Our federal government recently announced that it would review abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that receive federal funds under the Community-Based Abstinence Education (“CBAE”) program. CBAE is one of three dedicated federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding streams. Over the last several years, the federal government has spent more than $1.5 billion on these programs, even though we’ve known for awhile that they simply don’t work.
Yesterday, we sent comments, expressing our frustration, to the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), the federal agency proposing to evaluate CBAE programs. Our basic concerns: researchers have already concluded that these programs do not have any measurable effect; moreover, by definition, these programs exclude and stigmatize a large number of students.
The federal statutory definition of abstinence requires these programs to teach that a “mutually faithful monogamous relationship in [the] context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity.” Similarly, these programs must teach that there will be “harmful consequences” for children, families, and society if a child has parents who are not in a heterosexual marriage. In a society that generally prohibits gays and lesbians from marrying, such a message rejects the idea of sexual intimacy and healthy families for lesbians and gays, and ignores their need for critical information about protecting themselves from STDs in same-sex relationships. Recognizing this, a federal court in Florida recently found that federally funded abstinence-only-until marriage programs provide no information that is useful for lesbian and gay students. Moreover, the messages about heterosexual marriage and the harmful consequences of “out-of-wedlock” children stigmatize those families that aren’t headed by married heterosexual parents, including those in single-parent homes.
Our comments also highlight other problems with abstinence-only programs, for example, some programs continue to promote medically inaccurate information, and some teach harmful gender stereotypes. Ultimately, these programs are so flawed, they should be eliminated. We should instead focus on giving teens the tools they need to make healthy and responsible decisions. In these difficult economic times, it sure would be nice to get that $1.5 billion back, but since that isn’t possible at least we can do the next best thing – stop the funding going forward.