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The Battles They Choose

Rachel Hart,
Reproductive Freedom Project
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January 26, 2006

According to advocates of abstinence-only-until-marriage education, condom wrappers and STD vaccines are giving teens the message that it’s okay to have sex and engage in risky sexual behavior.

If this sounds crazy then just take a look at some of the current controversies in the abstinence-only-until-marriage world.

Controversy Number 1: The HPV VaccineThis past fall, Merck announced that Gardasil, an experimental vaccine to protect against the human papilloma virus (HPV), was 100% effective in preventing infection from two HPV strains. (The two strains the vaccine targets account for almost 70% of all cervical cancer cases). Great news right? Not for abstinence-only-until-marriage advocates.

An article in The Washington Post highlights some of the concerns that abstinence advocates have: “Some people have raised the issue of whether this vaccine may be sending an overall message to teenagers that, ‘We expect you to be sexually active’…There are people who sense that it could cause people to feel like sexual behaviors are safer if they are vaccinated and may lead to more sexual behavior because they feel safe.”

It’s hard to imagine how preventative care is going to send the message to teens that it is okay to have sex, or that such an argument would be used to fight the introduction of the vaccine when the alternative could be cancer.

Controversy Number 2: Condom Warning LabelsIn November, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced proposed warning labels for condoms: “When used correctly every time you have sex, latex condoms greatly reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of pregnancy and the risk of catching or spreading HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.” Previously, the FDA warning labels on condoms warned only of allergic reactions to latex.

The proposed labeling, a result of a push by abstinence advocates, is meant to address the views of people like Shepherd Smith, president of the Institute for Youth Development, who in a LA Times article on the controversy said that condoms “have been hyped as offering protection. That isn’t the truth …When we see messaging to kids that says ‘Be safe, use a condom,’ we don’t think that’s an honest message.”

Condoms may not be perfect but they are still the best thing out there for sexually active people to use in order to reduce the risk of contracting HIV or other STDs. Not to mention, aren’t we still fighting an uphill battle to get teens to use condoms when they do have sex? Shouldn’t we focus our efforts on trying to get teens who are having sex to use condoms?

I have a hard time figuring out why exactly advocates of abstinence-only-until-marriage education pick the battles they do. All I can say is that it certainly doesn’t seem to be in the name of keeping people safe and healthy.