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Forget Abstinence-Only Programs and Let’s Get Real.

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November 3, 2011

The attacks on common sense have begun again. The recently introduced House Labor and Health and Human Services FY12 spending bill makes massive cuts to the teen pregnancy prevention initiative (TPPI). It cuts the program by $85 million and, if that wasn’t bad enough, the bill allocates $20 million for abstinence-only programs. Adding insult to injury, the drafters of the bill cut research funding that could lead to more effective programs. Although teen pregnancy rates have decreased in the last couple of years, the U.S. still has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world. There’s no denying the need for medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education.

We know abstinence-only programs don’t work.

They leave teens in the dark about how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), if and when teens choose to become sexually active. Moreover, some abstinence-only programs align heavily with gender stereotypes and are insensitive and unresponsive to the needs of sexually active LGBT youth. Abstinence-only programs are proven to be ineffective even in delaying sexual activity amongst teens, and are also likely to place teens at a higher risk of practicing unsafe sex. Teens should have all the tools necessary to make the right choices for themselves. Comprehensive sex ed programs help teens delay and reduce sexual activity, while providing sexually active teens with the information they need to make healthy decisions.

Thankfully, Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) have just introduced the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act that would provide federal funding for comprehensive sex education programs. This year, the bill includes programming on teen dating violence, bullying, and harassment, as well as abstinence and safe sexual and reproductive health. The legislation also builds on the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) that teaches young people about healthy relationships, adolescent development, financial literacy, and educational and career success.

We applaud Representative Lee and Senator Lautenberg for introducing this important bill. The ACLU urges Congress to take up this legislation that will help America’s young people make informed decisions about sexual health.

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