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Federal Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs Not Proven Effective in Delaying Sexual Activity Among Young People

Final Report on Federally Funded Programs Released Today

NEW YORK, NY— After years of delay in its release, a federally supported evaluation of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs funded under the 1996 federal welfare reform law has proven the programs ineffective in changing teens’ sexual behavior.  The report, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found no evidence that abstinence-only programs increased rates of sexual abstinence. Also, students in the abstinence-only programs had a similar number of sexual partners as their peers not in the programs, as well as a similar age of first sex.

“This report should serve as the final verdict on the failure of the abstinence-only industry in this country,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS).  “It shows, once again, that these programs fail miserably in actually helping young people behave more responsibly when it comes to their sexuality,” Smith continued.

In 1996, the federal government attached a provision to the welfare reform law establishing a federal program for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  This program, Section 510(b) of Title V of the Social Security Act, dedicated $50 million per year to be distributed among states that choose to participate.  States accepting the funds are required to match every four federal dollars with three state-raised dollars (for a total of $87.5 million annually, and $787.5 million for the eight years from fiscal year 1998 through 2006).  Programs that receive the Title V funding are prohibited from discussing methods of contraception, including condoms, except in the context of failure rates.

On a call yesterday organized by the Abstinence Clearinghouse, abstinence-only proponents were clearly rocked by the potentially ruinous news in the report.  High profile abstinence-only advocate, Robert Rector, led the preemptive damage-control planning.  He outlined several strategies the abstinence-only movement could use to rationalize the findings in the report saying, “The other spin I think is very important is not [program] effectiveness, but rather the values that are being taught,” Rector said.  Whether or not these programs work is a “bogus issue,” Rector continued.  

Whether or not these programs are effective is the single most important issue.  Existing research has already shown that comprehensive programs that include messages about both condoms and abstinence have been proven effective, and yet, federal and state governments continue to dump millions of dollars into abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that are not effective, and, in fact, have been shown to cause harm,” continued Smith

Eight states have already made the decision to refuse Title V money.  The overwhelming feeling in these states has been that the money came with too many strings attached, was ineffective in achieving its goals, and promoted extremist policies. Even with increasing numbers of states recognizing the waste and futility of the Title V spending, a federal legislative solution is still needed to ensure that proven, comprehensive sexuality education gets the funding it needs.  

“This Congress has a momentous opportunity to end the charade and use these federal funds to support programs that actually work,” said Smith.  “We fully expect this Congress to look at the government’s own commissioned evidence set forth in this report and end funding for these failed and ideologically driven programs,” Smith continued. 

The program under scrutiny in the report is set to expire on June 30, 2007 unless Congress takes some action to extend it.

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