Abstinence Education’s Amazing Progress

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On November 5, the Texas Board of Education adopted four new high school and middle school health textbooks that promote abstinence sex education, slated for use beginning in August 2005. All of the books advocate traditional marriage and abstinence as the method for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). “This is what the Legislature wanted and what the parents of this state wanted for their children,” said Board member Terri Leo. The decision in Texas is only one part of an enormous turnaround, moving from “mainstream” teaching of contraceptive use to widespread and effective abstinence education.

According to Dr. Janice Crouse, senior fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for Concerned Women for America, “This is good news — as Texas goes, so goes much of public education because so many of the nation’s school textbooks are published in Texas.”

In 1994, the Centers for Disease Control, School Health Politics and Programs Study (SHPPS), found that only 61 percent of middle schools and 71 percent of high schools taught their students the reasons for choosing sexual abstinence.1 The same study showed substantial increase in 2000, with abstinence promotion in 91.5 percent of middle schools and 96.1 percent of high schools.2

The 1996 Welfare Reform Law, under Title V, section 510, granted states $50 million per year for five years to use in school abstinence-education programs. Programs operating under this grant must teach students the benefits of abstaining from sexual activity and that the expected standard for sexual activity is within wedlock. The programs’ goal is to directly alter youth behavior and also to equip parents with the knowledge they need to guide their children and prevent destructive sexual behaviors.

Opponents of abstinence measures claim that removing contraceptive information from schools would endanger the health of teens. Some even propose “abstinence-plus programs,” where abstinence and contraception are taught simultaneously. It was found in these programs, though, that very little content applied to abstinence and none to marriage.3

Comprehensive sex education has been widely available for decades, and 900,000 teens under age 19 still become pregnant each year, and roughly 4 million teens are newly infected with STDs.4

In her book Gaining Ground: A Profile of American Women in the Twentieth Century, Dr. Crouse tracked the birth rate of unmarried teens and found that among 15 to 19 year olds, the rate began a four-year decline after 1995.5 Dr. Crouse added, “Mixed messages never work with teens. We have been presenting a clear, unequivocal abstinence message and teen pregnancy rates are going down. We need to continue to present the truth to teens and we will see those STD rates begin to decline and the teen pregnancy rates continue to go down!”

President Bush therefore made the furthering of abstinence education to teens and adolescents a cornerstone of his first term. The new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives expanded the abstinence-education grant program under the 1996 law to include community organizations, hospitals and faith-based organizations, both as a reinforcement tool for abstinence education in schools and as a new outreach for teens who would ordinarily not hear the message.

In the 2004 fiscal year, President Bush spent $154 million to fund abstinence programs countrywide. His request for the fiscal year 2005 almost doubles last year’s: a total of $270 million. Michael Schwartz, vice president for government relations at Concerned Women for America (CWA), says: “President Bush is the Abstinence President.” Schwartz adds that the president’s plan to boost funding for abstinence education, in an otherwise modest domestic spending budget, indicates “he is not afraid of this issue.”6

Programs receiving Title V funding are showing wonderful results in decreasing sexual activity and pregnancy among students. Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation documents 10 community programs that are widely successful in reducing teen sexual activity. One such program is “Not Me, Not Now,” a community-wide abstinence-intervention program in Monroe County, New York. In a massive marketing and communications strategy, “Not Me, Not Now” addresses the targeted 9- to 14-year-old age group through paid TV and radio advertising and other media and educational materials available throughout the community. The sexual activity rate of 15-year-olds in the county subsequently dropped 15 percent during the intervention period, from 46.6 percent to 31.6 percent.7

Similar projects also experience enormous gains. Miami-Dade County, Florida, educator Jacqueline DeRosario testified in a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in 2002 that of the 5,500 students participating in the abstinence program “ReCapturing the Vision International” over an eight-year period, only one student became pregnant.

Despite the challenges of “mainstream” influences, abstinence education has proven effective in almost every area. One of the winning achievements of the Bush presidency is his great effort to change the societal mindset and cultural standards to those of sexual purity through abstinence programs. We’re bound to see the leaps and bounds through abstinence education continue through a second Bush administration.

End Notes

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “School Health Politics and Programs Study,” 1994.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “School Health Politics and Programs Study,” 2000.
  3. Martin, Shannan, et. al, Comprehensive Sex Education vs. Authentic Abstinence: A Study of Competing Curricula, The Heritage Foundation, 10 August 2004, page 4.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Tracking the hidden epidemics: Trends in STDs in the United States,” Atlanta, GA: 2000.
  5. Janice Shaw Crouse, Gaining Ground: A Profile of American Women in the Twentieth Century, Concerned Women for America, 2000, p. 46.
  6. Michael Schwartz, The Bush Administration’s Record on Life Issues, Concerned Women for America, 9 September 2004, as found at http://concernedwomen.org.
  7. Robert Rector, “The Effectiveness of Abstinence Education Programs in Reducing Sexual Activity Among Youth,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, Washington, D.C., No. 1533, 8 April 2002.

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