For Immediate Release Contact: Patrick Malone
September 8, 2010 (202) 265-2405
New Report Released
Raising Expectations in the Rockies: Colorado’s Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Industry and the Imperative for Real Sex Education
Denver, CO—Just in time for school to start again, The Healthy Colorado Youth Alliance and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) have partnered to release a report, Raising Expectations in the Rockies: Colorado’s Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Industry and the Imperative for Real Sex Education, which details both the failures of Colorado’s abstinence-only-until-marriage industry as well as the advances made in the state in the fight to implement comprehensive sexuality education.
In recent years, Colorado has shown an increased dedication to improving the lives of its young people through ensuring that sex education provided in schools meets the criteria for comprehensive sexuality education; however, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are still prevalent in the state and continue to promulgate misinformation and use fear- and shame-based tactics to forward an ultra-conservative ideology. This new report provides an extensive overview of abstinence-only-until-marriage providers’ methods and recommendations for combating programs that seek to undermine healthy, objective sexuality education. The report also addresses the gains made and the challenges local schools districts still face to implement comprehensive sexuality instruction consistent with state law.
“At a time when local and statewide focus is on providing medically accurate sex education, this report gives us a great checkpoint to see how far we’ve come and how much more we have to do,” said Lisa Olcese, executive director of The Healthy Colorado Youth Alliance. “Real sex ed includes messages about abstinence as one of many ways to avoid pregnancy and infection without imposing shame and judgment. This way, youth and their families can make informed decisions that are consistent with their own values.”
Due to the overwhelming evidence proving abstinence-only-until-marriage programs ineffective and the necessity to provide full and accurate information to all of Colorado’s young people, Colorado first rejected Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage federal funding in 2007 and has continued to do so ever since. Since then, the state made strides toward comprehensive sexuality education in its public schools and developed it’s first-ever health education standards. Colorado has also recently applied for the Personal Responsibility Education Program, federal funding for more comprehensive approaches to sex education. However, there is a need to dedicate more attention to the health and safety of its youth. Colorado’s youth experience median rates of unintended teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection (STIs), in comparison to adolescents across the country. Some of Colorado’s youth populations, including black and Latino youth, however, are disproportionately affected by high rates of teen birth and STIs.
Our investigations into abstinence-only-until marriage programs in Colorado revealed a web of closely connected providers with ties to far-right organizations like Focus on the Family. Colorado’s most prominent abstinence-only-until-marriage providers commonly target specific populations that they deem to be “at-risk,” including Latino/a students, teen parents, low-income youth, and single-parent families. Little effort is made to encourage young people to explore their own values or make informed decisions about relationships. Instead, the state’s abstinence-only-until-marriage providers use curricula that promote marriage, rely on messages of fear and shame, and present biased information about gender, sexual orientation, and pregnancy options in a way that is harmful and exclusive to many youth. What is clear in the report is that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been widely implemented in Colorado communities and classrooms and that program providers will continue to seek out ways to remain present by adapting and reframing their messages to appear consistent with state statute and community norms.
“What we’re seeing in this report is a need for vigilance,” said Jen Heitel Yakush, director of policy at SIECUS. “Although Colorado has made some impressive steps forward, these providers have shown that they’re willing to adapt in order to destabilize progress toward comprehensive sexuality education. Colorado’s youth deserve information and education, and this report shows how the state can combat the fear and shame-based messages that the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry promotes.”
The Healthy Colorado Youth Alliance and SIECUS urge Colorado to end the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry’s persistent political and moral agenda by ensuring that individual schools comply with instructional guidelines, continuing to reject Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding and apply for PREP funding, and implement state academic standards for comprehensive health education with evidence-based programs and principles.
“Colorado is on the right path, and by remaining alert to the hazards associated with abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, while keeping a strong commitment to the implementation of comprehensive sexuality education in all public schools, the state can begin to provide the healthy, objective, and accurate sexuality education that our youth deserve,” said Olcese.
To read the complete report, Raising Expectations in the Rockies: Colorado’s Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Industry and the Imperative for Real Sex Education, please visit www.siecus.org/specialreports.