Abstinence-Only Advocates Attempt to Evolve, but Don't Be So Easily Fooled

Abstinence-only advocates have been long organizing a comeback, rebranding themselves as science-based and holistic, and they're still getting $41,000,000 of your tax dollars.
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Sex educators -- and parents -- have been breathing a sigh of relief. Obama's administration has axed a hefty sum of the abstinence-only sex education funding from the 2010 budget. But if you think it's time to kick back and relax on sex ed, think again. Abstinence-only advocates have been long organizing a comeback, rebranding themselves as science-based and holistic. So serious is this undertaking that organizations like the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) have publicly made this new abstinence message a strategic objective.

It's laughable until you realize that attempting to be more mainstream -- giving the illusion that you're like the successful, evidence-based comprehensive sex education programs -- may just work. Take NAEA's attempts to rework their image and messaging by calling their renamed curricula "abstinence centered" -- one that supposedly utilizes 'holistic approaches' to 'healthy lifestyle choices.' Like comprehensive sex education, they insist that they will be equipping youth with all of the information they need to make healthy decisions.

Sounds great, until you remember that this group of powerful virginity zealots, religious leaders, and legislators are driven by regressive social values. These are the antifeminist, anti-gay people who actively and vehemently seek to reinforce gender stereotypes, sexual "purity," and negative sex messaging. In light of the government finally accepting the fact that the $1.5 billion we've poured into abstinence-only-until-marriage programs has been a waste, these purity pushers are having to do an about face. They must promise to preach more than sexual morality with their "just say no" messaging if they expect to survive. Unfortunately, given their track record, we can't expect their take on "holistic" and "healthy" to be anything like that of comprehensive sex education.

But your average citizen will have trouble deciphering what makes the comprehensive versus abstinence-centered efforts so different.

According to Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth, groups like On Point (formerly known as WhyKnow) are hiring PR companies to remold their image -- one that complements their new life directions campaign. A great deal of this involves modeling what the comprehensive sex education curricula and proponents have been doing so well, namely language and tools. For example, despite being well-known for presenting false and misleading information about condoms and contraception, abstinence-only groups are now holding that they're medically accurate in their willingness to finally talk about contraception.

"Medically accurate" -- that's the exact term comprehensive sex education advocates have been using for years. Would be comforting if such language were an indicator that the two sides are on the same page, but it's not. In addition to helping youth to prevent HIV and STDs and be 'in the know' about contraceptives, comprehensive sex educators practice sexual health promotion. This encompasses teaching learners to appreciate and feel good about their bodies and sexuality as a natural part of one's life, to interact with all genders respectfully, to recognize different sexual values, to be sexually informed, prepared, and communicative in their relationships... Yet these stark differences stand to be lost in the abstinence-only movement's rebranding efforts.

This is in large part because despite being a minority, they've always been a loud minority -- so much so that they're still getting 25% of the $164 million redirected for teen pregnancy prevention for their abstinence efforts. That's $41,000,000 of your tax dollars going towards programs that have not proven themselves effective.

So what's a concerned citizen to do? In protecting every American's right to comprehensive sex education and information, take legislative action. Contact your local and state representatives about policy in the works or that needs to be in the works when it comes to sex education in your town or state.

Join groups like Advocates for Youth in their "Take Action for Change" campaigns. Join newsletter listservs, like those offered by the Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States in receiving communicating action updates you can respond to.

Capitalize on every media venue you have access to in fighting back, in protecting your rights, and in promoting a true healthier sexuality in this country.

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