The End of Abstinence-Only

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The President’s FY2010 budget was released this morning (you can search through all 1376 pages here) and among the proposed changes it includes is the elimination of Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) funding. Under the Bush administration, CBAE grants went to programs that teach kids the only way to prevent pregnancy and avoid sexually-transmitted infections is to postpone sex until marriage. Budget language explicitly prevented those programs from providing students “any other education regarding sexual conduct.”

As I explained in the magazine a couple of months ago, abstinence-only programs have not proven nearly as successful as approaches that combine the message that abstinence is a good goal for teenagers (see: Bristol Palin) with comprehensive and accurate education about contraception, disease prevention, and decision-making skills.

The Obama budget eliminates the main federal funding streams for abstinence-only education (some of which have been around since welfare reform) and replaces them with $110 million in competitive grants to “fund teen pregnancy prevention programs,” with at least $75 million reserved for “programs that replicate the elements of one or more teenage pregnancy prevention programs that have been proven through rigorous evaluation to delay sexual activity, increase contraceptive use (without increasing sexual activity), or reduce teenage pregnancy.” It also authorizes $50 million in new mandatory teen pregnancy prevention grants to states.

Notably, $25 million of the funding for what the budget calls a new Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative is set aside for the development and testing of innovative approaches to preventing teen pregnancy. So many of the programs that annoy opponents of abstinence-only education–and those that annoy proponents of abstinence-only–are out-dated and ineffective anyway. With teen pregnancy rates inching up again after a nearly 15-year drop and the vast majority of parents in favor of comprehensive sex education (95% of parents of middle-schoolers in a 2004 Kaiser Foundation poll thought contraception was an “appropriate topic”), it’s long past time to develop sex ed programs that work.