Sunshine State Keeps Teens in the Dark

Adrienne Kimmell

New reporting uncovers the explosion of abstinence-only-until marriage programs in public schools in Florida -- and their abysmal results.

week, The Healthy Teens Campaign of Florida and the Sexuality
Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)
released a report on the explosion of failed
abstinence-only-until-marriage programs across the state of Florida
with a particular emphasis on their presence in public schools.  Titled Sex Education in the Sunshine State: How Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs Are Keeping Florida’s Youth in the Dark,
our research has exposed both the state’s appalling indicators of poor
outcomes for young people and the equally appalling nature of how
abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have become pervasive
throughout the state.

A mother and her daughter talk about the lack of a coherent sex ed policy in Florida’s public schools and experts in the sex education field are interviewed, including the author of this post.

For starters, let’s look at how Florida’s youth are faring when it comes to some key indicators.  The
most recent data available shows Florida has the third highest rate in
the nation of new AIDS diagnoses, the fifth highest rate of new HIV
infections; teen pregnancy rates that are the sixth highest in the
nation (and rose last year for the first time in 15 years); nearly
two-thirds of all new sexually transmitted diseases in the state were
among young people; and 15% of new HIV infections occurred among those
under the age of 25.  In sum, Florida has some of the worst health outcomes on these key indicators of reproductive and sexual health nationwide.

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It is disheartening that Florida has no statewide standards for sex education.  Any guidelines or laws that do exist are inadequate and put our youth at risk.  What we do have in spades are failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  Since
2002, nearly $64 million in federal tax payer money has been dumped
into the state for junk abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  The state then puts up matching funds of $1.8 million to secure part of these dollars.  Between
the years of 2003 and 2007, Florida went above and beyond that match,
siphoning off a total of $17.5 million from other starved programs such
as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Maternal and
Child Health Block Grant.

In our classrooms, the impact is real.  Our
research, which included Public Records Requests sent to every school
district in the state, found abstinence-only-until-marriage programs
and materials run amuck with no discernable oversight or

For example,
Sumter County Public Schools allow the extreme right wing organization,
Christian Care Center, into its schools with a curriculum that does not
believe in contraception and says that "no contraceptive device is
guaranteed to prevent teen pregnancy.  Besides, students
who do not exercise self-control to remain abstinent are not likely to
exercise self-control in the use of a contraceptive device." 

Walton County
Schools distribute a pamphlet titled "Sex and Singles: Reasons to Wait"
produced by the extreme right wing organization Focus on the Family.  Their
students are told the price for engaging in premarital sex is "No
ongoing relationships, no commitment, no security, no family and
possibly no children, if they acquire a pelvic infection from a
partner."  Students also receive the pamphlet "The Silent
Epidemic" where they are told that "Condoms fail so often in preventing
pregnancy (10-36%) that doctors call them ‘antiquated birth control.’  Condoms fail even more often in trying to prevent STDs."  The same pamphlet then compares the effectiveness of condoms in this way:  "Would you buy a ticket to go bungee jumping from a company that admits their bungee cords will fail about 40% of the time?"

Miami-Dade County’s 7th and 8th
grade students are likely to learn from an approved instruction sheet
that double standards exist between males and females when it comes to
sex and love and more specifically, that males become "involved with
girls for sexual pleasure primarily" while girls "become involved with
boys for pursuit of love."

Not only were
attention and funds were squandered on failed
abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, efforts to provide relevant
and current information on HIV/AIDS have fallen by the wayside.  Leon County School District approves at least four videos for instruction that date to 1990 and earlier.  Osceola
County schools recommend videos of which the majority were produced
between 1991 and 1996, one of them sensationally and irresponsibly
titled "Teen Sex – It Can Kill You."  And while most of
today’s fifth graders were born around 1997, the last time the health
education curriculum for fifth graders in Highlands County public
schools was updated was in 1991.

In sum, we found
much evidence that Florida’s public schools need to move away from the
decade-long expansion of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that
have squandered public funds and been proven not to work.  Conversely,
we need to move toward a comprehensive approach to educating our young
people about sex and responsible decisions.  Studies
indicate that providing comprehensive information about abstinence,
contraception, and condoms will not increase young people’s sexual
activity or lead them to engage in sex at an earlier age. Further, a
more comprehensive approach to sex education has been proven to do a
better job of helping young people be abstinent and delay sex than do
abstinence-only-until-marriage programs while also increasing the
likelihood that young people will use condoms or contraception when
they become sexually active.

Based on the findings highlighted here, the report recommends the following policy actions for the state of Florida:

1. Enact
the Healthy Teens Act, a bill requiring Florida public schools that
already teach information about sexually transmitted infections, family
planning, and pregnancy to provide medically accurate and comprehensive
sex education-including facts about abstinence and methods of
preventing unintended pregnancy and the spread of diseases. 

2. Join
the company of nearly half of the other states across the country that
are no longer participating in the Title V
abstinence-only-until-marriage program and reject these harmful monies.  In this, Florida will save state resources and can re-direct efforts toward a more comprehensive approach to sex education. 

3. Adopt
comprehensive sex education curricula in local school districts and
provide adequate training for instructors who are teaching these

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