It’s about time we make the well-being
of our young people more important than ideology and politics.
As a country, we benefit from investing in their future by investing
in teen pregnancy prevention. Our youth deserve the opportunity
to complete their high school and college education, free of early parenthood.
Their future children deserve the opportunity to grow up in financially
and emotionally stable homes. Our communities benefit from healthy,
productive, well-prepared young people.
We can make a difference by advocating
for effective sex education. The Title V funding for abstinence-only
programs is up for reauthorization by Congress. Since 1982, the US government
has allocated $3.6
billion to abstinence only-until-marriage
programs and has received a dismal return on its investment. And
not surprisingly – these programs have very little evidence of effectiveness. Mathematica Policy Research conducted a national evaluation of abstinence-only
programs and its findings show abstinence-only programs have no
beneficial impact on whether young people abstain from sex, delay sexual
activity, or reduce the number of sexual partners. This lack of
evidence demands we take a different approach to sexual health education.
The US has the highest teen birth rate of all industrialized nations
at 41.9 per 1,000 girls age 15-19. By comparison,
the next closest country is the United Kingdom at 26.7 per 1,000.
In my home state of Georgia, the state
government has received $22.4 million in federal funding for abstinence-only
programs over the last two years. Georgia’s spending on abstinence-only
programs is two times the amount of funds just approved by the state
legislature for funding teen centers, which provide critical services
including prevention education, counseling, and services for sexually
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In the face of an aggressive abstinence-only industry, three students in Savannah, GA fight to resist five more years of government funding for these ineffective programs in their public schools. A teacher of abstinence education for twenty years admits in an on camera interview that comprehensive sex education would be a better way to combat some of the highest teen birth rates in the country.
Georgia ranks 10th
nationally in teen birth
rates at 54.2 per 1,000 girls age 15-19. Georgia is 2nd
in repeat pregnancies, 6th in chlamydia, 5th in
gonorrhea, 3rd in syphilis and 9th in AIDS cases.
All told, abstinence-only education, as a program to safeguard young
people from high-risk behavior that leads to unintended outcomes, has
failed miserably. The persistent status of Georgia among the top
10 worst states for reproductive and sexual health outcomes in teens
illustrates the shortcomings of a policy that insists on teaching abstinence-only-until-marriage as the core sex education strategy.
In 1995, when Georgia had the highest
teen pregnancy rate in the US, I founded The Georgia Campaign for Adolescent
Pregnancy Prevention (G-CAPP). G-CAPP brings together community and
school leaders, health officials, and students to advocate for age appropriate,
evidence-based sex education curricula within local schools and federal
policy to fund comprehensive sex education programs.
Our young people are clamoring for
sex education. Time and time again, we hear from high school students
saying the sex education they receive is inadequate, it comes too late,
and it does not teach them the skills they need to act responsibly.
In Savannah, Georgia, where the teen
pregnancy rates are more than double the US rates, three teens are fighting
to replace the harmful abstinence-only-until marriage program "Choosing
the Best" in their school district with comprehensive sex education.
They are rightfully concerned that their school district has signed
on for five more years of the same ineffective curriculum.
G-CAPP is working with 30 youth from
around the state to get their voices heard. The Georgia Student Youth
Leadership Council (SYLC) is a group of dynamic young people who are
actively engaged in mobilizing other youth advocates to bring attention
to the need for better sex education. Our work is part of a collective
movement in the Southeast region, which has the highest rate of teen
pregnancy. In Mississippi, the House adopted HB 808 which would require comprehensive sex education
to be taught in grades K through 12. The bill died in the Senate,
but a major victory nonetheless. In North Carolina, HB 88 would require schools to offer both abstinence-only
and comprehensive sex education giving parents the ability to decide
which program their child would participate in. The bill is expected
to go before the House for a vote. In Texas, a recent report showing the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only
programs stated "our schools are failing Texas families by turning
out generations of sexually illiterate young people at a time of high
rates of teen pregnancy and STDs." In Florida, SIECUS released a
The past administrations have wasted
opportunities to use our government resources to teach our young people
how to make good decisions about their health. It is time to we advocate
for policies and programs capable of addressing the root causes of adolescent
pregnancy and teach our young people the skills they need to live healthy,
productive lives. Our future depends on it.
Right now we have a great opportunity
to ensure that our government use our resources wisely, by asking Congress
to zero out Title V funding and support the REAL
Act. This act will allow
states to receive funding to implement effective sex education programs
that give our young people the tools to make informed decisions about
their well-being and build healthy relationships. I know our young people
will be prepared to stand up and speak out, will you?