Sex [Still] Matters: The Information Disconnect That Plagues America’s Youth

In his 2000 presidential campaign, then Governor George W. Bush proclaimed he would “elevate abstinence education from an afterthought to an urgent priority,” by increasing national funding to the states. Pursuant to this goal that federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage education would triple throughout his eight years in office. In 1995, 8% of adolescent girls and 9% those numbers rose to 23% of females and 28% of males by the end of Bush’s administration. It was also during this time that the nation saw two years of consecutive increase in the teen pregnancy rate, after a decade and a half of decline. While these facts were both known and integral to the selection of my topic, it was not until well into my research that I came to realize the prevailing force of these inefficient programs.

In writing my paper I chose to spend a great deal of time on the evolution of sex education, as a function of its material and funding but also in light of American adolescents’ sexual activity and understanding. Expanded for the objective of reducing the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies, I sought to determine if the federal government was funding programs rooted in fact and public health concerns. What I found during the Bush era was policy inconsistent with the sexual patterns of the American public. Sexual activity came to be defined as “any type of genital contact or sexual stimulation between two persons including, but not limited to, sexual intercourse”—a definition which when taken most literally would even include kissing between teenagers. In that same year, studies showered an almost eight-years gap between the average American’s first intercourse and first marriage. And yet no education program being federally funding could provide program participants with positive information about contraception or safer-sex practices, even in other settings or with different funding sources.

Some would be likely to shrug off these inconsistencies to an ideolog president, who wished to stress and spread morality through policy. Or perhaps I am one of those anti-Americans that Santorum talks about, who treats sex as a means in my and fellow Democrats’ “hedonistic, self-focused world.” But where one stands socially does not change fact. Leading medical and public health professional groups oppose an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach as antithetical to the principles of science. Throughout the Bush administration, the proportion of all births that were out-of-wedlock saw almost no consistent, long-term change. In an internal review of abstinence education funding, it was found that no test for accuracy was performed by or on the programs who had received over a half-million dollars. Instead one state official described an instance in which “abstinence-until-marriage materials incorrectly suggested that HIV can pass though condoms because the latex used in condoms is porous.” What I found in my research was that Bush‘s goal to make abstinence education an “urgent priority” was not in vain, as its expansion has contributed to the revitalized national attention towards sex, teenage pregnancy, and reproductive freedom as a whole.


About emilygargiulo

I am a senior at the University at Buffalo, expecting to graduate in May 2012. I am pursuing a double degree in Political Science and Pharmacology & Toxicology, and I am working towards a career in Public Health. My research topic will be looking at comprehensive sex education in the United States and trends in federal funding of sex education programs. I will be conducting an empirical study to test the hypothesis that states with lower levels of sex education mandated by the government are correlated with higher rates of teen pregnancy.
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