The Trump administration’s latest Department of Health and Human Services appointee has a long history of working against comprehensive sexual health education.
Valerie Huber was appointed as the chief of staff to Don Wright, the assistant secretary for health, an HHS spokesman confirmed. Wright’s office oversees the Office of Adolescent Health, which funds pregnancy prevention programs across the country.
Huber has spent decades promoting abstinence-based education programs. Until recently, she served as the president and CEO of a group called Ascend, formerly called the National Abstinence Education Association, or NAEA. It describes itself as a “sexual risk avoidance” organization dedicated to encouraging abstinence until marriage.
Huber’s advocacy for this organization flies in the face of research showing that comprehensive sex education is the most effective way to prevent teen pregnancy.
Ascend purports on its website to be inclusive, including of gay teens, and open about the benefits of contraception. But the organization has also promoted curricula that emphasize old-fashioned, sexist ideas.
As executive director of the NAEA in 2012, Huber was quoted in a press release promoting an “abstinence-centered” curriculum from another organization called Choosing the Best. Choosing the Best’s CEO, Bruce Cook, served as chairman of the NAEA at the time.
A passage from the teacher guide for that curriculum, provided to HuffPost, tells the story of a knight who gets upset after the princess he is trying to save instructs him on the best way to save her. It reads:
“He never returned to the princess. Instead, he lived happily ever after in the village, and eventually married the maiden ... Moral of the story: Occasional assistance may be all right, but too much will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.”
A different abstinence-based curriculum provided to HuffPost ― from an organization called WAIT (Why Am I Tempted) ― compares sexually active teenagers to a piece of tape ripped off an arm and clouded with debris. The creator of that curriculum program, Joneen Mackenzie, also served on the board of directors for the NAEA.
HuffPost’s attempts to reach Huber were unsuccessful, and HHS did not reply to a request for more clarity about her role at the agency.
Debra Hauser, president of the sex ed nonprofit Advocates for Youth, describes Huber’s appointment as another Trump administration attack on evidence-based science. Indeed, President Donald Trump’s proposed budget invests heavily in abstinence-only education.
“The organization she runs is called Ascend, and it’s the primary national organization that promotes abstinence-only until marriage education, no matter what they call it,” said Hauser, whose organization promotes comprehensive sex education. “It still is education ― and I use that term loosely ― that withholds life saving vital information about the health benefits of contraceptives and condoms.”
“I think it’s immoral to withhold information to help people become sexually healthy adults.”
Hauser is concerned by how these programs address the topic of sexual assault prevention.
“I think it’s immoral to withhold information to help people become sexually healthy adults. We have not taught young people the information they need about consent and what does a healthy relationship look like,” Hauser said.
Huber has also expressed skepticism about sexual education programs that teach affirmative consent ― which stress the importance of obtaining verbal consent from a partner prior to sexual activity. She argues that these programs still normalize teenage sex.
“In the midst of this conversation, are the root causes being addressed? I would argue that they really aren’t,” said Huber in a 2015 interview with the Associated Press. “This discussion is getting reduced to a palliation rather than a solution.”