Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Thursday, October 18, 2007
By AMANDA ROBB in the New York Times
DEMOCRATIC leaders are right to contest President Bush’s veto of their bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance program. But sadly, their “bipartisan compromise” will leave millions of young Americans vulnerable to sickness and suffering of the most preventable kind.
To entice Republicans to support the bill, the House of Representatives agreed to increase money for abstinence-only sex education by $28 million, to a total of about $200 million a year. Abstinence-only courses, the only form of federally financed sex ed, teach that sexual activity outside of marriage is likely to cause psychological and physical harm.
If that were true, our health care system would be not only broken, but besieged. A 2002 survey found that 93 percent of American adults had had premarital sex by the age of 30.
In addition to provoking shame about a nearly universal activity, abstinence-only sex education is ineffective and dangerous. Last April, a 10-year study found that students who took abstinence-only courses were no more likely to abstain from sex than other students. Previous studies revealed that abstinence-only students avoid using contraception.
Programs in public schools teach patently false information like “the chances of getting pregnant with a condom are one out of six” and H.I.V. “may be in your body for a long time (from a few months to as long as 10 years or more) before it can be detected.”
The results are tragic. The United States has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the developed world (about the same as Ukraine’s), and the highest abortion rate in the Western world. Sexually transmitted infections like syphilis and gonorrhea are on the rise for the first time since the 1980s, and chlamydia is being diagnosed twice as often as it was a decade ago.
Among Americans living in poverty — those who might see the $4 price of a three-pack of condoms as the take-home pay for an hour of work at minimum wage — the unintended pregnancy rate has increased 30 percent since 1994.
Our teenage pregnancy and abortion rates have declined during the last decade, but research suggests this is mainly because of increased use of condoms, something young people must learn about outside of school.
By dropping the financing for abstinence-only sex ed, Congress could save enough money to insure 150,000 children a year. And it would also demonstrate much needed resolve to protect all aspects of children’s health.
Amanda Robb is at work on a book about the abstinence movement.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Yo, it's good news Thursday! The same day New York Civil Liberties Union issued a new report "Financing Ignorance: A Report of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Funding in New York" chronicling the dangerous funding of medically inaccurate abstinence-only education in 39 New York State programs, State Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines announced that as of October 1, state funds won't go for anything other than comprehensive sex education.
Daines' announcement followed his July move to cancel existing contracts with abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and no longer accept funds from Title V, one of the main federal funding streams for abstinence-only education.
"We're very pleased the Department of Health decided to stay away from dirty money, but we'll only be satisfied when comprehensive sex education is fully funded," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said after a press conference Thursday to announce NYCLU's report. Organizations supporting NYCLU's proposal include Family Planning Advocates, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center, CHAMP, Housing Works, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Representatives from supporting organizations spoke at Thursday's release about the different ways abstinence-only education is damaging.
Read the rest via Housing Works.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
Abstinence Education Faces an Uncertain Future
Read the New York Times story here.
In the meantime, HOORAY!
Abstinence only approaches have further stigmatized queer lives and minimized the opportunities for inclusive, holistic, open-minded sexual wellness discussions in schools.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Take action below.
Please send the Democratic leadership a message to END funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs NOW.
Running the Chicago Marathon AGAIN in support of HIV/AIDS
services. Please sponsor me here -
[Mrs. Pelosi - what the hell happened?]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 7, 2007
Contact: Patrick Malone
(212) 819-9770 ext. 316
House of Representatives Sends the Message:
Putting Prevention Last
Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations decided to increase funding for the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) grants despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs it supports do not work.
It was widely believed that the programs would be cut or eliminated by the new Congress, but by adding $27.8 million, the House Appropriations Committee is doing President Bush's bidding and providing $141 million in funding to CBAE. This is almost exactly what the President had requested, and appears to be a ploy by the Democratic majority designed to swing enough Republican votes to make the spending bill veto-proof.
