How Your Tax Dollars are Being Used to Fund Comprehensive Sex-Ed
Originally published here in Family North Carolina Magazine—January/February 2009
By Amanda Abbott
Current state law (G.S. § 115C-81) mandates that all students from kindergarten to ninth grade be taught an age-appropriate “comprehensive school health education program” that includes instruction on abstinence until marriage and preventing HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Abstinence, in other words, is the expected standard for all school age children when it comes to public schools. Yet, the financial year 2008-09 budget (S.L. 2008-107) allocated $3.6 million to fund initiatives that teach comprehensive sex-education (CSE). The result: programs that contradict the state’s abstinence laws and send mixed messages to teens.
Abstinence-only programs teach that human sexuality is inherently ordered toward a loving, committed heterosexual relationship. Abstinence, in other words, is not only good for teens – but, in the long term, will make them happier. To that end, abstinence-only sex-ed encourages students to wait until marriage to engage in sexual activity. In addition, such programs teach that casual sex at an early age can lead not only to pregnancy and STIs, but also undermine the ability to build meaningful relationships as an adult.1 Consider the following:
- A June 2007 study by the Institute for Research and Evaluation indicates that “well-designed and well-implemented abstinence education programs can reduce teen sexual activity by as much as one half for periods of one to two years.”2
- By contrast, a May 2007 review by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that the vast majority of CSE programs resulted in virtually no reduction in teen sex and only a slight increase in condom usage. The study also concluded that most CSE programs “contain some level of medical inaccuracy” and “discussed condoms and contraception nearly seven times more than abstinence.”3
- The national teen pregnancy rate has fallen since the federal government began funding abstinence programs in 1996. According to an April 2003 study in the journal Adolescent and Family Health, at least two-thirds of recent declines in teen pregnancy rates can be attributed to increased abstinence among 15- to 19-year-olds.4
- Since North Carolina adopted an abstinence-until-marriage policy in 1995, the state’s teen pregnancy rate has dropped nearly 50 percent, going from 112.3 to 63.1 pregnancies per 1,000 teens for 2006.5
- 60 percent of teens who have had intercourse wish they had waited.6
Given that STIs are generally passed through sexual activity, abstinence-only programs presuppose that the best way to prevent such diseases is by abstaining from sex until marriage; in fact, abstinence from all sexual activity is the only 100 percent effective means of avoiding unwanted pregnancies and STIs. As the American Academy of Family Physicians confirms, “The only way to make absolutely sure you don’t get pregnant, get someone pregnant or get an STI is not to have sex at all.” Critics of abstinence argue that such programs are unrealistic because adolescents are going to engage in sexual activity anyway. Such reasoning is akin to saying we ought to be teaching students how to drink and to smoke because they are going to do it anyway. The current health curriculum advocates total abstinence from alcohol for students under the age of 21—not because alcohol in itself is bad, but because juveniles aren’t mature enough to drink responsibly, safely or legally. In teaching sexual abstinence, the state is likewise sending the message that postponing sex until marriage is better for the physical and emotional health of North Carolina’s children. Some students may not listen—just as some are going to drink and drive—but all that means is that the state (and parents) need to do more to educate our young people about the benefits of abstaining from sex until marriage.
The reality, however, is that the state is sending mixed messages to teens about abstinence. In fact, although North Carolina law mandates that schools teach abstinence until marriage as part of their health curricula, the state funds initiatives that teach comprehensive sex-ed.
Comprehensive sex-ed programs are based on the claim that, regardless of what they are taught, teens will engage in premarital sexual activity. Such programs treat sexuality as a physical phenomenon and approach it from a public health perspective. Their primary emphasis is to prevent the physical problems associated with sex—unintended pregnancy and STIs—by encouraging teens to use contraception. As the pie chart [LOCATION] illustrates, comprehensive sex-ed curricula downplay abstinence in favor of an approach that emphasizes contraceptive use.7
Though many comprehensive sex-ed programs claim to be “abstinence-based,” in reality they are not. A 2004 study by the Heritage Foundation found that the average comprehensive sex-ed curriculum devoted less than 5 percent of its page content to abstinence.8 In addition, while abstinence programs spend an average of 17.4 percent of their curricula emphasizing healthy relationships and the benefits of marriage, such themes are often completely absent from comprehensive sex-ed curricula.9
Many comprehensive sex-ed programs also contain explicit, controversial material that promotes homosexuality and sexual alternatives to intercourse. For example, the “Be Proud, Be Responsible”10 program used by the Mecklenburg County Health Department asks middle and high school students to “think up a sexual fantasy using condoms.” The program also encourages adolescents to discuss ways to eroticize condom use in a homosexual relationship.11 Similarly, the Teen PEP program, implemented in Thomasville City Schools,12 lists homophobia reduction as one of its goals.13
Sex-ed in North Carolina
In spite of the obvious benefits of abstinence-only programs, the state continues to compromise the future of our children by using taxpayer funds to promote sexual activity and contraceptive use among adolescents. The two main comprehensive sex-ed programs supported by the state are the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI).
