Abstinence education just got a boost from unlikely sources – the new health care bill and President Obama.
Under the health reform law, abstinence education programs can receive up to $50 million a year for the next five years. From 2010 through 2014, $250 million dollars will be available for all states for abstinence education under Title V of the Social Security Act.
"We are encouraged that funding will continue so that the important sexual health message of risk avoidance will reach American teens," said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association.
Huber noted that the health care bill provides considerably more funding for comprehensive sex education program. She contended that a dual approach to sex education funding can help parents and schools have real choices when it comes to educating students about sex.
Before the health care legislation, President Obama and Congress had pulled the plug on federal funding for abstinence education. Obama had eliminated most funding for abstinence-only education programs in the 2010 budget shortly after taking office. He moved most of the money into comprehensive programs that include discussions of birth control.
Then in June, Congress allowed the $50 million in abstinence-only funding to expire.
Critics of abstinence-only education argue that studies have shown the program does not work and students that take the course are just as likely to engage in sexual activity as those enrolled in comprehensive sex programs.
But supporters of abstinence programs also point to studies that draw the opposite conclusion.
The most recent and most prominent study is the one conducted by University of Pennsylvania professor John Jemmott III that found abstinence-only education to be more effective than any other form of sex education.
Only about one-third of sixth- and seventh-grade students who completed the abstinence-only program had sex within the next two years, the researchers found. By comparison, nearly half of the students who took other sex education classes, including those that incorporated information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active within the same period.
The research was federally funded and published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicines, published by the American Medical Association in its February 2010 issue. It involved 662 African American students from four public middle schools that serve low-income communities in a city in Northeastern United States. The study followed the students two years after they took one of five classes.
Students were randomly selected by a computer to either take an 8-hour abstinence-only intervention, 8-hour safer sex-only intervention, 8-hour comprehensive intervention, a 12-hour comprehensive intervention, or an 8-hour health promotion control intervention.
Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical Association, responded to the study's findings by saying, "Science has finally caught up with logic and what parents have known for centuries," that abstinence is an effective way to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
"It turns out that when it comes to educating their children on matters of sex, Mom and Dad really do know best," Stevens said.
Huber hopes that abstinence-only programs will eventually receive equal funding to other sex education approaches, according to CNN.
"In facing the complex problem of teen sex, we must not limit solutions, we must support what works and continue to find even more effective ways of reaching our youth," Huber said, in a statement.