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HHS Hatchet Job on Comprehensive Sexuality Education Deceptive and Politically Motivated

Washington, D.C.Today, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report attacking comprehensive sex education programs.  This report comes on the heels of a government- supported study that found federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to be completely ineffective, and weeks before a major federal funding source for these programs is set to expire. 

“This is a desperate attempt by an administration with its back up against the wall.  They can no longer defend their own programs—we know them to be inaccurate and ineffective—so their only option is to go on the attack,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). 

The report, commissioned at the request of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), long-time detractors of responsible sexuality education, reviewed nine sexuality education curricula for medical accuracy, efficacy, and content.  “Though this was clearly an attempt to discredit these programs, the report itself concludes that they are accurate and effective,” Smith explained. 

In fact, the report found that “of those eight curricula [that had been evaluated], seven showed at least some positive impacts on condom use; two showed some positive impacts on delay of sexual initiation,” and that “the medical accuracy of comprehensive sex education curricula is nearly 100%.” (pp. 8 & 9) 

As an example of medical inaccuracies, the report points to one curriculum that “used the term ‘dental dam’ instead of the FDA approved ‘rubber dam.’”  “They’re grasping at straws here.  This is not a medical inaccuracy; it’s a word choice,” said Martha Kempner, SIECUS’ vice president for information.  In contrast, a 2004 study commissioned by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) found severe medical inaccuracies in 11 of the 13 most popular abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, including the suggestion that HIV can be transmitted through tears and sweat. 

The report goes on to suggest that comprehensive sex education curricula do not sufficiently discuss abstinence.  To prove this point it provides a word count comparing the number of the times “abstinence” appears in contrast to terms like “condoms” and “contraception.”  This method is very similar to one used by the Heritage Foundation in a previous report. 

“Counting words is a completely useless indicator of what young people are learning.  Educators use a variety of words and phrases to tell young people how important it is to delay sexual behavior and work hard to find the language that will resonate most with their audience.  This doesn’t prove that we don’t talk about abstinence; it just proves that we have an expansive vocabulary,” Kempner said.  “Regardless of the specific words that are being used, comprehensive sex education is clearly getting the job done better than abstinence-only-until-marriage programs,” Kempner continued.

If you have questions or comments, please contact Patrick Malone at (202)819-9770 ext. 316, or