The APPCNC is a statewide nonprofit agency that advocates comprehensive sex-ed as a way to reduce teen pregnancy. Its partner organizations include Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. One program sponsored by the coalition is the Teen Parent Network, which advocates education about and access to contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. Another is “Plain Talk/Hablando Claro,” which targets Hispanic teens.
APPCNC also lobbies the General Assembly to pass laws in support of comprehensive sex-ed. For example, during the 2007-2008 legislative session, the coalition supported SB 1182/HB 879 that would have abolished the state’s current policy of abstinence-until-marriage in favor of comprehensive sex-ed. The legislation also would have required students be taught about emergency contraception, a high-dose form of “contraception” that can actually act as an abortifacient by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Furthermore, although the APPCNC is a private organization, at least 20 percent of its budget is funded by North Carolina taxpayers. Since 2004, the coalition has annually received an average of $150,000 from the state.14 For financial year 2008-09, this funding was increased by $250,000.
TPPI is a program housed in the Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health. It encompasses the Adolescent Parenting Program (APP) and the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program (APPP), both of which channel state funds to local teen pregnancy initiatives. The programs TPPI supports range from community centers to school systems to county health departments. The state’s 2008–09 fiscal year budget allocated $3.35 million in state and federal funding to TPPI.
In spite of the fact that it is a state-sponsored initiative, TPPI’s work has been undermining North Carolina’s commitment to abstinence education. For instance, projects funded by TPPI are strongly encouraged to use “best practice models,” which are defined as “strategies for teen pregnancy prevention that have been scientifically evaluated and shown to be effective.”15 One of the criteria TPPI uses to identify a best-practice model is whether a program has been shown to increase the use of condoms and other forms of contraception. In fact, 14 of the 19 models funded by TPPI have been shown to increase contraceptive use—albeit by how much is up for debate. Overall, TPPI recommends only one truly abstinence-based program—Teen Star.16 The result? Teen Star is one of only 5 programs out of the 19 that actually reduce the incidence of teen pregnancy.17
Furthermore, while TPPI claims its programs are “abstinence-based,”18 its program rules mandate that grant applicants provide “comprehensive sexuality education including complete and medically accurate information about contraceptive methods … to all participants” (10A NCAC 43A.0803). In effect, this provision stripped TPPI funding from all abstinence programs. The rule became effective on April 1, 2008—after intense lobbying by the APPCNC and over the objections of North Carolina’s pro-abstinence groups.
North Carolina law (10A NCAC 43A.0805) prohibits the use of TPPI grants to purchase contraceptives or provide access to abortions. Yet, several TPPI programs encourage the use of contraceptives and also provide money (ostensibly to teach sex-ed) to abortion providers. Consider the following:
- One of the programs supported by TPPI is the School/Community Program for Sexual Risk Reduction among Teens. The program is designed for use with children as young as five years old (kindergarteners). Among other things, this program recommends establishing school-based clinics that provide contraceptives, as well as referrals and transportation to reproductive healthcare—i.e., abortion—providers.19
- Another program recommended by TPPI is the “Self Center,” a community-based sex-ed program that provides free reproductive healthcare to middle and high school students; the program is also used to teach comprehensive sex-ed during homeroom periods at school.