"There is no other way to describe this concession but as shameful," said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). "The House Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing this bill is using abstinence-only funding as a carrot to draw votes when the same thing could have been accomplished without an increase. Even the previous Republican Congress flat funded these programs two years in a row despite Bush's request for increases. How is it then that the Democrats are now delivering up cash directly to the most extreme elements of America's right-wing movement?"
Numerous studies have shown that abstinence-only programs have been an extraordinary waste of taxpayer money. In fact, less than two months ago, a study conducted on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found no evidence that abstinence-only programs increased rates of sexual abstinence. Students in the abstinence-only programs had a similar number of sexual partners as their peers not in the programs, as well as a similar age of first sex.
"Our hope was that the 'Prevention First' message touted by new Congressional leaders was more than a bumper sticker slogan. But today's shenanigans in the House of Representatives seem to make it clear that we were wrong. The bill that has come forward today fails to fully fund HIV prevention, fails to fully fund the Minority AIDS Initiative, and fails to fully fund Title X family planning, just for starters. Yet, House leaders have seen fit to shift vital and scarce resources to extreme programs that do not work and are on the verge of collapse," concluded Smith.
The subcommittee markup, which occurred today, will likely be followed by a full committee markup next week and a vote on the House floor following that. SIECUS would also like to recognize and thank Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) for publicly expressing their dismay at the increase for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the bill.
Please e-mail inquires to firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com> or call (212) 817-9770 ext. 316
Running the Chicago Marathon AGAIN in support of HIV/AIDS
services. Please sponsor me here -
Monday, May 21, 2007
By MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS - Wall Street Journal
May 21, 2007; Page A4
WASHINGTON -- When Democrats took over Congress, liberal AIDS activists thought they would finally see the end to a requirement that the federal government spend hundreds of millions of dollars to promote sexual abstinence in the developing world. The activists say the conservative-backed rule, passed in 2003 by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed by President Bush, diverts money from programs that promote condoms, provide AIDS drugs and care for the ill, into abstinence efforts of dubious effectiveness. They are pressing Democrats to repeal that mandate in a coming foreign-aid spending bill. Meanwhile, proponents of abstinence programs are opposing such a change, saying that the African nation of Uganda shows abstinence works. There are signs, however, that Democratic leaders don't want to get into the middle of the fight right now. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey of Wisconsin and other Democrats, already entangled in the Iraq war debate and other battles, are preparing a draft of their foreign-aid spending bill and appear reluctant to send the White House a measure that deletes the abstinence language, according to health activists and Capitol Hill aides. Instead, Democrats seem likely to push the issue off until later this year or even next year, when Congress will have to reauthorize the president's AIDS initiative. That could mean that any relaxation of the AIDS funding restrictions might not take effect until 2009 or 2010. "The Democrats have the power to do the right thing; they don't seem to be willing to do it," says Jodi Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, in Takoma Park, Md., an advocacy group that is leading the lobbying effort. "What is the point in being in the majority if you can't take action?" Behind the fight over spending is a fierce debate, tinged with both science and ideology, over whether abstinence programs actually delay the onset of sexual activity among young people or instead draw funding away from more-effective approaches. The pro-abstinence side says that Uganda, for instance, has succeeded in reducing HIV prevalence in large part by promoting abstinence among the young and fidelity among the sexually active. "It just so happens in this case the morally right thing is also the efficacious approach," says Stephen Colecchi, director of the office of international justice and peace at the pro-abstinence U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Supporters of the mandate say that without it, programs advocating sexual abstinence until marriage and sexual fidelity after marriage would get shortchanged. "Over time, we probably won't need [the provision], but for now we still do," says Dr. Mark Dybul, head of the Bush AIDS program. The opponents of the provision, however, point to new scientific evidence to back up their claim that the abstinence provision instead inhibits progress against HIV. A new study by the U.S.'s Institute of Medicine concludes that congressional provisions dictating how the administration must spend AIDS money -- whether