Is the Bush administration capable of allowing fact-based, scientifically proven evidence rather than ideology or blind faith to shape its public policies? When it comes to what to do about air pollution, endangered species, embryonic stem cell research, the disposal of farm waste, forest management or lead poisoning, the answer is apparently not.
Nowhere is this administration’s reliance on ideology and faith and willful ignorance of science more dangerous and harmful than when it comes to sex. The president and his people continue to be willing to let your kids get dangerous diseases and to tolerate tens of thousands of preventable abortions by ignoring the fact that abstinence-only education does not work.
In a just released major study ordered by Congress, independent researchers found that in four typical abstinence-only programs sampled from around the country there was absolutely no difference between the sexual activity of kids in these program and kids who were not. In one of the abstinence-only programs studied, the students met and got the 'no sex' message for an hour every day! All of the abstinence-only programs in the study had at least 50 hours of class time. The kids were in the programs for one to three years starting at about age 11.
Chastity-only sex ed had no impact whatsoever on the kids' sexual behavior. The abstinence-only kids admitted to having sex at the same rate and starting at the same age as other students not in these classes. Whether they were in an abstinence-only class or not, by the time they reached 17 years of age, half the kids said they had had sex and half had not.
Telling kids every day "don’t have sex" — and nothing else — really does not work. American teenagers continue to get pregnant at a startling rate, leading to about 250,000 abortions every year — a higher abortion rate than in Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands or France, where sex ed consists of more than just "say no."
The rates of sexually transmitted disease among American kids continue to outpace those in other developed nations. There is plenty of scientific evidence from the United States and Europe that sex-ed programs that talk about contraception, condoms and abstinence do a better job at preventing unwanted pregnancies and controlling sexually transmitted diseases than abstinence-only programs.
This newly released research is just the latest in a long parade of studies that have failed to show any impact or efficacy of abstinence-only sex ed. So might we expect the Bush administration to look at the latest confirmatory data and admit that it is time to stop spending roughly $50 million a year of your tax money on abstinence-only programs that don’t work? Nah.
Bush administration official Harry Wilson, the commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families, offered this response: “You can’t expect one dose in middle school, or a small dose, to be protective all throughout the youth’s high school career.”
Actually, you cannot expect abstinence-only sex ed to be protective, effective or in any way useful at all. Ever. Period. Enough already. It's time to pull the plug on abstinence-only sex education. There are too many lives at stake to put up with a reproductive-health policy that is willing to kill and disable our kids out of an allegiance to a blind faith in something that does not work.
Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.