On March 16, 2009, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act. The bill would create a dedicated funding stream administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide states with money for comprehensive sexuality education that is age-appropriate, medically accurate, and stresses abstinence while also educating young people about contraception. Programs funded by the REAL Act would also stress family communication, responsible decision-making, and negotiation skills.
Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown that nearly 50 percent of high school students in America, and by senior year nearly 65 percent, have had sexual intercourse. Unprotected teen sex and other risky behaviors have led to variety of negative health outcomes: nearly 10 million people under the age of 24 acquire a sexually transmitted disease (STD) each year, representing half of all STD infections; the HIV epidemic disproportionately affects youth with a young person in the U.S. getting infected every hour on average; and, the teen birth rates recently rose for the second year in a row after a 14-year decline.
The Members of Congress and advocates introduced the legislation during a well-attended press conference. Senator Lautenberg acknowledged that, “Growing up isn’t easy and our young people find themselves in tough situations every day. They need all the information to make smart choices, and ‘abstinence-only’ programs simply aren’t working.” Senator Lautenberg proclaimed, “It’s time for our nation’s young people to get the education they need to take on the real life situations facing them every day.”
Representative Barbara Lee clearly stated that, “It’s time for us to get REAL about sex education. We should absolutely be teaching young people about abstinence, but we shouldn’t be holding back information that can save lives and prevent unwanted pregnancies. Instead of ‘abstinence only,’ what we’re proposing is ‘abstinence-plus.”
Currently there is no federal funding stream dedicated to comprehensive sexuality education programs. Since 1982, however, the U.S. government has spent over a $1.3 billion on unproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Of that money, over $800 million was spent during the Bush administration. In Fiscal Year 2008 alone, close to $200 million dollars went to these programs that have been proven not to work time and time again.
“Now is the time to pass the REAL Act,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “We all know that times are tight, but funding comprehensive sexuality education is an investment in our young people that will save money and lives in the long run by reducing teen pregnancy and STDs, including HIV/AIDS. We are very grateful to those policymakers, under the leadership of Senator Lautenberg and Congresswoman Lee, who understand this,” said Smith.
Young people who receive information on abstinence and contraception are more likely to delay sexual activity and be abstinent than those who get only abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. The REAL Act will give lawmakers the opportunity both to support programs that have been shown to work and to prove that science is back at the helm of the federal government.
President Barack Obama was a cosponsor of the REAL Act when he was a Senator, and has made several statements expressing his strong support for comprehensive sexuality education. In addition, he signed the appropriations for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2009 with the first-ever cut to federal abstinence-only-until-marriage spending. Advocates are hopeful that the President’s support for comprehensive sex education will continue and that Congress will follow his lead not only by cutting all remaining funding for failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, but by passing the REAL Act and funding programs that work.
“Not another day should pass before we see an end to the billion dollar abstinence-only-until-marriage boondoggle and an investment in a more comprehensive approach like that advanced in the REAL Act,” Smith concluded.
For more information and to contact your Senators and Representative about becoming a cosponsor of the REAL Act, click here.