for abstinence or treatment -- tie the hands of health professionals on the ground. "Contrary to basic principles of good management and accountability, the budget allocations have made spending money in a particular way an end in itself rather than a means to an end -- in this instance, the vitally important end of saving lives today and in the future," the study concluded. Another study, commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services, found that abstinence-only programs in the U.S. have had no impact on the sexual behavior of young people. James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based nonprofit that presses for sex education that includes abstinence and condom use for HIV protection, says that if the Democrats fail to delete the abstinence provision, "they'd leave themselves open to the charge of being public-health frauds." The liberal advocacy groups have some well-placed allies. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and a member of the Appropriations Committee, argues that the abstinence requirement is "squeezing out available funding for other key HIV-prevention programs, such as mother-to-child transmission and maintaining a healthy blood supply." Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, has introduced legislation that would strike the abstinence provision, which sets aside 33% of AIDS prevention money, or about $300 million this year, for overseas abstinence programs. Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat and chairman of the House subcommittee that funds international AIDS programs, says the pandemic "is unyielding, and we cannot afford to use anything less than the best and most effective tools at our disposal in this fight." Nonetheless, Mr. Obey appears reluctant to risk slowing progress on spending bills by taking on such a controversial measure. Before winning control of Congress, Democrats attacked the majority Republicans for failing to complete spending measures on time. A White House spokesman declined to say whether President Bush would veto legislation that deletes the abstinence mandate. But, in an email, he added, "We'll certainly fight to maintain a balanced approach" in HIV-prevention grants -- in other words, to support abstinence and fidelity programs in addition to condom promotion. Already this month, Mr. Bush sent pre-emptive letters to Democratic leaders vowing to veto any bill that weakened antiabortion provisions in U.S. aid law. The issue is peripheral to the abstinence provision, but both draw support from the same socially conservative constituency. Health activists also are pressing for repeal of another controversial measure, which requires grant recipients to have written policies opposing prostitution. Socially conservative lawmakers and advocates argue the provision is a common-sense approach because HIV can spread through prostitution. Their opponents, including AIDS groups in Brazil and India, argue that condemning prostitution stigmatizes sex workers and makes it harder to win their trust. AIDS advocates thought their efforts to repeal the prostitution-pledge requirement might get a boost from the departure of Bush foreign-aid czar Randall Tobias, who resigned after admitting he summoned call girls to his home for massages. But Congress shows even less appetite for taking on the prostitution issue than it does the abstinence issue. The Democrats realize the issue is a public-relations trap; removing the provision opens them up to attacks accusing them of being pro-prostitution.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
No one is saying that researchers cheat, but how they design a study of sex education can practically preordain the results.
By Sharon Begley
May 7, 2007 issue
When Doug Kirby sat down recently to update his 2001 analysis of sex-education programs, he had 111 studies that were scientifically sound, using rigorous methods to evaluate whether a program met its goals of reducing teen pregnancy, cutting teens' rates of sexually transmitted diseases and persuading them to practice abstinence (or, if they didn't, to use condoms).
He also had a pile of studies that were too poorly designed to include. It measured three feet high.
For us civilians, it's hard to grasp how much of science is subjective, and especially how much leeway there is in choosing how to conduct a study. No one is alleging that scientists stack the deck on purpose. Let's just say that depending on how you design a study you can practically preordain the outcome. "There is an amazing array of things people do to botch a study," says Rebecca Maynard of the University of Pennsylvania.
For instance, 153 out of 167 government-funded studies of bisphenol-A, a chemical used to make plastic, find toxic effects in animals, such as low sperm counts. No industry-funded studies find any problem. It's not that the taxpayer-funded scientists are hallucinating, or that the industry scientists are blind. But here's a clue: many industry studies tested this estrogenlike chemical on a strain of rat that is insensitive to estrogen. That's like trying to measure how stress affects lactation ... using males.
Choosing the wrong methodology can lead science, and the public, astray. Early studies of hormone therapy compared women who chose to take estrogen pills and women who did not. The studies concluded that the pills prevent heart disease.
