This week, Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced a bill to cut federal funding for abstinence-only programs. Finally! Someone had the guts to point out that no matter how often politicians claim abstinence-only education works, it just doesn't. After all, contraceptive use — not abstinence — is likely why teenage pregnancies have dropped so radically in recent years.
The bill is officially called the Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act (or H.R. 3774 for short). This is far from the first time that someone has brought up the bill — in fact, California's Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, who sponsored the bill in the House, was gunning for it as far back as March 2011.
So, how much have we spent on abstinence-only education in America? $2 billion. That's as much money the U.S. government was spending weekly in the Iraq War. And how did those $2 billion-worth abstinence-only programs work out?
For teenagers in Texas, the answer is not well. In the Lone Star State, 94 percent of schools have had abstinence-only sex education since 2009 — and teens are getting pregnant at higher rates than ever. But before you go ahead and make a Texas joke, this trend is happening across the board in the United States: Abstinence-only education is largely regarded as a failure. No link has been established between these programs and reduced sexual behavior. Meanwhile, several studies have proven time and again that comprehensive safe-sex education does work.
Meanwhile, as Bustle reported last summer, sex education that teaches about contraception has proven extremely effective in California:
In just over twenty years, new laws requiring California to teach students about cross-culture birth control have proven staggeringly effective. As in, there are now less than half as many kids born to teenage parents as there were in 1991.
Back then, 70 babies for every 1,000 teenage girls were born each year. Like most Southern states today, teenagers were only taught about abstinence. And because they’re teenagers, they proceeded to go at it like rabbits and promptly breed and multiply.
Then the state stepped in. Teens were taught about condoms and the pill, and shown how and where to get it. Because Latinos had the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation, Spanish-speaking health care workers were provided. And now, twenty years later, the number of teen pregnancies in the state have been dramatically slashed. Logic, people.
Other states have also started to restrict abstinence-only education. By 2008, 50 percent of states rejected federal funding for abstinence-only education, based on findings by the American Public Health Association, the Academy of Pediatrics, and the Institute of Medicine.
We've really got to ask: why does abstinence-only education still exist? If it worked, then sure, we'd give it a chance. But it doesn't.
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