Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) on Monday called for the creation of a new federal grant program that would spend half a billion dollars to educate teenagers about why they should not have sex before marriage.It's almost too easy, right? If teens are spreading diseases by having sex, we'll just create some government programs—we all know how much Republicans love creating government programs—to tell them to stop doing that. And because teenagers are known as the most obedient and compliant people on the planet, that should fix that problem double-quick. Who can forget how Nancy Reagan singlehandedly eradicated drug use with her super effective "Just Say No" program?
In a speech on the House floor, Hultgren cited a Centers for Disease Control report from mid-February that said young adults account for 50 percent of all sexually transmitted disease infections.
There's just one little problem with abstinence-only education. It doesn't work. In fact, it makes things worse. Head below the fold to find out why.
The idea of telling kids to just not have sex is pretty stupid on its face, but there's actually research and studies and science—you know, all that stuff Republicans hate—to show just how stupid, not to mention dangerous, these policies are:
After years of warning the Bush administration and social conservatives that abstinence-only education does not stop teens from having sex, nor does it prevent teen pregnancy, a new study by the Guttmacher Institute confirms what many have feared: that deliberately misinforming teens about sex can have serious consequences and that comprehensive sex education, in addition to the availability of contraception, is the best way to reduce teen pregnancy rates.A 2004 study found that 88 percent of teens who take "chastity pledges"—when they make those creepy pinky swears to abstain from sex until marriage—engage in premarital sex anyway. They're just less likely to use protection and more likely to spread disease:
Yet the teenagers who had taken pledges were less likely to know they had an infection, raising the risk of their transmitting it to other people, said Dr. Bearman and Hannah Brückner of Yale University, the other author of the report.A congressional report released by Rep. Henry Waxman the same year found that abstinence-only programs were actually giving false and misleading information about sex:
Dr. Bearman said that telling teenagers ''to 'just say no,' without understanding risk or how to protect oneself from risk, turns out to create greater risk'' of sexually transmitted diseases.
[T]hat abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person's genitals "can result in pregnancy[.]"And then there was this study about the supposedly abstinent teens who are, strangely enough, still testing positive for sexually transmitted diseases. Huh. They were probably just absent the day they taught "Just Say No" in school.
Meanwhile, there's plenty of research to show the effectiveness and very positive consequences of real sex education, along with access to contraception and other family planning resources:
Teens who receive comprehensive sex-education—rather than misleading, propaganda-based abstinence-only sex education, which has been proven wholly ineffective—are 50 percent less likely to experience unintended pregnancies. Given that approximately half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, costing taxpayers $11 billion a year, addressing and reducing those numbers is, or should be, a legitimate concern for those who value families, not to mention fiscal responsibility.
But Rep. Hultgren, the sponsor of the latest bill to invest half a billion dollars in a dangerous policy, finds it "troubling" that the government spends more money teaching kids how to actually protect themselves from pregnancy and disease than on "risk avoidance education," which is Republicanese for abstinence-only education. So Hultgren might be surprised to learn that the Affordable Care Act already includes funding for exactly that:
The health care reform legislation that President Obama signed recently isn't only about insurance coverage -- there's also a renewal of $50 million per year for five years for abstinence-focused education.It's bad enough that the government is wasting $250 million on demonstrably harmful programs, but of course the very same people who didn't support health care reform now want to use it to spend even more on this absurd "education" that amounts to nothing more than right-wing propaganda:
Programs that receive this funding must "teach that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems," according to the Department of Health and Human Services. To qualify, they must also teach that sex before marriage is "likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects." These are part of the "A-H definition," requirements for programs to receive abstinence funding under Title V of the Social Security Act.
To fix this problem, Hultgren has introduced the Abstinence Education Reallocation Act, H.R. 718, along with Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). The bill would spend $110 million a year for the next five years on grants to abstinence programs around the country.The bill already has a dozen other cosponsors, all of them Republicans. Token Democratic sponsor Dan Lipinski is, of course, barely a Democrat. He most recently voted for the Republicans' version of the Violence Against Women Act, but he's got a long history of enthusiastically supporting the Republican War on Women and sticking it to his own party just for kicks, including voting against the very same Affordable Care Act from which he's now seeking grant money to spread abstinence-only propaganda. Think it's time to force his retirement yet?
Meanwhile, this latest attempt to waste money miseducating our children has the support of at least one senator, with Lindsey Graham—a practitioner of abstinence, since he's unmarried and so obviously has never, ever had sex—promising to introduce a companion bill in the Senate. As Nick Wing at Huffington Post points out, Graham introduced a similar bill in the Senate last year—you can tell just how near and dear to his heart this abstinence thing really is—but his legislation didn't go anywhere. Oh well. Republicans are nothing if not resolute in trying the same thing over and over and over again, no matter how often or how badly it fails.
So while we know all the things we could do if we were serious about reducing teen pregnancy and disease rates, teaching kids to just say no to sex isn't one of them. In fact, it's just about the worst thing we could do. So maybe, just maybe, we should stop wasting our money on ineffective propaganda disguised as "education" and invest in real education that actually gives teens the resources they need to protect themselves. It's so crazy, it just might work.