Wrong. Women who chose to take hormones after menopause were healthier and more plugged into the medical system than women who did not. Differences in the women, not the effect of hormones, explained the difference in heart disease.
Which brings us to sex ed. In April, scientists released the most thorough study of abstinence-only programs ever conducted. Ordered up by Congress, it followed 2,000 kids, starting in grades 3 through 8, in rural and urban communities who had been randomly assigned to an abstinence-only program or not. Result: kids in abstinence-only "were no more likely to abstain from sex than their control group counterparts ... [both] had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex" at the same age.
Earlier studies gave abstinence-only glowing evaluations, as social conservatives publicized. The Heritage Foundation, for one, claimed in 2002 that abstinence-only had been proven "effective in reducing early sexual activity."
But this is not a case of dueling studies, with no way to tell which to believe. If you dig into the earlier studies' methodology, you can see how they reached their conclusions.
Many evaluated programs where kids take a virginity pledge. But kids who choose to pledge are arguably different from kids who spurn the very idea. "There's potentially a huge selection issue," says Christopher Trenholm of Mathematica Policy Research, which did the abstinence study for the government. "It could lead to an upward bias on effectiveness."
Claims for abstinence-only also rest on measurements not of sexual activity, but attitudes. The Bush administration ditched the former in favor of assessing whether, after an abstinence-only program, kids knew that abstinence can bring "social, psychological, and health gains." If enough answered yes, the program was deemed effective. Anyone who is or was a teen can decide if knowing the right answer is the same as saying no to sex.
Other studies relied on kids' memory. But up to half of kids forget whether they took a virginity pledge, or pretend they never did. Those who fall off the abstinence wagon are likely to "forget" they pledged, while those who remain chaste might attribute it to a pledge they never made. Both factors inflate the measured efficacy of pledge programs.
A study of another abstinence program found it did a phenomenal job of getting girls to postpone their first sexual encounter. One problem: it evaluated only girls who stayed in the program, says Maynard. Girls who had sex were thrown out.
In a related strategy, some studies of true sex ed, not the just-say-no variety, follow kids for only a few months, says Kirby of ETR Associates, a research contractor. But to see any difference between kids who took the class and those who did not, you have to let enough time go by for kids (in the latter group, one hopes) to have sex and get pregnant. A short time horizon may miss a program's effectiveness.
Authors of the problematic studies say they did the best they could with the time and money they had. OK, but as Trenholm says, "there is such a thing as good science and less good science." And you really can tell the difference.
Friday, May 4, 2007
International Women's Health Coalition
Population Action international
Invite you to
a reception and screening of
Population Action International's documentary
Abstaining from Reality: U.S. Restrictions on HIV Prevention,
a short film that puts a human face
on the consequences of an abstinence-only approach to
When: May 17, 2007
6:00 PM Introduction and Film Screening
6:15 PM Moderated Panel Discussion
7:00 PM - 8:00 PM Reception
Where: Tribeca Cinemas - Theater 2
54 Varick Street (at Laight Street)
New York City
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, April 30, 2007
by Jodi Jacobsen in today's RH Reality Check
In the final moments of the Washington work day last Friday evening, emails began shooting across my screen announcing the immediate resignation of Randall Tobias as Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The official press release cited "personal reasons," and this was clearly important news, so I passed it on to colleagues right away. One immediately wrote back asking for the "back story," on suspicion that a late-Friday release always means something fishy. I offered that Mr. Tobias might have a family emergency, and while I've long been a critic of the policies over which he has presided both as Global AIDS Coordinator and in his current capacity, I nonetheless felt compassion for him in what appeared to be a serious personal matter.
Boy was I wrong. Little did I realize that this was in fact a "back" story....Tobias's had been inviting some "gals" over to his condo for personal massages. Problem is those "gals" were employed by Pamela Martin and Associates, described in court papers by owner Deborah Palfrey as a "high-end adult fantasy firm offering legal sexual and erotic services across the spectrum of adult sexual behavior."
