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Senator Lautenberg and Representatives Lee and Shays Introduce the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act

On Thursday, March 22, 2007, Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Christopher Shays (R-CT), and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act (S. 972, H.R. 1653).  The bill would create federal funding, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for comprehensive sexuality education that is age-appropriate, medically accurate, and stresses abstinence, while also educating young people about contraception. 

Currently there is no federal funding stream dedicated to comprehensive sexuality education programs.  Comprehensive programs, such as the ones described in the REAL Act, have been found to be effective in delaying the onset of sexual intercourse, reducing the number of sexual partners, and increasing contraception and condom use among teens.  Programs funded by the REAL Act would also stress family communication, responsible decision-making, and negotiation skills.

Since 1982, however, the U.S. government has spent over $1.5 billion on unproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  Of that money, over $800 million has been spent during just the current administration. In fact, under the Bush administration, there has been a continued expansion of the investment in these programs with more than $175 million allocated in Fiscal Year 2007 alone. These programs are prohibited from discussing contraceptives except in the context of failure rates and have never been proven effective. 

“We have high hopes for the REAL Act,” said Joseph DiNorcia, Jr., president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS).  “SIECUS is seeing policymakers finally come to realize what educators and parents have known for a long time:  that comprehensive sexuality education, not abstinence-only, makes the most sense.  Ironically, the sexuality education programs that will be funded by the REAL Act do a better job of keeping kids abstinent than the abstinence-only programs do,” DiNorcia continued.

At a press conference announcing the introduction of the bill, Representative Lee said, “We need to get REAL about sex education.  We should absolutely be teaching young people about abstinence, but we shouldn’t be holding back information that can save lives and prevent unwanted pregnancies.   Instead of ‘abstinence only,’ what we’re proposing is ‘abstinence-plus.’”

“Growing up isn’t easy and our kids find themselves in tough situations every day.  They need all the information to make smart choices and “abstinence-only” programs are not enough,” Senator Lautenberg said at the same press conference.  “It’s time to bring sex education up-to-date to reflect the real life situations facing young Americans.”

“As our kids are learning about their health, and how their behavior affects it, it’s important they have all the facts,” Shays said.  “The extraordinary number of teen pregnancies and growing rate of STD transmission among teens underscores the necessity of comprehensive sexual education. They need to be taught about both abstinence and contraception.”

Representatives from SIECUS, Advocates for Youth, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America also spoke at the press event to support the REAL Act. DiNorcia told the audience, “I’m speaking to you today not just as the president of a national organization but as a father. A father of three daughters—two teenagers and what I think is now called a tween.  Like most parents, I think abstinence is a smart decision for teenagers but, again, like most parents, I also want them to know how to protect themselves when they do have sex.  When it comes to something as important as sexual health, I would never dream of leaving my children in the dark.  This is just common sense.”