Sex & Relationships

Abstinence-Only Sex-Ed Most Prevalent in the South

The children of Kentucky and Alabama for example are treated to a mix of religious propaganda, gender stereotypes, and misinformation.
The Administration for Children and Families, which oversees the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program, recently reported at least 23 states are no longer participating in the program, with another two out at the end of Fiscal Year 2008. In those states, advocates have convinced policymakers to reject funds for unproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and instead put their resources toward a more effective means of educating young people. As we anticipate a paradigm shift away from the abstinence-only approach, we still have to consider the states lagging behind this progress. And, the reality is, the majority of states still opting to take these monies are located in the South. This trend hasn't gone unnoticed by SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.)

In fact, in Fiscal Year 2007, nearly half, or almost $85 million of all abstinence-only-until-marriage monies, were poured into southern states. With this in mind, we've set out to investigate the use of abstinence-only-until-marriage funds in southern states, first in Alabama, and now in our just released report on Kentucky.

We found that some of the worst abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula are being used throughout Kentucky, and that a significant portion of state and federal funds are being directed towards crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).

As we looked into the programs and curricula in Kentucky, the first and most startling thing we found were the statistics on adolescent sexual health. The teen birth rate is nearly 20 percent higher than the national average (49.2 per 1,000 young women ages 15-19 compared to 41.1 in the same age group). Most states have experienced declines in teen birth rates, but in a single year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports Kentucky's rate rose nearly 7 percent. The nationwide teen birth rate increased by less than half that in the same year.

The trend follows in HIV statistics. The overall prevalence is low, but the disease impacts one community disproportionately: African Americans make up only seven percent of the total population of Kentucky but nearly 34 percent of new HIV cases in the state, according to the CDC.

Kentucky is in need of effective intervention to combat high teen pregnancy and HIV rates. One place the state isn't helping itself -- by continuing to participate in the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program, which brings harmful money into the state. Since 1997, the state of Kentucky, through the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and numerous community-based organizations, has received over $16.9 million in abstinence-only-until-marriage funds through the three funding streams. In Fiscal Year 2007 alone, over $3 million went into these programs in Kentucky.

Where does this money end up? In Kentucky, the state spreads it far and wide -- to 16 local health departments -- 11 of which use fear and shame based curricula. The state also provides Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage sub-grants to more CPCs than any other state. CPCs are anti-choice establishments that function to dissuade women with an unintended pregnancy from choosing abortion. These centers often pose as family planning/reproductive health clinics and claim to offer "abortion information and referrals."

In looking at the curricula used by these health departments, CPCs, and other community-based organizations, five central, and disturbing, themes emerged: advancing religious messages; relying on messages of fear and shame; fostering gender myths and stereotypes; promoting the questionable practice of virginity pledges; and providing misinformation.

New Hope Center, Inc. is a grantee that received nearly $850,000 in federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funds from both the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program and the Community Based Abstinence Program in Fiscal Year 2007. It operates a youth-oriented website called "Wait For Sex," which contains biased information and presents negative gender stereotypes. In the "State It: Men Only" section, the website explains, "Let's face it. Waiting for sex is a real physical struggle for a guy ... Pick your girlfriend wisely. She might have a pretty face and a nice body but those things don't last. Find out before hand if she has the same values as you. Why waste your time on someone who puts no value in her future and protecting it?"

Such a presentation is detrimental to all young people by limiting their options, influencing their behavior, and coloring their expectations for future relationships.

Another startling example of these funds at work is found in the Why kNOw curriculum, used by many health departments. This curriculum likens sexual behavior outside of marriage to clearly harmful or immoral behavior such as smoking, drinking, using drugs, lying, stealing, and cheating. In a lesson entitled "Let's Go Fishing," the curriculum suggests that all of these behaviors are enticing lures, "But if we take the bait, they could lead to our ultimate destruction or death. It may not be a physical death, but just as real -- the death of a relationship, a friendship, a dream or a goal."

Delaying sexual initiation and increasing abstinence among young people in the state is an admirable goal. But abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are not the answer. Kentucky can create a brighter and healthier future for its youth by funding a comprehensive approach to sexuality education. As a first step, it must assess the evidence of what works best and end support for abstinence-only-until-marriage programming as so many other states have already done.

Click here to ask Governor Steve Beshear to join 25 states and reject harmful Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds.
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