Read the rest.
Reliance on abstinence-only sex education as the primary tool to reduce teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases — as favored by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress — looks increasingly foolish and indefensible.
The abstinence-only campaign has always been driven more by ideology than by sound public health policy. The program’s tight rules, governing states that accept federal matching funds and community organizations that accept federal grants, forbid the promotion of contraceptive use and require teaching that sex outside marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.
At least nine states, by one count, have decided to give up the federal matching funds rather than submit to dictates that undermine sensible sex education. Now there is growing evidence that the programs have no effect on children’s sexual behavior.
A Congressionally mandated report issued this month by the Mathematica Policy Research firm found that elementary and middle school students in four communities who received abstinence instruction — sometimes on a daily basis — were just as likely to have sex in the following years as students who did not get such instruction. Those who became sexually active — about half of each group — started at the same age (14.9 years on average) and had the same number of sexual partners. The chief caveat is that none of the four programs studied continued the abstinence instruction into high school, the most sexually active period for most teenagers, so it is not known whether more sustained abstinence education would show more effectiveness.
Supporters of abstinence-only education sometimes point to a sharp decline in teenage pregnancy rates in recent years as proof that the programs must be working. But a paper by researchers at Columbia University and the Guttmacher Institute, published in the January issue of The American Journal of Public Health, attributed 86 percent of the decline to greater and more effective use of contraceptives — and only 14 percent to teenagers’ deciding to wait longer to start having sex. At the very least, that suggests that the current policy of emphasizing abstinence and minimizing contraceptive use should be turned around.
As Congress prepares to debate further financing, it should either drop the abstinence-only program as a waste of money or broaden it to include safe-sex instruction. Abstinence deserves to be part of a comprehensive sex education effort, but not the only part.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Deborah of AIDS Action Committee - the Boston pillar of our SHX collaboration - posted a great blog yesterday about the isolation and stigmatization visited upon LGBT kiddies due to the garbage that is Abstinence Only curricula. Check it out.
And in a bit of Googlin, I found this giggly site - Sex is for Fags - Abstinence Only Coolness for Boys. Images here are courtesy of the site. You got to click it. --- jim
Here is a tasty sample:
I, [MY NAME], hereby pledge:
1. To stay massively cool by not having sex. Because only major losers have sex – which everyone knows is only for fags.
2. To never let any slutty girls peer pressure me into touching their vaginas – because vaginas are totally gay.
3. To ignore my raging hormones and burning drive to fondle, suckle, and thrust furiously into a hot gooey pit of creamy-soft fleshy ecstasy.
5. To never spill my sacred "dude milk" – unless it is inside of some hot babe who already married me and took my last name.
I understand that abstaining from sex protects me from:
The regret and guilt caused by the disgusting, squishy act of stupid sex, which is basically like going to the toilet from the front side.
Making retard babies out of wedlock, then having to blow my whole allowance on diapers and a stroller instead of XBox games and Snickers.
Catching a brain-rotting STD like "Finger Herpes" from "feeling up" any nasty dirty girlie holes.--------------------------
And #2 in the list of
JOIN A BOY SCOUT TROOP!
As your awkward, gangly body begins to grow – your muscles blooming, your willowy penis thickening into a sturdy tool, you need the guidance of a middle-aged man who likes to play dress-up and go camping in the woods with hordes of young boys. Then at night, when you're Indian Wrestling wearing the traditional bison hide thong and nothing else, you'll find your burning hunger for "squaw beaver" will flicker out like a citronella candle choked with dead skeeters!
And there are testimonials as well...
Zach P.: "Premarital sex isn't worth it! You can catch AIDS, or cancer, or testicle weevils, or a bad body image or rickets. You know what IS worth it? Making love to Jesus. Because you can't knock Him up and He'll never ask what you're thinking – cuz He already knows!"