New report highlights abstinence programs 

Where does your state stand when it comes to funding for abstinence-only programs? A new report released by the New York City-based Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS) details the amount, type, and use of federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funds in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.1

Federal funding for abstinence-only programs is set for $258 million in 2005, twice the amount allocated in 2004.2 Funding for such programs has jumped from the $59 million initially spent in 1998, when block grant monies were first implemented.

"At a time when many states and localities are cutting both teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS prevention programs, we felt it was critical to document the growth of unproven, and potentially harmful, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs across the country," says William Smith, SIECUS director of public policy. "Hopefully, this project will encourage clinicians and other reproductive health providers to become involved, or even more involved, with comprehensive sexuality education in their community."

The report, SIECUS State Profiles: A Portrait of Sexuality Education and Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in the States, provides an over-view of controversies related to sexuality education in each state, lists relevant state statutes, and gives contact information for state-based organizations involved in sexuality education and sexual health issues. (To view the complete publication, go to www.siecus.org/policy/states.)

"We hope this document will give educators, policy-makers, community leaders, and parents a comprehensive picture of what our nation’s young people are, and in many cases, are not learning with respect to their sexual health," says Smith.

Federal abstinence-only funding, along with matching state funds, go only to programs that fit a prescribed set of criteria, which send "an unambiguous abstinence message," include such guidance as "monogamous relationships in the context of marriage are the expected standard," and do not endorse or promote contraceptive use.

Three major funding streams provide money for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs: Title V, passed as part of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act; Special Programs of Regional and National Significance-Community-Based Abstinence Education (SPRANS-CBAE); and the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA).

According to the SIECUS report, states that receive the most federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs include Florida, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The states that receive the least include Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Vermont. Arizona, California, and Pennsylvania do not accept Title V money.

When it comes to SPRANS-CBAE and AFLA grants, most of the grantees are in the South; the Northeast has the fewest programs, the report reveals. Crisis pregnancy centers are common recipients of such funding, the report notes.

When it comes to sexuality education, state laws vary widely, report findings note. Maine, with the most comprehensive education law in the nation, mandates sexuality education that is age-appropriate, medically accurate, and provides information on abstinence and contraception. California and Oregon have laws that require those schools that choose to teach sexuality education to take a comprehensive approach. States with the most restrictive laws include Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

Clinicians may wish to use the SIECUS information to help advocate for expanded comprehensive sexuality education programs in their schools, clinics, and communities, says Smith. It also is important for clinicians to be aware of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs within their communities, because such programs may include anti-choice and anti-family planning messages, he notes.

Are abstinence education programs effective in changing teen sexual behavior and persuading adolescents to be sexually abstinent? Information on the topic is limited. A federally funded, independent evaluation of Section 510 abstinence education programs is scheduled for release in 2005.

A study looking at youth who pledged not to have sex before marriage shows that a majority did not live up to their vows, according to a recent national study.3 The teens who pledged also developed sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) at about the same rate as adolescents who had not made such vows. The teens who had taken pledges also were less likely to know they had an infection, researchers note.4 Information was drawn from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on 12,000 U.S. teens.

"Because 88% of those who pledge abstinence until marriage will have sex before marriage, it is critical that all young people get access to information that will help them protect themselves from acquisition of STDs, whether or not they — at some time — intend not to have sex," says study co-author Peter Bearman, PhD, professor and chair of the department of sociology at Columbia University in New York City.

References 

1. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. SIECUS State Profiles: A Portrait of Sexuality Education and Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in the States. New York City; 2004.

2. Sternberg S, DeBarros A. Abstinence-only support often reflects state’s politics. USA Today, June 22, 2004. Accessed at: www.usatoday.com/news/health/2004-06-22-abstinence-politics_x.htm.

3. Bearman P, Bruckner H. The relationship between virginity pledges in adolescence and STD acquisition in young adulthood. Presented at the 2004 National STD Prevention Conference. Philadelphia; March 2004.

4. Altman LK. Study finds that teenage virginity pledges are rarely kept. The New York Times, March 10, 2004; accessed at: www.nytimes.com/2004/03/10/health/10VIRG.html.