a bird and a bottle

States Are Abstaining From Abstinence Only

Turns out, it’s easy for states to just say no.

The L.A. Times reported Sunday on the rash of states that have refused to accept federal abstinence only funding. In a turn that makes me dance with joy, swing state Ohio was among the most recent:

In an emerging revolt against abstinence-only sex education, states are turning down millions of dollars in federal grants, unwilling to accept White House dictates that the money be used for classes focused almost exclusively on teaching chastity.

In Ohio, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland said that regardless of the state’s sluggish economic picture, he didn’t see the point in taking part in the controversial State Abstinence Education Program anymore.

Five other states — Wisconsin, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Montana and New Jersey — have dropped out of that grant program or plan to do so by the end of this year. California has refused all along to participate in the program, which is managed by a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Strickland, like most of the other governors who are pulling the plug on the funding, said the program had too many rules to be practical. Among other things, the money cannot be used to promote condom or contraceptive use. Students are to be taught that bearing children outside wedlock is likely to harm society and that sexual activity outside marriage is “likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.”

“Harmful physiological effects” gets it about right, though it’s a vast understatement and a sort of shameful glossing over of some important details. Like, say, the fact that abstinence only programs equate girls who have premarital sex (and girls ONLY) with dirty food or glasses of water full of classmates’ spit. As Jill has pointed out, the trope of the “used up girl” is a common theme in many abstinence only programs. How do you think that makes some sexually active 16-year-old feel when she’s sitting in the classroom? I’m going to go with not so good. Abstinence only “education” curricula promote sexism by teaching lies including this whopper: in relationships, women need financial support, strength and flattery. Men need emotional support and sex. I kid you not.

The programs also inculcate heteronormative beliefs; if the only sex that is normal or sanctioned is sex within marriage, what does that say to gay kids? And there’s more. Abstinence only programs receiving federal dollars are required to say things including that HIV can be transmitted through tears, skin-to-skin contact and sweat, and that abortion is wrong.

You would think that with such scare tactics, abstinence only programs would work wonders. But they don’t.

[A]ccording to the [Ohio] governor’s spokesman, Keith Dailey, [Gov.] Strickland sees little evidence that the program has been effective. “We’ve spent millions of dollars on such education since Ohio first started getting grant money in 1998,” Dailey said. “If the state is going to spend money on teaching and protecting kids, the governor believes it’s better to spend it in a smarter, more comprehensive approach.”

New Jersey was similarly galled:

Health and Human Services endured enormous criticism by governors last year after it issued a document underscoring and clarifying key rules for states that took federal abstinence grants. Among the points that unsettled some state officials: Applicants “must not” promote contraceptive or condom use, nor even “refer to abstinence as a form of contraception.”

In the months that followed, states started to turn away from the program. In October, New Jersey said it would do without the $800,000 it had been receiving. Wisconsin followed in March, when Democratic Gov. James Doyle said the state would no longer accept nearly $600,000.

“When we got that first memo, that did it for us,” said Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Health and Family Services Department. “How can we do our best to teach the teens that are sexually active if our hands are tied?”

That’s exactly the point. Abstinence only is not about teaching teens. It’s about preaching to them.

(Via Kaiser Network)


8 Comments so far
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It seems to me that this administration has gone so far off the deep end on so many fronts as to help re-align American politics a little bit back to the left (or rather, to the center). War, deficits, New Orleans, religious-driven nonsense, corporate give-aways, scandal after scandal…

Comment by professorplum

What’s more: Given the healthy response of (some) states to an increasingly insane administration, states rights may soon become a left-wing mantra…

Comment by professorplum

Perhaps you’re thinking of the Linda Greenhouse article from Sunday’s NYT in which she writes about Justice Stevens’ embrace of states rights in the EPA case? It would definitely be interesting if that were the beginning of a trend…

Comment by bean

Abortion (all blue states), gay rights and health care (esp. Mass.), and other left initiatives are all emerging from the states. For the last decade, it has felt as if the states were a laboratory for right wings programs. And they still are. But they’re overdoing it (e.g. South Dakota abortion ban), so that the more lasting initiatives may be coming from blue states. This may be a (rare) moment of excessive optimism on my part, but I’ve been watching this trend for a while and I think there’s something to it.

Comment by professorplum

thankfully we don’t have this sort of thing here. Although, doesn’t refusing the money bring a new meaning to the words “swing state”

Comment by michael greenwell

thanks for posting bean. i think prof plum is right. the ab-only lobby and their repub puppets got a little full of themselves and started adding in more and more ridiculous regulations. as a result, there is now a lot of good stuff going on at the state level. WA, CO, and NY all have good legislation up that would require sex ed to be medically accurate and cover more than just abstinence.

Comment by maxwell

Very interesting. I recall an article I read that said that the only form of sex education that was not correlated with a reduction in pregnancy rates was abstinence-only education. Beyond all the probles that bean points out, including the sexism and the heteronormative bias (that I hadn’t thought about before), the fact that it doesn’t work makes a mockery of the whole thing.

Comment by tme

and here’s a good roundup of what’s going on in the states: http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?DR_ID=44225

Comment by maxwell

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