The Reality of AOUM and Abstinence-Based Sex Ed

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Reading the news in sex education this morning has been interesting. Not surprising, but interesting.

Back when I was still writing my dissertation, and exploring the differences between approach and outcomes of abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) & abstinence-based sex education programs with comprehensive sex education programs, I noted the following:

Current research and literature suggests that abstinence-only and abstinence-plus education is not working, and has had the unfortunate opposite effect of its aim (citations). Reasons for opposite effect are speculative (citations). However, the main reason believed to explain the opposite outcomes is that abstinence-based education’s refusal to communicate success rates of STI prevention with correct use of condoms (citations). This omission of information increases the likelihood that teenagers will not use condoms when they have sex because the only information provided to them are the failure rates of condoms (citation). […] Abstinence-based education legislation has seen in its wake a rise in unplanned teen pregnancies and STIs for the first time since 1984, when unplanned pregnancies and STI transmission saw their peak (citation)…”

In my dissertation, I explained (both the what and the why of) abstinence-based actually has the opposite outcomes of its stated desired aims. I went on to expand why the stated aims have little to do with the actual aims, come to it…but that is a topic for another entry.

For today, I want to focus on those opposite outcomes. Last night, I read a ThinkProgress article about a study conducted which shows conclusively that abstinence-based education is a complete failure in preventing the spread of HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) in Africa. Even though the Bush administration threw $1.3 billion at the effort toward abstinence education, the outcomes show how abstinence education works. There has been little response from the conservative community supporting abstinence education:

While the study challenged a conservative notion that sexual education centered on abstinence could quell the spread of HIV on the Motherland, former and current affiliates of PEPFAR remain reluctant to acknowledge Lo’s findings, citing a need to further examine his research before making a comment.

The above isn’t surprising, really. During Bush’s time in office, his administration was presented with preliminary findings showing the reality of the outcomes. Rather than acknowledging the potential for further disastrous outcomes, his administration doubled down, changing the definition of “success” to mean a “change in attitudes,” rather than acknowledging any positive change in outcomes. (Note here: I’m not pointing a blame-y finger solely at former President GW Bush. It was former President Clinton who signed abstinence education into the Title V program, after all.)

After we boil down all the language, distill AOUM and abstinence-based purpose/aims to their very core, and sweep away all the clutter, what abstinence-based sex education is really about is morality dictating of sex (religiously-rooted, to be clear). It has little-to-nothing to do with actual prevention of pregnancies and STI transmission.

So, returning to the study showing the actual outcomes in Africa (22 countries in Africa, actually), there is now more evidence demonstrating what those of us in this field already know: AOUM and abstinence-based sex education does not work. Abstinence is an important thing to teach, of course, as one preventive tool of many…but an entire curriculum based on a single tool is ineffective, and frankly, outright irresponsible.

This is not just confined to “somewhere over there in Africa,” either. This fact is just as true here in the United States. Here in Georgia (along with other states), the statistical outcomes demonstrate the same basic facts:

“…According to a Georgia Public Broadcasting report on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in Georgia, 41 out of every teenage 1,000 girls will experience teenage pregnancy, but that number in Bibb County is 60 out of every 1,000. In addition, Macon saw about 80 new cases of HIV as well as 2,500 people already living with the virus in Macon. Macon-Bibb County has a problem it needs to get serious about addressing…”

This is not news. This is not shocking. This is the reality.

Dr. Weird

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