Oversight Hearing on Abstinence-Only Programs

The Oversight Committee is currently holding a hearing, “Domestic Abstinence-Only Programs: Assessing the Evidence” Federally-funded abstinence-only programs require the exclusive teaching of abstinence until marriage and prohibit teaching about condoms or other contraceptives — other than to discuss failure rates. These programs have received over $1.3 billion in federal funding over the past decade. Medical and scientific experts, as well as youth educators, will testify regarding the public health evidence of the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs and of more comprehensive programs.

Watch the hearing live >>

Chairman Henry Waxman gives opening remarks:

Chairman Waxman: “In fact, the government's own study showed no effect for abstinence-only programs. In 2007, the Bush Administration released the results of a longitudinal, randomized, controlled study of four federally-funded programs. The investigators found that compared to the control group, the abstinence-only programs had no impact on whether or not participants abstained from sex. They had no impact on the age when teens started having sex. They had no impact on the number of partners. And they had no impact on rates of pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. There's a lot of talk about the failure rates of condoms. It's time we face the facts about the failure rate of abstinence-only programs.”

Rep. Lois Capps (CA-23), a registered nurse and former health advocate for the Santa Barbara School District, gives testimony:

Rep. Capps: “A 2004 evaluation of abstinence-only until marriage programs that found that there were no changes noted for participants’ actual or intended behavior, such as whether they planned to wait until marriage to have sex. The evaluation also revealed negative changes in attitudes – after participating in abstinence-only until marriage programs, students were less likely to respond that the teachers and staff cared about them, and significantly fewer students felt they have a right to refuse to have sex with someone. Researchers therefore concluded that rather than focusing on abstinence-only until marriage, data suggests that including information on contraceptive use may be more effective at decreasing teen pregnancy.”

Max Siegel, Policy Associate at the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth, and Families, gives testimony on his experience with abstinence-only programs as a gay youth (pdf):

Max Siegel: “I experienced abstinence-only-until-marriage education taught by my junior high school gym teacher. In his class, he told me and my male classmates that sex is dangerous and that we should think more seriously about it when we “grow up and marry.” He made it clear that sex was something only for married people. He was visibly uncomfortable, and he conveyed to us that sexuality was not to be discussed extensively in an educational setting. Even if it were, my gym teacher made it clear that only one kind of sexuality–heterosexuality ending in marriage–was acceptable to talk about. Already aware of my sexual orientation, I found no value in his speech. It did not speak to me and my life. It might as well not have happened.”

Shelby Knox, a youth speaker, gives testimony (pdf):

Shelby Knox: “The same pastor who officiated at my religious pledge ceremony also presented a secularized abstinence-only program to students in my school district. Many students were already having sex, and needed information to protect their health. However, he expounded on the ineffectiveness of condoms, explaining in graphic detail, and with even more graphic pictures, the sexually transmitted infections students could get if we trusted our health to a ‘flimsy piece of latex.’… He pulled an often squirming and reluctant and always female volunteer onto the stage, took out a toothbrush that looked like it had been used to scrub toilets and asked if she would brush her teeth with it. When she predictably refused, he pulled out another toothbrush, this one pristine in its original box, and asked her if she would brush her teeth with that one. When she answered in the affirmative, he turned to the assembly and said, ‘If you have sex before marriage, you are the dirty toothbrush.'”
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