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SIECUS Releases Comprehensive Look at Sexuality Education and Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage in the States

On June 22, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS) released its groundbreaking new publication titled State Profiles: A Portrait of Sexuality Education and Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in the States.

SIECUS State Profiles details the amount, type, and use of federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funds in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The publication chronicles controversies related to sexuality education in each state, lists relevant state statutes, and provides contact information for state-based organizations involved in sexuality education and sexual health issues. SIECUS State Profiles also gives state specific information regarding teen sexual activity and/or pregnancy rates as well as contact information for state-based groups that both support comprehensive sexuality education and those that support an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach.

Sexuality education laws in the states vary widely. Most states do not have laws that specifically address sexuality education. However many states have laws that mandate either HIV/AIDS or STD prevention education or require general health education that includes elements of sexuality education. Few states address medical or factual accuracy within sexuality education.

When states address sexuality education, abstinence-only-until-marriage standards are often set as the minimum of what must be taught. Some states, such as Alabama and Ohio, have laws that closely mirror the federal eight-point definition of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

South Carolina has perhaps the most restrictive sexuality education law in the country with a mandate that requires both sexuality education and STD prevention education. However, South Carolina sets all information regarding sexual health squarely in an abstinence-only-until-marriage context. For example, classes cannot include instruction concerning sexual practices outside marriage or practices unrelated to reproduction except within the context of the risk of disease. Additionally, "contraceptive information must be given in the context of future family planning."

Several states address lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues negatively within sexuality education. For example, state laws in Arizona and Utah specify that teachers and instruction may not "promote homosexuality." In other states, LGBT issues can only be discussed within the context of disease prevention or presented as illegal in the context of state sodomy laws. (These laws are now out-of-date as the U.S. Supreme Court found such laws unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas.)

Several state laws, on the other hand, favor comprehensive sexuality education. Maine mandates comprehensive sexuality education and requires that it be taught in an age-appropriate and medically accurate manner in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Oregon and California do not mandate comprehensive sexuality education, but say that when sexuality education is taught it must be comprehensive. Oregon law states that sexuality education must, "enhance students' understanding of sexuality as a normal and healthy aspect of human development; teach about abstinence, but not to the exclusion of other material and instruction on contraception and disease reduction measures; and validate through course material and instruction the importance of honesty with oneself and others, respect for each person's dignity and well-being, and responsibility for one's actions."

Advocates in the states continue to offer legislation both in support of comprehensive sexuality education and in support of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Several states have pending legislation that would mandate comprehensive sexuality education; these states include Illinois, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington. Conversely, in Colorado, abstinence-only-until-marriage supporters introduced legislation that would have required the state to incorporate the federal eight-point definition into any health-related education program that included instruction on HIV/AIDS or STDs.

States also vary widely in the amount of federal and state money spent on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Florida has the most federal and state abstinence-only-until-marriage funding ($10,430,070) and dedicates the most state money to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs ($3,500,000). New Hampshire has the least amount of funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs with only $45,000. Arizona, California, and Pennsylvania all rejected Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding in Fiscal Year 2004.

There are three federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding streams and all suffer from a lack of oversight. States that receive Title V, which is the only funding stream that is directed to state governments, rarely have a comprehensive evaluation of their programs. The majority of states sub-grant their Title V funding to local groups, but few conduct sound evaluation of these programs. For example, Georgia, with 55 sub-grantees in Fiscal Year 2003, does not require its sub-grantees to participate in any type of behavior outcome-based evaluation.

"SIECUS State Profiles is the most complete portrait ever assembled of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and their intersection with sexuality education in the U.S.," said Bill Smith, SIECUS director of public policy. "We hope this document will give educators, policymakers, community leaders, and parents a comprehensive picture of what our nation's young people are-and in many cases, are not-learning with respect to their sexual health," Smith continued.

Proponents of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, however, were less than enthused with the report and its extensive surveillance of their industry. Leslie Unruh, President of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, railed against the report during an interview on Focus on the Family's radio news program, "Family News in Focus." (6/23) "Lies, lies, lies….over and over they lie," decried Unruh. Unruh's group is the largest US-based promoter of abstinence-only-until-marriage materials and would be the hardest hit by cuts in abstinence-only-until-marriage support.

The newspaper USA Today covered the release of the publication and found, through its own analysis, that those states "with the greatest amount of federal abstinence-only funding are political battleground states, notably Ohio and Florida." (6/23)

SIECUS State Profiles is available on-line and free of charge.

References

  1. Code of Laws of South Carolina Title 59, Chapter 32. Available online.
  2. Oregon Revised Statute 336.455. Available online.
  3. S. Sternberg and A. DeBarros, "Abstinence-only support often reflects state's politics," USA Today, June 22,2004.

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