For years, the religious right has done its absolute best to reinsert abstinence-only sex education into public schools. They’ve done this despite the evidence from numerous studies on its ineffectiveness in comparison to comprehensive sex education. For example, the National Survey of Family Growth shows that “teens who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to experience pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education.” This finding is especially important in the United States, as the US Department of Health and Human Services has noted that the country’s “teen birthrate is higher than that of many other developed countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom.”
Thankfully, some members of Congress are pushing back against the drive for abstinence-only sex education, and these legislators have a broad coalition of support behind them. Recently, the American Humanist Association joined organizations such as Advocates for Youth, Catholics for Choice, Planned Parenthood, and many others in serving as supporting organizations for the introduction of the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (REHYA). Introduced by Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ), the bill’s cosponsors are: Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernard Sanders (D-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
This legislation, which has a companion bill in the House of Representatives,
supports access to information regarding anatomy and physiology; growth and development; healthy relationships; prevention of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV through abstinence and contraception; gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation; dating violence, sexual assault, bullying, and harassment prevention.
The bill also requires that sex education programs be “evidence-based, medically accurate, developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate; inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer (LGBTQ) students; and promote education achievement, critical thinking, decision-making, and self-efficacy.”
Of course, religious conservatives in government are likely to do all they can to oppose these bills. After all, Congress did just pass a two-year extension of the Title V abstinence-only education program just last year, and the supporters of this religiously motivated program are unlikely to change their minds anytime soon. But with such a wide base of support and large number of co-sponsors on introduction of the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, supporters of abstinence-only programs have their work cut out for them when it comes to defending outdated thinking on sex education.