Rep. Randy Hultgren of Illinois called on Monday for the creation of a new federal grant program that would spend $550 million educating teenagers about the benefits of abstaining from sexual activity until marriage.
Hultgren, speaking on the House floor, said he was inspired to call for the funding after seeing a Centers for Disease Control report that said young adults account for 50 percent of all sexually transmitted disease infections (STI).
"This caught my attention because as a father, with two of my four kids in their late teens, I want them to avoid such risks," he said.
However, data – and history – suggests Hultgren's plan for abstinence-only sexual education would add to the problem, not alleviate it.
For instance, while the CDC last year reported teen pregnancy rates were on the decline for the first time in years, the agency noted that states with strong abstinence-only programs still had the highest numbers of unplanned pregnancies. States such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont -- all of which have comprehensive sexual health programs -- had the lowest teen pregnancy rates.
Meanwhile, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi, all solid red states, reported the highest rates. Mississippi saw the most teen pregnancies in the country at 65.7 for every 1,000 live births.
Teenagers in states that stress abstinence are also less likely to understand how to properly use contraceptives such as condoms – one of the most successful ways to prevent an STI. A study published in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health last year concluded an astonishing 60 percent of unmarried men and women between the ages of 18 and 29 questioned the effectiveness of contraceptives.
It’s unfortunate, because the federal government itself has acknowledged that telling teens to wait until marriage is simply ineffective. According to a 2007 report submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services, abstinence-only policies have no impact on the rates of sexual abstinence. Students who received abstinence-only sexual education were also found to have considerably less knowledge about the risks of unprotected sex.
But Hultgren’s bill is already gaining support. The legislation, known as the Abstinence Education Reallocation Act, already has 13 co-sponsors, including Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois.