In April, the
Senate will vote on reauthorization of welfare reform. The Senate
welfare reform legislation will include the reauthorization of the
federal government's main education program. Despite the
overwhelming popularity of education, some groups seek
to divert funds away from and into "safe sex" programs.
These efforts to redirect funds are usually deceptively labeled as
support for " plus" or "comprehensive sex ed" programs.
The following facts are important to understanding any debate about
the future of education.
Sexual activity at an early age has multiple harmful
The earlier a
teenage girl begins sexual activity the more likely she is to
suffer from increased rates of infection with sexually transmitted
diseases, increased rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and birth,
increased rates of single parenthood, decreased marital stability,
increased maternal and child poverty, increased abortion, increased
depression, and decreased adult happiness.
Most sexually active teens say they wish they had waited until they
were older before having sex
Nearly two thirds of sexually active
teens state that they regret their initial sexual activity and wish
they had waited until they were older before becoming sexually
Sexually active teens are more likely to be depressed and to
Sexuallyactive teens are less likely
to be happy, more likely to be depressed, and more likely to
attempt suicide. Teenage girls who are sexually active are three
times more likely to be depressed and three times more likely to
attempt suicide than girls who are not active. Teenage boys who are
sexually active are more than twice as likely to be depressed and
are almost ten times more likely to attempt suicide than boys who
are not active.
education programs are effective in reducing teen sexual
currently ten evaluations showing that education is
effective in reducing teen sexual activity. Half of these
evaluations have been published in peer-reviewed journals. For
example, "Not Me, Not Now" is a community-wide program
in Monroe County, New York. The program broadcasts pro-abstinence
messages to teens through the mass media. The program has been
successful in changing teen attitudes. The sexual activity rate of
15-year-olds across the county (as reported on the Youth Risk
Behavior Survey) dropped 46.6 percent to 31.6 percent. The
pregnancy rate for girls aged 15 through 17 in the county fell by a
statistically significant amount from 63.4 pregnancies per 1000
girls to 49.5 pregnancies per 1000.. The teen pregnancy rate fell
more rapidly in Monroe County than in comparison counties and in
upstate New York in general, and the difference in the rate of
decrease was statistically significant. 
programs dramatically reduce out-of-wedlock childbearing.
For more than a
decade, organizations such as "True Love Waits" have
encouraged young people to abstain from sexual activity. As part of
these programs, young people are encouraged to make a verbal or
written pledge to abstain from sex until marriage. Young women who
take a virginity pledge are about 40 percent less likely to have a
child out-of-wedlock when compared to similar young women who
do not make pledges, according to recently released data from the
National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. These dramatic
findings are valid even when background factors such as
socio-economic status, race, religiosity, and other relevant
variables are held constant.
Fact: Government spends $12 to promote contraceptives for every
$1 spent on abstinence.
In 2002, the federal and
state governments spent an estimated $1.73 billion on a wide
variety of contraception-promotion and pregnancy-prevention
programs. More than a third of that money ($653 million) was spent
specifically to fund contraceptive programs for teens. In contrast,
programs teaching teens to abstain from sexual activity received
only an estimated $144.1 million in the same year. Overall,
government spent $12.00 to promote contraception for every one
dollar spent to encourage abstinence. If funding for teens alone is
examined, government still spent $4.50 on promoting teen
contraceptive use for every one dollar spent on teen abstinence.
Fact: Government spending priorities do not match parental
Some 85 percent of
parents believe that teaching about should be emphasized
as much as, or more than, teaching about contraception. Only 8
percent believe that promoting contraception is more important than
Fact: "Comprehensive sex education" or
" plus" programs are merely safe sex programs wrapped in
a deceptive label.
In recent years, a new approach, termed
" plus" or "comprehensive sexuality education," has
played a prominent role in the public debate over sex education.
According to proponents, plus or comprehensive sex ed
programs place a strong emphasis on but also contain
information about contraception. This approach is presented as the
middle ground between "safe sex" and abstinence.
reality, comprehensive sex ed programs are nothing more than
standard "safe sex" programs wrapped in a new label. These
curricula have little meaningful content. True
curricula devote, on average, 71 percent of their page
content to abstinence. In contrast, comprehensive sex ed curricula,
on average, allocate only 4.7 percent of their content to
; the overwhelming focus is on encouraging teens to use
brief message in comprehensive sex ed curricula is weak
and equivocal: comprehensive sex ed does not present as
a goal or standard that teens should pursue, but merely as a minor
option teens may consider. Comprehensive sex curricula never urge
teens to abstain until they finish high school. Even sentences
suggesting that young people should wait "until they are older"
before engaging in sex are extremely rare. The principal message
that pervades comprehensive sex ed curricula, through repeated
example, is that it is okay for teens to have sex as long as they
overwhelmingly support the values and messages of true
Polls show that
parents overwhelmingly support the main themes and messages of
79 percent of parents want teens to be
taught that they should not engage in sexual activity until they
are married or at least in an adult relationship leading to
91 percent of
parents want teens to be taught that "the best choice is for sexual
intercourse to be linked to love, intimacy, and commitment. These
qualities are most likely to occur in a faithful marriage."
68 percent of
parents want sex education programs to teach that "individuals who
are not sexually active until they are married have the best
chances of marital stability and happiness."
91 percent of
parents want schools to teach that "adolescents should be expected
to abstain from sexual activity during high school years."
These themes are
central to education curricula. By contrast, these
messages either do not appear in or are directly contradicted by
comprehensive sex ed/ plus curricula.
Fact: Parents overwhelmingly oppose the values and messages of
comprehensive sex ed curricula.
Comprehensive sex ed programs teach permissive values that are
opposed by nearly all parents:
Comprehensive sex ed curricula focus almost exclusively on
contraception and include little or no material on abstinence.
However, only 2 percent of parents believe is not
important; only 7 percent believe teaching about contraception
should have more emphasis than teaching about abstinence.
Over 90 percent of parents want sex education programs to teach
teens to abstain at least until they have finished high school.
Comprehensive sex ed programs do not contain this message, and much
of their material implicitly undermines it.
page after page of text, and through example upon example,
comprehensive sex ed curricula are pervaded by the message
that it is okay for teens to have sex as long as they use
contraception. As long as "protection" is used, it is difficult to
find any example in these programs where voluntary teen is
criticized or discouraged. Only 7 percent of parents agree with
this permissive message.
Fact: Comprehensive sex ed
programs contain sexually explicit material that is offensive to
nearly all parents.
sex-ed curricula contain sexually explicit and offensive materials.
For example, curricula have students practice unrolling condoms on
bananas, cucumbers, or model phalluses. Curricula also contain
discussions of anal sex and homosexual role-playing and encourage
teens to practice mutual masturbation and watch erotic movies. Much
material in " plus" curricula would be alarming to
For example, the curriculum Be Proud! Be Responsible!
instructs teachers to:
[students] to brainstorm ways to increase spontaneity and the
likelihood that they'll use condoms…. Examples:
…Store condoms under mattress; Eroticize condom use with
partner…Use condoms as a method of foreplay.… Think
up a sexual fantasy using condoms….Act sexy/sensual when
putting condoms on…. Hide them on your body and ask your
partner to find it. Wrap them as a present and give to your partner
before a romantic dinner. Tease each other manually while putting
on the condom.
curriculum Focus on Kids prompts teachers to:
there are other ways to be close to a person and show you care
without having sexual intercourse. Ask youth to brainstorm ways to
be close. The list may include holding hands, body massage, bathing
together, masturbation, sensuous feeding, fantasizing, watching
erotic movies, reading erotic books and magazines….
Fact: Claims that
parents support comprehensive sex ed or " plus" programs
as Advocates for Youth falsely claim that parents support
comprehensive sex. These claims are based on the erroneous
assertion that comprehensive sex ed programs contain the heavy
emphasis on preferred by nearly all parents. In reality,
these programs have very little content. In addition,
the aggressive promotion of teen contraceptive use, permissive
sexual values, and explicit sexual material contained in
comprehensive sex ed programs are unacceptable to nearly all
Fact: Most parents want their
children to be taught a strong message as well as basic
biological and health facts about contraception, but this does not
mean that parents oppose authentic education.
In general, curricula focus
on and do not teach about contraception. However, in
most schools where is taught, students will receive
basic information about contraception in a separate class such as
biology or health. Most parents support this approach; they
strongly support education and do not believe
and contraception should be mixed together in the same class.
Moreover, the fact that parents want
students taught the basic facts about contraception does not mean
they support the aggressive promotion of teen contraceptive use
contained in "comprehensive sex ed" programs. Such programs
encourage contraceptive use, teach teens how to convince sex
partners to use contraception, teach youth how to obtain
contraception, and have students practice condom use; the
overwhelming majority of parents reject this approach.
Fact: Allowing state public
health agencies to use federal funds for comprehensive
sex ed or safe sex programs would effectively eliminate federal
support for education.
have proposed that state public health agencies be given the
authority to divert federal education funds to pay for
safe sex/comprehensive sex ed programs. Since most state public
health agencies have long been wedded to the safe sex approach to
teen sex issues, this change would effectively eliminate most
federal funding for education.
Rector is Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy Studies at
The Heritage Foundation.