US must focus on advocating contraceptives over abstinence

Recent reports by the American School Health Association and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States have found that the federally funded Project SOS, a Jacksonville-based abstinence education program that’s reached out to almost 300,000 Florida students since its founding in 1993, has been presenting incorrect research and information on AIDs and HIV.

The program’s leadership also has ties to Martin Ssempa, who infamously pushed for a law in Uganda to make homosexuality a capital crime, in addition to strong support from Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville city councilman who said he would prefer that homosexuals don’t hold public office in Florida, according to the Florida Independent.

Even if the program was teaching factual information and didn’t have such strong ties with anti-gay bigotry, this abstinence-based program and others like it are part of larger tide of misguided efforts to address teen pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases by advocating abstinence in favor of contraceptive use.

When former first lady Nancy Reagan’s abstinence crusade began in the 1980s, teen pregnancies steadily rose until the mid 90s when, according to the American Journal of Public Health, unintended teen pregnancies fell as a result of increased contraceptive use.

However, according to Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the Journal of Adolescent Health, among others, teen pregnancies have begun to rise again in the last decade, with abstinence education being favored over a more comprehensive sexual education playing a role.

Though it’s not just the shady Project SOS that’s furthering abstinence-only education, President Barack Obama’s controversial Health Care Bill set aside $250 million in funding to support abstinence efforts, according to the Washington Post.

Apart from the religious reasons behind teaching abstinence, there’s only its ability to prevent teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs as the remaining reason to keep these efforts alive.

As anyone with a basic understanding of human biology should know, adolescents experience intense hormonal changes leading to sometimes overwhelmingly powerful sexual urges as they enter adulthood.

With abstinence-only education, young people who are unable to resist their biological urges are left with a more limited understanding of contraceptives and preventative measures than if they were given more pragmatic lessons on preventing STDs and pregnancy centered on contraceptive use.

In 2006, the U.S. had more teen-pregnancies than any other industrialized nation, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute.

This troubling statistic is one that demands realistic actions toward measures that will actually prepare teens to prevent unwanted pregnancies, instead of politically-safe and unrealistic advice pressuring young people to ignore their biological urges.

Pregnancy at a young age can not only threaten one’s educational and occupational goals, but it can also puts an additional financial burden on already costly social services like Medicaid and Food Stamps.

With current budget shortfalls and calls to cut social service spending, realistically preparing young people to avoid unwanted pregnancy by using contraceptives is the nation’s only viable option.