Rebranding abstinence

Opponents of comprehensive sex ed are selling their programs as "holistic approaches" to "healthy lifestyle choices"

Published April 29, 2009 4:39PM (EDT)

It's been a rough several months for the abstinence-only sex education crowd. As study after study continues to confirm that their approach just doesn't work, the Obama administration has cut $14 million of funding to their programs and specified that remaining curricula will need to meet actual scientific standards. "When the National Abstinence Education Association gathered on Capitol Hill last month for their annual lobby day, the sense of fear in the room was palpable," writes Joe Sonka at RH Reality Check.

But they're not ready to admit defeat! The NAEA's constituent organizations are giving themselves marketing makeovers in an attempt to keep the gravy train rolling. "They would," writes Sonka, "simply rebrand themselves as curriculum that 'wasn't just about abstinence,' but was all about 'holistic approaches' to 'healthy lifestyle choices.'"

Well, that sounds familiar. Where have I heard that kind of language before? Oh, that's right -- the NAEA borrowed it from the comprehensive sex ed camp. 

Sonka points to WhykNow, a major abstinence-only program. With a PR firm's help, they've changed their name to OnPoint and made some noise about promoting "healthy decision-making skills." Nothing, however, is forthcoming about whether OnPoint will change its abstinence-only message. "Is the curriculum going to change along with their name, logo, and talking points?" asks Sonka. "Color me skeptical, for one." That makes two of us.

The big question, of course, is whether this rebranding will work. Sonka includes a link to send a message to the Obama administration opposing abstinence-only programs. Whatever WhykNow and friends have up their sleeves, one thing is sure: An abstinence-only sex ed program by any other name ... still doesn't work.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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