RMC Responds: The Truth About Abstinence-Only Sex Education

ImageJoin us every Friday in RMC Responds as we react to some of your comments from Facebook and twitter.  Please keep commenting, and let us know what you think!

In a recent Facebook post, Gerald said: “Abstinence works 100% of the time in preventing pregnancy. Self-control is a wonderful trait we should all strive for, don’t you think?”

Gerald is absolutely correct in stating that abstinence prevents pregnancies and we agree that it should be a focus for sex education programs.  However we have to deal with the reality of our times and consider a more comprehensive abstinence plus approach that has proven effective.  As fiscally-conservative Republicans, we prioritize smart investment in sound policies that solve problems AND create long term cost savings to families and tax payers. The facts are that the US has an alarmingly high rate of teenage pregnancy and STI’s.  Every year new STI’s cost the US an estimated $16 billion dollars. Investing in these comprehensive educational programs will decrease long-term financial costs related to unintended pregnancies, Medicaid expenditures, and harmful STIs.

Abstinence-only programs are ineffective, provide inaccurate information, and may even cause harm to teenagers. In 2004, the House of Representative’s Committee on Government Reform released a report showing that 80 percent of the most popular federal abstinence-only programs provided false or inaccurate information about the effectiveness of contraceptives, contained basic scientific errors about human reproduction, treated stereotypes about boys and girls as scientific facts and frequently blurred science and religion. This Congressional-mandated study of four popular abstinence-only programs found them to be entirely ineffective. Students were no more likely to abstain from sex than students with no sex education. In addition to proving ineffective at combating teen pregnancy rates, abstinence-only education does nothing to combat the rise of costly sexually transmitted infections among our nation’s youth. Advocating abstinence plus comprehensive sex education then is not just smart policy—it’s fiscally responsible. In fact, Mississippi, a state that mandates abstinence-only education in its school systems, has the highest teen birth rate in America. With 55 births per 1,000 girls, this abstinence-only policy is failing Mississippi’s families.

Abstinence-plus comprehensive sex education programs promote healthy families, have broad support from the American public, and do not sacrifice a commitment to traditional values. According to a recent study by the Center on Children and Families, investing $145 million on such programs in would save $356 million of taxpayer money in later health care costs. Abstinence-plus comprehensive sex education and evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs combine an emphasis on abstinence while also educating participants about how to use various methods of contraception.  These programs are proven effective in reducing the rates of STDs and teen pregnancies. New Hampshire, in contrast to Mississippi, requires comprehensive sex education in schools and as a result has the lowest teen birth rate at just under 16 births per 1,000 girls. Public opinion polls consistently show that over 80 percent of Americans support teaching comprehensive sex education. In one poll, 85 percent believed teens should be taught about birth control and preventing pregnancy. In another, 60 percent of Republicans thought public schools should teach abstinence-plus comprehensive sex education as well.

The truth is: Abstinence-only education does not work. Arming young adults with the knowledge and resources they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies or harmful infections is not only the key to drastically reducing the number of teen births in the country – it is the most long-term, cost-effective investment that we can make.

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