The release of the Report on Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in Ohio bolsters efforts of local advocates who have been working tirelessly for improved programming to ensure the wellbeing of Ohio's youth. The exposé details problems within the federally and state-funded Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program in Ohio. Title V funding is allocated to states by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. States that choose to accept these funds must match every four federal dollars with three state-raised dollars and are then responsible for using the funds or distributing them to community-based organizations, schools, or media campaigns.
The Ohio report, released on June 13th by Dr. Scott Frank of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, reviews several major areas of concern with Ohio's abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and the curricula used within these programs. The report explains that these curricula contain false and misleading information about contraceptives and abortion, misrepresent religious beliefs as facts, equate gender stereotypes as universal truths, do not meet the needs of all Ohio youth, and are not based in science.1
The report also expresses concern that these curricula are administered by groups that "are not public health organizations, but rather, ideologically oriented groups in a campaign to impose a strict understanding of religion, 'purity,' and morality on America's youth."2 For example, the report quotes the director of an abstinence-only-until-marriage program in Ohio as stating, "we want to be able to develop relationships with the clients and plant the seed for spiritual growth and help them develop a relationship with Christ."3 The report explains, "too often, the programs providing abstinence-only messages are not promoting public health but a message of morality, judgment, and fear with no room for exploration, self-discovery, and comprehension of individually based parameters for sexual activity. While moral decision-making is an element of healthy sexuality, teenagers need comprehensive, medically accurate information to help guide their decision-making in the context of their own families, their own lives, and their own conscience."4
According to the report, this agenda is promoted at the expense of factual information, for example, "condoms are a primary target in abstinence-only curricula, and the rate at which condoms fail to prevent pregnancy is often depicted as exponentially higher than the well-documented scientific evidence."5 In addition, the report states that these classes are often taught by instructors who may not have the appropriate credentials or teaching experience.6
The author provides some guidance to address the report's findings and offers six suggestions on how to improve Ohio's abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and curricula:
- revise the requirements of the abstinence-only-until-marriage program to address the needs of all youth;
- provide information on contraception and sexually transmitted disease (STDs) protection for sexually active youth;
- implement third-party scientific review of the abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula;
- establish standards of competence for abstinence-only-until-marriage educators;
- offer parents a greater say in determining what type of sexuality education their children receive;
- offer more resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.7
In April, organizations and churches from across Ohio were joined by the mayor of Cleveland and the Cleveland Department of Public Health to call for a suspension of all abstinence-only-until-marriage funding "until research proves their outcome effectiveness."8 These organizations include the AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland, Ohio AIDS Coalition, the Healthy Fathering Collaborative of Greater Cleveland, YWCA Dayton, and the YWCA of Greater Cleveland.
The organizations pointed to research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health by Dr. Hannah Brückner and Dr. Peter Bearman that documented the ineffectiveness of virginity pledges, oftentimes a center piece of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. According to Earl Pike, executive director of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, "these findings have deeply troubling implications. They echo earlier research which raises significant questions about whether abstinence-only programs are really effective in reducing unplanned pregnancy and STDs such as HIV. To continue funding of such programs, in the absence of a thorough scientific review, may be putting our youth at risk."9
The organizations explained that they "are not calling for an elimination of such programs at this time. We are rather taking the responsible approach: taxpayers deserve to know whether such programs are effective before we continue investing public funds."10 The groups went on to explain that they "do not call for a suspension of education about abstinence itself. Promotion of abstinence among school-age youth is an essential component within a comprehensive sexuality education approach that includes the facts about contraception and STD/HIV risk reduction."11
The Ohio report is reminiscent of a report released in December of 2004 by the minority staff of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform for Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA). This report, The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs, criticized abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula that are used throughout the country.12
"Sadly, Ohio is not alone. Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs across the nation continue to use inaccurate and potentially harmful curricula," said William Smith, SIECUS' vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS). "It is unacceptable that the federal government continues to dump millions of taxpayer dollars into abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that contain false and misleading information and censor critical sexual health information."
- Scott H. Frank, MD, MS, Report on Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in Ohio (Cleveland, Ohio: Case Western Reserve University, June 2005).
- Ibid., 23.
- Ibid., 24.
- Ibid., 14.
- Ibid., 23-24.
- Ibid., 25-26.
- AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, "Cleveland Mayor, Department of Health Join 34 Organizations and Churches Across Ohio to Call for Suspension of Abstinence-Only Funding," Press release published on 22 April 2005, accessed 5 July 2005.
- AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, "Groups Call for Suspension of Abstinence-Only Funding" Press release published on 23 March 2005.
- AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, "Cleveland Mayor, Department of Health Join 34 Organizations."
- The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs (Washington, DC: U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, December 1, 2004).