On June 13, the Administration on Children and Families (ACF), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), released a report attacking comprehensive sexuality education programs. The report, commissioned two years ago at the request of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and former-Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), long-time detractors of responsible sexuality education, reviewed nine sexuality education curricula for medical accuracy, efficacy, and content.1
The purpose of the Santorum/Coburn report was to show that “comprehensive sex education” curricula were medically inaccurate, ineffective, and did not place enough emphasis on abstinence. The report comes on the heels of a government-supported study that found federally funded abstinence-only-until marriage programs to be completely ineffective.
“This is a desperate attempt by an administration with its back up against the wall. It can no longer defend its own programs—we know them to be inaccurate and ineffective—so its only option is to go on the attack,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS.
“Though this was clearly an attempt to discredit these programs, the report itself concludes they are accurate and effective,” Smith continued. The Santorum/Coburn report found that “of those eight curricula [that have been evaluated], seven showed at least some positive impacts on condom use; two showed some positive impacts on delay of sexual initiation,” and that “the medical accuracy of comprehensive sex education is nearly 100%.”2
In addition to this, the Santorum/Coburn report attacked comprehensive sexuality education by suggesting that the curricula reviewed did not sufficiently discuss abstinence. To prove this point, it provided a word count comparing the number of times “abstinence” appears in each curriculum in contrast to terms like “condoms” and “contraception.” This method is very similar to one used by the Heritage Foundation in a previous report.
“Counting words is a completely useless indicator of what young people are learning. Educators use a variety of words and phrases to tell young people how important it is to delay sexual behavior. and work hard to find the language that will resonate most with their audience. This doesn’t prove that we don’t talk about abstinence; it just proves that we have an expansive vocabulary,” said Martha Kempner, SIECUS’ vice president for information and communications.
Furthermore, HHS’s own website for parents (www.4parents.gov), which was designed to provide parents with information “to help their teens make healthy choice, including waiting until marriage to have sex,” fails this very word count test. In fact, the total number of times the word “abstinence” is used on the website is zero. The word “abstain” appears only 16 times.3 Instead, 4parents.gov uses phrases such as “Talking to Your Pre-Teen or Teen about Waiting,” and “Teaching Your Son or Daughter How to Say ‘No’.”4
- Christopher Lee, “HHS Counters With Its Own Sex-Ed Critique,” The Washington Post, 21 June 2007, accessed 25 June 2007, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-
- Review of Comprehensive Sex Education Curricula (Washington, DC: The Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services, 2007).
- 4parents.gov, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, accessed 25 June 2007, <http://www.4parents.gov/index.html>.