The other day, Iowa became the 17th state to reject federal abstinence-only dollars. The state will continue to refuse funding until and unless the federal government makes significant changes to the program. The other 16 states include New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Montana and Connecticut, among others. New York had previously received the second largest amount of any state of federal abstinence only dollars.
As it currently stands, recipients of federal Title V abstinence-only funding are required to adhere to strict guidelines. The program requires states receiving the funding to adhere to the following requirements:
Section 510(b) of Title V of the Social Security Act, P.L. 104–
|A||has as its exclusive purpose teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;|
|B||teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children;|
|C||teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;|
|D||teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity;|
|E||teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;|
|F||teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society;|
|G||teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances, and|
|H||teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.|
In case it’s not apparent, there are significant problems with this definition. As SIECUS explains, “This definition ensures that young people who have already engaged in sexual activity, those have been sexually abused, or those living in nontraditional households are not only denied critical health information but are presented with shame- and fear-based messages. Other groups of young people, such as gay and lesbian youth, are ignored completely.”
Yup. And the rejection of these ideas was really needed in Iowa, where some of the federal (and state matching) funding had been used to pay for a huge roadside billboard featuring a picture of a pregnant woman who was not wearing a wedding ring. The billboard read: “Wait for the bling.”
Certainly there’s nothing wrong with encouraging teens to wait to have sex until they are ready. But using federal dollars to pay for misogynist, patriarchal, patronizing ads like this one goes way beyond simply encouraging kids to wait until they are ready. Especially ironic is that, while abstinence only programs encourage waiting until marriage (for just about everything), they don’t provide people with the education necessary to prevent pregnancy should they decide to become sexually active. Abstinence-only programs are not just anti-woman, anti-gay, and anti-abortion. They’re also anti-sexuality, full stop. They suggest that sexuality is a failing. But what’s failing are these programs, which have not been proven to reduce rates of teenage sex. And they’re far out of step with public opinion, which heavily supports comprehensive sex ed (which includes abstinence).
Given the weight of public opinion, and the fact that more than 1/3 of states have now rejected the federal funding, I’ve got to wonder at what point the scales will tip. The Democratic congress has not yet had the political will to reduce or end Title V and the other abstinence-only funding streams. But the point at which Congress will have no choice but to do so — the tipping point to borrow from Gladwell – now seems closer than ever.