By Stephanie Whiteside / current.com
When it comes to policies on sex education, it's the GOP that's pushing for abstinence-only policies, right? Not necessarily; the Obama administration quietly added an abstinence-only curriculum to the list of officially sanctioned guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The program is the South Carolina-based Heritage Keepers program, which is included as one of the 31 evidence-based programs for preventing teen pregnancy and it was included in the list this spring.
Students in the Heritage program are not given information about contraceptions, sexually transmitted disease, puberty or sexual behavior. They are encourage to take virginity pledges or "recommit" to secondary virginity, that marriage is the only acceptable context for sexual behavior, and given time to envision and plan their future wedding day.
With a focus on modesty (one guideline recommended by the group is to "declare everything covered by a bathing suit as off-limits.") and a focus on heterosexual marriage as the only acceptable outlet for sexual urges, the Heritage Keepers curriculum fails to give students information on safe sex practices or address the needs — or even existence — of LGBT youth.
Those aren't trivial omissions. RH Reality Check reports that approximately 40 percent of high school students have had sex, and roughly 30 percent of new HIV infections are in people under the age of 29. The emphasis on heterosexual marriage and exclusion of LGBT youth also feeds into a climate where nearly two-thirds of LGBT students report feeling unsafe at school.
If all this weren't troubling enough, abstinence-only sex education doesn't prevent teen pregnancy. Studies have shown that students receiving comprehensive sex education (which includes information on birth control) were 60 percent less likely to become pregnant. Additionally, there was no corresponding increase in sexual activity. Teen pregnancy in the U.S. has fallen to a record low in recent years. This is good news, but the states with the highest rates are those that have abstinence-only sex education policies.
Sex education is a sensitive subject for educators and politicians, one that collides full force with the vast array of religious and moral views that exist in the U.S. But why deprive students of all the information they need to make their own individual choices? Quietly going along with the conservative spin that abstinence-only policies are no less effective than comprehensive sex education is doing just that. The Obama administration should be looking to research that supports the effectiveness of comprehensive sex education, not catering to the moral fear-mongering coming from abstinence-only programs and their supporters.
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