- TPPI has allocated funds to 14 county health departments, as well as local affiliates of Planned Parenthood.20
In 2004 and 2005, Planned Parenthood of Orange and Durham counties received a combined $87,745.42 from the state’s TPPI program.21 These chapters are members of the Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina (PPCNC) network, which has implemented comprehensive sex-ed programs at two charter schools in Alamance County and one school in Northampton County. Planned Parenthood has also trained Durham County teachers on how to teach comprehensive sex-ed in the classroom. In addition, PPCNC sponsors peer education programs in Orange, Durham, Cumberland, and Chatham counties. These initiatives pay students who have already completed a comprehensive sex-ed program to teach their peers about sexuality and contraception.22
With the economy slowing and budget cuts on the horizon, eliminating funding for the APPCNC and the TPPI makes good fiscal sense. After all, such programs run counter to the wishes of many parents, not to mention the state’s formal commitment to abstinence-only sex ed. Along with cutting CSE funding—which outpaces abstinence funding in North Carolina by more than half—the state also needs to renew its commitment to the state’s abstinence-only curriculum. Already, however, some representatives have already signaled their intention to replace the current abstinence-only methodology with an “abstinence-based” program that tacitly encourages sexual activity and contraceptive use among adolescents.23 At the federal level, abstinence funding will also be up for renewal in 2009. Instead of sending mixed messages, state lawmakers simply need to look at the facts: abstinence is effective, abstinence is safe, and abstinence is what teens and parents actually want.
- Shannon Martin, Robert Rector and Melissa G. Pardue, Comprehensive Sex Education vs. Authentic Abstinence: A Study of Competing Curricula (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 2004), 47.
- S. Weed et al., “‘Abstinence’ or ‘Comprehensive’ Sex Education?” Institute for Research and Evaluation, (June 8, 2007); also see Stan Weed, Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, April 23, 2008; available from http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20080423114651.pdf.
- “Review of Comprehensive Sex Education Curricula,” The Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services, May 2007; available from www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/fysb/content/abstinence/06122007-153424.PDF.
- J. Mohn, L. Tingle, and R. Finger, “An Analysis of the Causes of the Decline in Non-marital Birth and Pregnancy Rates for Teens from 1991 to 1995,” Adolescent and Family Health, vol. 3, no.1 (April 2003): 39-47; quoted in North Carolina Family Policy Council, “Abstinence Education Works!” 4 May 2007; available from www.ncfpc.org/issuebriefs/AbstinenceWorksIssueBrief.pdf.
- Centers for Disease Control, “National and State-Specific Pregnancy Rates Among Adolescents – United States, 1995-1997,” MMWR, vol. 49, no. 27 (July 14, 2000): 605-611; North Carolina Departments of Public Instruction and Health and Human Services, NC Healthy Schools; available from www.nchealthyschools.org/teenpregnancy.
- Bill Albert, With One Voice 2007: America’s Adults and Teens Sound Off About Teen Pregnancy (Washington, D.C.: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2007), 26.
- Martin et al., 47.
- Ibid, 5.
- “Be Proud! Be Responsible!” is an “Afrocentric AIDS curriculum originally designed for African-American middle school students.”
- “Be Proud! Be Responsible!” 78-79, quoted in North Carolina Family Policy Council, “Abstinence Education Works!” 4 May 2007; available from www.ncfpc.org/issuebriefs/AbstinenceWorksIssueBrief.pdf.
- Deneesha Edwards, “School touts pregnancy prevention program,” The Lexington Dispatch, 28 Feb 2008.
- New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services, New Jersey Teen Prevention Education Program, available from www.state.nj.us/health/aids/teen pep.shtml.
- Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina, Legislator Fact Sheet, 24 February 2007; available from http://www.appcnc.org/legislatorfactsheet.html.
- North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, available from https://tppi.its.state.nc.us/info/APPP/APPPOverview.htm.
- Teen Star discourages contraceptive use, but does teach students about natural family planning.
- North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiatives, available from https://tppi.its.state.nc.us/info/APPP//BestPracticeModels.pdf.
- Advocates for Youth, Programs that Work: School/Community Program for Sexual Risk Reduction among Teens; available from www.advocatesforyouth.org/programsthatwork/8riskreduction.htm.
- All programs funded by TPPI must provide information that is made available via a TPPI database. Since these records contain confidential information about participants, they are not open to the public. There is a list, however, of programs in each county that have entered information in the database. These lists are available at – https://tppi.its.state.nc.us/ – under the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program link.
- See North Carolina Office of the State Auditor; available from www.ncauditor.net/NonProfitSite/search.aspx.
- Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina; available from www.advocatesforyouth.org/programsthatwork/8riskreduction.htm.
- Francis Gilpin, “Repeal of Sex-ed Law Sought,” Fayetteville Observer, 30 April 2008. See also Asheville Citizen – Times Article on Susan Fisher wanting to continue this.