Federal Funding for Comprehensive Sexual Education

In the United States, the federal government has historically been a supporter of abstinence-only funding. Since 1982, the government has spent over $1.3 billion on abstinence only funding, with $800 million being spent during the Bush administration alone. However, even though huge amounts of tax payers money have been issued for these programs, research has shown abstinence-only programs to be ineffective and generally, do not have the support of the American people. Surveys have consistently shown that 80-85% of parents support comprehensive sexual education being taught in schools. Even a recent federally funded evaluation of four prominent abstinence-only programs found that youth receiving this education were no more likely to abstain from sex, delay sex or have fewer sexual partners than youth not enrolled in the programs.

But on December 13, 2009, the U.S. Senate passed an appropriations bill containing an initiative to prevent teen pregnancy, hopefully signifying a shift from the past ideology of ineffective abstinence-only programs. The money will be provided to programs that have been evaluated to show positive results in adolescents, as well as for research and technical assistance (for more on this initiative, read http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/policymakers/budget_statement.aspx)

While this funding is certainly a positive step in the right direction, the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act has yet to be passed. The REAL Act aims to create a funding source to provide states with federal money to provide comprehensive sexual education. The Act calls for $50 million and would be the first ever federal funding stream to provide youth with evidenced based, medically accurate information on both abstinence and contraception. It goes without saying that this bill has been met with opposition by some in Washington; however, it is difficult to grasp the resistance to this comprehensive approach. Hopefully, with continued support by government officials and constituents alike, the bill will soon be passed and youth can begin benefiting from this effective programming.