Group Blasts Abstinence Message In Schools

July 7, 2008 - 7:03 PM

( - Many schools have adopted an abstinence message as a way to discourage teenagers from engaging in sexual activity, and the Alan Guttmacher Institute isn't happy about it.

"Looking at the evolution of federal, state and local policy, it is clear that abstinence promotion has truly taken hold as a matter of education policy in the United States," said Rachel Gold, deputy director for policy analysis for Planned Parenthood's sister organization, the Guttmacher Institute.

"While this focus on abstinence, in policy and practice, may be the political fashion of the day," said Gold, "recent studies have found that it is far out of step with what parents and teachers believe should be taught and, according to the U.S. surgeon general, is not in line with the weight of the best scientific evidence now available."

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 16 states give local school districts total discretion over whether to teach the topics of abstinence and contraception and how to treat these topics if taught. The remaining 34 states require that abstinence be covered, and 25 of them require that it be stressed. Only 19 states require that contraception be covered at all.

Utah has the most stringent state policy, according to the Guttmacher report, requiring that districts stress abstinence while prohibiting "the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices" and forbidding teachers from responding to student questions in ways that conflict with an abstinence message.

The institute called on state lawmakers to provide greater guidance to teens through sex education policy.

Although nine in ten teachers believe that students should be taught about contraception, according to the institute, one in four say they are instructed not to teach the subject.

Others, however, oppose the idea of teaching about contraceptives and other topics in public schools.

"We wish that Alan Guttmacher Institute and state and federal legislatures would ... let parents be involved in their child's moral education," said Wendy Wright, spokesperson for Concerned Women for America.

"Legislators and schools should see their role as third, [second being] the church and faith-based institutions," said Wright. "The only role that education should have is [teaching] biology. They should not be getting involved in promoting sexual activity among young people."

The Guttmacher Institute also touted the results of an on-going federal survey of adolescent health behavior, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health ("Add Health") conducted in the mid to late 1990s.

After reviewing federal data, the Guttmacher Institute concludes that what influences teens to become sexually active is different from what influences some to engage in other risky behavior, like drugs or violent crime, suggesting that sexual activity should not be considered a risky behavior.

"They are completely in a fantasy world," said Wright, "because obviously teen sexual activity leads to many types of problems, like sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies, as well as all the emotional problems young people have when they have bonded to another person in the most intimate way."

"Sexual activity itself is risky behavior," said Wright. "It not only is a cause, it's a symptom of problems that the kids are having. One reason teenagers would be involved in sexual activity is because of other problems that they're having. They're seeking affirmation and affection."

Heather Cirmo, spokesperson for the Family Research Council, agreed.

"The ADD Health Study demonstrates very clearly that parents wield the most influence over their children's behavior choices," said Cirmo.

"Safe sex is a myth that our society has been promoting for way too long at the expense of our young people's emotional and physical health," she added.

"Our nation will experience a decrease in sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS transmission, out-of-wedlock pregnancy and emotional problems when we stop tossing out condoms and start promulgating sound health policy that stresses saving sex for marriage," Cirmo concluded. "When will AGI recognize this?"