Abstinence-Only Education Teaches Blatant Lies
December 17, 2004by Kourtney Stamps, Communications Intern
A report released on Dec. 1 by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., found that abstinence-only education programs supported by George W. Bush, and carried out with federal funding by a variety of right-wing organizations, contain outrageously false information about reproductive health issues.
Rep. Waxman's report examines the scientific and medical accuracy of the most popular abstinence-only curricula used by grantees of the largest federal abstinence initiative, SPRANS (Special Programs of Regional and National Significance Community-Based Abstinence Education). Through SPRANS, the Department of Health and Human Services provides grants to community organizations that teach abstinence-only curricula to youth. These curricula are not reviewed for accuracy by the federal government, nor are grantees required to have any expertise in the area.
The report finds that over 80 percent of the abstinence-only curricula, used by over two-thirds of SPRANS grantees in 2003, contain false, misleading or distorted information. This information distorts data about the effectiveness of contraceptives, misrepresents the risks associated with abortion, blurs religion and science, treats stereotypes about girls and boys as scientific fact, and contains basic scientific errors.
Among these inaccuracies are reports that a pregnancy occurs one out of every seven times that couples use condoms. One curriculum states that 5 to 10 percent of women who have legal abortions will become sterile. Many of the curricula present as scientific fact the religious view that life begins at conception — one calls a 43-day-old fetus a "thinking person" and another describes a fetus as "snuggling into the soft nest in the lining of the mother's uterus." Some of the curricula erroneously state that touching another person's genitals "can result in pregnancy," and others claim that the HIV virus can be spread through contact with another person's sweat or tears.
Perhaps the most disturbing information being disseminated through these programs is the reinforcement of gender stereotypes about differences between women and men. One curriculum instructs, "Women gauge their happiness and judge their success by their relationships. Men's happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments." Another lists "Financial Support" as one of the "5 Major Needs of Women," and "Domestic Support" as one of the "5 Major Needs of Men." This same curriculum encourages girls to show their admiration of boys by "regard[ing] him with wonder, delight, and approval."
Under the Bush administration, federal funding for such programs has grown rapidly. In fiscal year 2005, the federal government will spend $170 million on abstinence-only education. This is twice the amount spent on such programs in fiscal year 2001.
Unlike comprehensive sex education, abstinence-only programs have not been shown to decrease rates of teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, a recent study found that youth who pledge abstinence are significantly less likely to make informed choices about precautions when they do have sex. This $170 million would be better used for accurate sex education and family planning information that includes abstinence among the options.
Download and read Rep. Waxman's complete report.
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