The false consequences of sex

A congressional report criticizes "abstinence-only" programs, finding that most are giving children inaccurate information.

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The Bush administration is funding sexual health projects that teach children that HIV can be contracted through sweat and tears, that touching genitals can result in pregnancy and that a 43-day-old fetus is a thinking person.

A congressional analysis of more than a dozen federally funded “abstinence-only programs” unveiled a litany of “false, misleading and distorted information” in teaching materials after reviewing curriculums designed to prevent teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

There are more than 100 abstinence programs, involving several million children ages 9 to 18, and running in 25 states since 1999. They are funded by the federal government to the tune of $170 million, twice the amount being spent when George W. Bush first came to power.

The money goes to religious, civic and medical organizations as grants. To qualify, the programs may talk about types of contraception only in terms of their failure rates, not in terms of how to use them or the possible benefits.

The survey was conducted by the staff of Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., a long-standing Democratic critic of the Republican administration’s approach to sex education. His team concentrated on the 13 programs that are most widely used, and found that only two of them were accurate. “It is absolutely vital that the health education provided to America’s youth be scientifically and medically accurate,” Waxman said. “The abstinence-only programs reviewed in this report fail to meet this standard.”

Other “facts” include that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the U.S. have tested positive for HIV and that condoms fail to prevent transmission of HIV in 31 percent of incidents of heterosexual intercourse. The U.S. government’s own figures contradict all of these assertions.

A.C. Green’s Game Plan — a program named after a basketball player who said he would not have sex before marriage — teaches: “The popular claim that condoms help prevent the spread of STDs is not supported by the data.”

Waxman told the Washington Post: “I don’t think we ought to lie to our children about science. Something is seriously wrong when federal tax dollars are being used to mislead kids about basic health facts.”



But government officials said Waxman’s report rehashed old anti-abstinence prejudices for political purposes. Alma Golden, the deputy assistant health and human services secretary for population affairs, said it took statements out of context to present programs in the worst possible light. “These issues have been raised before and discredited,” Golden said. “One thing is very clear for our children: Abstaining from sex is the most effective means of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, STDs, and preventing pregnancy.”

Waxman also criticized some programs for reinforcing sexist stereotypes to children. One — Why Know — says: “Women gauge their happiness and judge their success by their relationships. Men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments.” Another program, Wait Training, says: “Just as a woman needs to feel a man’s devotion to her, a man has a primary need to feel a woman’s admiration. To admire a man is to regard him with wonder, delight, and approval. A man feels admired when his unique characteristics and talents happily amaze her.”

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