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SIECUS Releases Special Report on Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in Kentucky

On July 29, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) released a special report on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Kentucky.  The report provides an in-depth look at the funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Kentucky, the status of adolescent sexual health in the state, and Kentucky’s current law and policy.  In addition, the report found that a significant portion of state and federal funds are being directed towards crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), and that some of the worst abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula are being used throughout Kentucky.

As abstinence-only-until-marriage funds have poured into Kentucky, youth in the state have faced increasingly poor health outcomes. The teen birth rate is nearly 20 percent higher than the national average (49.2 per 1,000 young women ages 15–19 compared to 41.1 in the same age group nationally).[i] In a single year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports Kentucky’s rate rose nearly 7 percent. The nationwide teen birth rate increased by less than half that in the same year.[ii] HIV statistics in the state are also disturbing. The overall prevalence is low, but the disease disproportionately impacts some communities: African Americans make up only seven percent of the total population of Kentucky but nearly 34 percent of new HIV cases in the state, according to the CDC.[iii] Since 1997, the state of Kentucky, through the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and numerous community-based organizations, has received over $16.9 million in abstinence-only-until-marriage funding through the three funding streams. In Fiscal Year 2007 alone, over $3 million went into these programs in Kentucky.  

In Kentucky, the state distributes abstinence-only-until-marriage funding to 16 local health departments – 11 of which use fear and shame based curricula. The state also provides Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage sub-grants to more CPCs than any other state. CPCs are anti-choice establishments that function to dissuade women with an unintended pregnancy from choosing abortion. These centers often pose as family planning/reproductive health clinics and claim to offer “abortion information and referrals.”   

In looking at the curricula used by these health departments, CPCs, and other community-based organizations, five central, and disturbing, themes emerged:

·        advancing religious messages;

·        relying on messages of fear and shame;

·        fostering gender myths and stereotypes;

·        promoting the questionable practice of virginity pledges; and

·        providing misinformation. 

One example of this is Marsha’s Place (Pregnancy Resource Center of Henderson County), a Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage sub-grantee and CPC, which makes a clear effort to scare and shame students on its website. In the “Your Life” section, Marsha’s Place lists reasons “why I will wait for sex,” including: “to stop the need for lying,” “to avoid bad memories,” and “to avoid guilt and disappointment.” The same section of the website offers different ways of “Saying ‘NO’” including, “I don’t give free samples—try Baskin Robbins,” and “You see these dotted lines? If you touch anything between them, you do it at your own risk. My dad has a very large gun.[iv]

“The young people of Kentucky deserve evidence-based and comprehensive sex education,” said William Smith, vice president for  public policy at SIECUS. He continued, “The statistics around teen pregnancy and HIV make the case clear: we simply cannot wait any longer to provide the information and education Kentucky youth need to make fully informed decisions about their health.”

[i]Teen Birth Rate per 1,000 Population, 2004,” State Health Facts, (2004), accessed 25 March 2008, <>.

[ii] Brady Hamilton, et. al., “Births: Preliminary Data for 2006,” National Vital Statistics Reports, vol. 56, no. 7, December 5, 2007, pp. 1-18., accessed at: <>.

[iii]Kentucky: Distribution of New AIDS Cases by Race/Ethnicity, Reported in 2006,” State Health Facts, (2006), accessed 25 March 2008, <>.

[iv] Ibid.

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