All this arguing we're doing about contraception is getting a little tiresome, isn't it? Sure, we get to use the word "sluts" repeatedly in a national conversation, and we've watched several elderly male politicians state their understanding of how birth control works, explanations which often deserve bonus points for creativity. But really, the whole thing's getting old. It's just another small piece of the intractable culture war, one in which neither side is ever going to budge.
So let's change the subject. How 'bout abstinence-only education? Ready to argue about that again? No? Too bad!
While perusing the American Family Association's "news" website, One News Now, we stumbled across this article about Senator Lindsey Graham's proposed Abstinence Education Reallocation Act, which he introduced March 12. Its stated purpose is to "award grants on a competitive basis to public and private entities to provide qualified sexual risk avoidance education to youth and their parents."
"Sexual risk avoidance," you see, is the new way that conservative politicians are referring to abstinence-only education, as opposed to "sexual risk reduction," which involves talking about condoms and is thus obviously unacceptable. Graham's bill looks virtually identical to a bill introduced into the House by Illinois Republican Randy Hultgren last year, a bill which, from the looks of it, was referred to the Subcommittee on Health and left to die a quiet death.
Nonetheless, Bryan Congressman Bill Flores is pushing to make sure the same measure is considered in the House once again. He and Dan Boren, a Democrat from Oklahoma, wrote a letter to the House Appropriations Committee asking that in the fiscal year 2013 budget abstinence-only education be allotted the same amount of money as comprehensive sex ed.
"Contrary to claims by anti-abstinence groups, SRA is effective," part of the letter reads, "Twenty-two independent research studies show positive behavioral impact for SRA programs. Students in SRA programs are more likely to delay sexual initiation than their peers and are no less likely to use a condom if they become sexually active. In addition, according to a recent study by HHS, most parents and teens support the SRA abstinence approach."
According to a just-released study from the Guttmacher Institute, which is generally considered the best authority on issues of sexual health, talking about abstinence does actually work. Just as long as you're talking about condoms at the same time. Otherwise, contrary to what the representatives seem to believe, teenagers probably aren't going to use them.
As the study's authors put it:
Respondents who had received instruction on both abstinence and birth control were older at first sex than their peers who had received no formal instruction and were more likely to have used condoms or other contraceptives at first sex; they also had healthier partnerships. Those who had received only abstinence instruction were more likely to have delayed first intercourse than were those who had had no sex education, but abstinence instruction was not associated with any of the other protective behaviors at first sex. Moreover, condom use at first sex was significantly less likely among females who had had only abstinence instruction than among those who had received information about both abstinence and birth control [Emphasis ours]. The study found no relationship between sex education and current sexual behaviors, suggesting the need for ongoing education after the onset of sexual activity.
Regardless, Flores and Boren are unhappy with, as they put it, "the 20:1 disparity between the SRR and SRA approaches."
"There's a disparity between the funding," Flores' press secretary Andre Castro told us. "We're just looking to re-establish parity between SRA and SRR." (He used the word "parity" four times in a five-minute conversation.)
Castro wouldn't say that the goal is to decrease comprehensive sex ed money to increase the funding for abstinence-only programs. "We're just looking for parity," he said. "We're just trying to see where it can come from. We're not asking for anything. We're asking for parity."
Flores and Boren's letter also asserts that "75 percent of teenagers aged 15-17 have never had sex," according to the CDC. That's also not quite right: a CDC study of teenage sexual activity from 2006-2010 found that about 42 percent of teenage females and 43 percent of teenage males had had sex at least once.
Nonetheless, it's pretty clear where the representatives are going with this: their letter concludes, "We believe Congress should continue to support programs that focus exclusively on sexual risk avoidance abstinence education." We look forward to the endless argument that's sure to ensue. The full letter is attached below.