The AMA Takes a Position on Abstinence Education
Posted to Vigilance blog on 12.7.04, by Jim Kennedy

The federal government has budgeted $131 million dollars for abstinence-education programs. As the Washington Times has reported:

"We have said that funding for abstinence education ... ought to be on at least equal footing with other [sex] education programs," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Nov. 17 at the nomination of White House domestic policy adviser Margaret Spellings as Department of Education secretary.

"The president is an advocate of abstinence-education programs because he wants to focus on what works," Mr. McClellan said...

It is possible that the President knows more about this than the doctors of America. Here's Fox News this morning:

The American Medical Association says the federal government should not spend money on community-based sex education programs unless it has solid scientific evidence that the programs work, a position that would eliminate many abstinence-only programs.

The new AMA policy puts the doctor group at odds with the Bush administration, which just last week reaffirmed its support of abstinence-only based programs. But AMA president-elect J. Edward Hill, MD, a family physician from Tupelo, Miss., tells WebMD that the issue is too important to back any sex education curriculum that is not evidence-based. AMA: No Evidence that Abstinence Sex Ed Works

The President and the doctors might have two different objectives in mind here, as far as defining what "works." From one point of view, abstinence education "works" because it ensures that kids don't learn about nasty sex practices in school; it maintains their innocence, and lets parents teach their children what they believe the facts are. The second group, the doctors, assumes the objective is to deal with the public health risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; those particular issues are better addressed by knowledge than by innocence and family lore.

Abstinence education is intended to keep the teaching of sexual stuff in the family, and it would be fine if all parents were very knowledgeable and very articulate, and had a plan or curriculum for presenting the facts to their children as the schools do. Parents know how they feel, and most have a working knowledge of the birds and the bees, but very few parents have the facts at their fingertips that a teacher has. School would seem a reasonable place for students to get knowledge based on evidence.

There is an interesting chart on the Internet, Teen Pregnancy in the United States comparing teen pregnancy rates in the Red states, which presumably support faith-based abstinence education, and the Blue states, which presumably support evidence-based factual education for their children. The point is unsurprisingly that the Red states have higher rates of teen pregnancy. This is not definitive, of course, but it is vivid evidence that ignorance is not always bliss. (Unless you want your teenage daughter to start having babies.)

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