Congress says no to abstinence-only

U.S. Capitol Building

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: Let's talk about sex. Or not. Abstinence-only education in public schools is controversial subject. The federal program funding it has expired. It was worth $50 million. But Democrats leading the House Energy and Commerce Committee say it was a waste of money. Stuart Cohen has more from Washington.


Stuart Cohen: School's out for the summer. And for most kids, that means time for more enjoyable activities like hanging out at the mall or swimming. Some of them might even find a summer love.

A group of high school students at a suburban Washington pool say that might mean sex, despite the abstinence programs in their schools:

Tom Rudwick: Realistically, like, it's just, it's not gonna happen. Enough kids are gonna have sex and stuff. You might as well think of other options to be safe.

Dana Lewis: In the same aspect as you tell people not to do drugs and because it's, you're curious about it, people go and do it.

Attitudes like that are why Democrats want to stop spending $50 million a year on the "abstinence only" message in the nation's schools.

Diana Degette: If our goal is preventing unwanted teen pregnancies, which seems to me it should be, I think we need to face the reality that teenagers are out there having sex.

Colorado Congresswoman Diana Degette is vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the $50 million program. Now that Democrats control the purse strings, she would like to see the money used for what she calls a more rounded approach, which includes contraception.

Degette: Abstinence-only education doesn't work. A number of studies, as well as common sense, have shown that over the years. So Congress is pouring millions of dollars into this program that's just a waste of money.

But conservative groups say abstinence-only education works.

Christine Kim is with the Heritage Foundation's Domestic Policy program.

Christine Kim: For every $12 the government spends on safe sex and contraceptive promotion, it spends $1 on abstinence education. So it's important, really, to keep abstinence as one of the messages there as well. Because a lot of teens are choosing to abstain from sexual activities, so it's important to have that in place.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control found that slightly more than half of all high school age kids abstain from sex, a number that's been growing over the past 15 years.

Christine Kim credits abstinence education programs for that. But supporters of alternatives point to another federal study that says kids in abstinence-only programs are just as likely to have sex as kids in other sexual education programs.

In Washington, I'm Stuart Cohen for Marketplace.

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