Federal

Abstinence-Only Curricula Misleading, Report Says

By Vaishali Honawar — December 07, 2004 1 min read
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Students who take part in some abstinence-based sex education programs financed by the federal government are learning that touching another person’s genitals can result in pregnancy and that sexual activity can lead to mental-health problems, says a report prepared for a leading congressional critic of such programs.

The report, “The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs,” is available online from the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee. ()

Some of the curricula used in “abstinence only” programs blur science and religion, and solidify stereotypes such as that girls are weak and in need of protection and that men are sexually aggressive and lacking in emotion, says the report released last week by U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif.

“Something is seriously wrong when federal tax dollars are being used to mislead kids about basic health facts,” Rep. Waxman said in a statement.

The Bush administration has been a strong proponent of abstinence education. The fiscal 2005 federal budget includes $170 million for such programs, double the amount spent in fiscal 2001.

But the report from the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee says that abstinence-only education does not appear to decrease teenage pregnancy or the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. It studied the 13 most commonly used abstinence curricula and found 11 to contain “major errors and distortions of public-health information.”

None of those 11 curricula teaches basic facts about contraceptives, although sex education that discusses both abstinence and contraceptive use has been shown to encourage teenagers to delay sex and reduce the frequency of sex, the report says.

Dr. Joe S. McIlhaney Jr., the director of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin, Texas, which developed much of the curricula, said the report “twisted” his information. His materials never claimed, for instance, that people’s touching of each other’s genitals could result in pregnancy, he said.

“Our quote was mutual masturbation can result in pregnancy,” he said, adding that he had come across such a case when he practiced as a gynecologist.

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