity and pregnancy is still prevalent in society. Teens are having sex no matter what so instead of rejecting positive sexuality in the name of religious sanctimony, we need to protect them from STIs and pregnancy by offering them a wealth of factual knowledge that will allow them to make healthier choices and wiser decisions. Stupidity begets stupidity and that’s what needs to stop.

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