End Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs Print

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Since 1997, the United States government has spent more than $1.5 billion (through both federal and state matching funds) on abstinence-only and abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.[1] The majority of this funding ended in 2009 when the largest of the three funding streams, Title V and Community Based Abstinence Education programs worth almost $150 million, lapsed without renewal. However, less than a year later, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act reinstated funding through 2014 for the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program (which is part of the Social Security Act), authorizing up to $50 million per year to states.[2]

Abstinence-only-until-mArriAge progrAms do not work

No study in a professional peer-reviewed journal has found abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to be effective. In fact, in 2005, a 10-year Congressionally-mandated study conducted by the non-partisan Mathematica Policy Research Inc. found that abstinence-only-until-marriage- programs had no impact on desired behavioral outcomes. Programs did not delay sexual initiation or lower rates of pregnancy or STIs. By the end of the study, abstinence-only participants had their first sexual encounter at the same average age as the control group. In both the control group and study group, only 23 percent reported always using a condom when having sex.[3] Other recent research shows that abstinence-only strategies may deter contraceptive use among sexually active teens, increasing their risk of unintended pregnancy and STIs.[4,5,6]

youth Are At risk of unintended pregnAncy And stis, including hiV

According to the CDC, by the time students gradu- ate from high school, 62 percent have had sex.[7] While the teen birth rate has been on a decline since the early nineties, for the first time in over a decade, it rose by three percent between 2005 and 2006.[8] About three out of 10 young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 209 – approximately 750,000 young women per year.[10] Eight in 10 of these pregnancies are unintended.[11] Each year, U.S. teens acquire about nine million STIs, with the CDC estimating that in 2007, one in four young women ages 15-19 had an STI.[12] Furthermore, according to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, released in June of 2010, young people ages 13-29 make up a quarter of all new HIV infections.

Abstinence-only-until-mArriAge progrAms perpetuAte stigmA AgAinst mAny young people

Abstinence-only-until-marriage-programs funded by Title V do not allow funds to be used to teach about condoms and contraception. Instead, students are instructed only about abstinence, using one or more points from the following federal definition describing a program eligible for federal Title V funding as one that:

A) has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;

B) teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children;

C) teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out- of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;

D) teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity;

E) teaches that sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;

F) teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society;

G) teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances; and

H) teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.[13]

This definition is harmful to the health and well-being of America’s youth. It makes moralistic judgments about, and omits important information to, sexually active young people, single parents, those who may have sex before they marry, youth who have been sexually abused, HIV-positive youth, and young people who may not marry because they identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, or who choose not to marry for other reasons altogether. Despite recent Title V funding announcements requiring programs to provide medically-accurate information, the federal A-H definition itself contradicts this by propagating harmful and misleading information.

medicAl orgAnizAtions, pArents, And the public support comprehensiVe sex educAtion

According to a 2004 poll of parents and the public by the Kaiser Family Foundation, National Public Radio, and Harvard University, 85 percent of the public supports a broad sex education curriculum that stresses abstinence as the best way to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) but that also conveys complete and medically accurate information about contraception and condoms.[14]

Furthermore, major public health and medical pro- fessional organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, and the American Psychological Association oppose abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.[15] The Society for Adolescent Medicine declared that “abstinence-only programs threaten fundamental human rights to health, information, and life.”[16]

end funding for title V

Almost half of the states continue to turn down funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. They understand that denying young people life-saving information about condoms and contraceptives in the era of HIV/AIDS is both irresponsible and immoral. It is also a waste of limited taxpayer dollars, especially when coupled with a required state funding match.

In the release of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the Obama administration said:

“Finally, educating young people about HIV before they begin engaging in behaviors that place them at risk for HIV infection should be a priority. Appropriately, it is a parent’s job to instill values and to provide the moral and ethical foundation for their children, but schools have an important role in providing access to current and accurate information about the biological and scientific aspects of health education. It is important to provide access to a baseline of health education information that is grounded in the benefits of abstinence and delaying or limiting sexual activity, while ensuring that youth who make the decision to be sexually active have the information they need to take steps to protect themselves.”[17]

Congress should follow the science, public opinion, state leaders, and the advice of major public health agencies and end funding for harmful abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.


Written by Sarah Audelo, Senior Manager, Domestic Policy Advocates for Youth © September 2010



1. SIECUS. No More Money: Spending on Abstinence-only-until- Marriage Programs (1982-2007). New York: 2007; http://www.

2. H.R. 3590--111th Congress: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (2009). In (database of federal legislation). Retrieved September 16, 2010, from

3. Trenholm C et al. Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510, Absti- nence Education Programs: Final Report, submitted to the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, Office of the Assistant Sec- retary for Planning & Evaluation. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 2007.

4. Kirby D. Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001.

5. Bearman PS, Brückner H. Promising the future: virginity pledges and first intercourse. American Journal of Sociology 2001; 106:859-912.

6. Brückner H, Bearman PS. After the promise: the STI conse- quences of adolescent virginity pledges. Journal of Adolescent Health 2005; 36:271-278.

7. Eaton DK. Youth risk behavior surveillance - United States, 2009. MMWR Surveill Summ 59:1 (2010)

8. Martin et al. Births: Final for 2006. [National Vital Statistics Report] Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

9. National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Fact Sheet: How Is the 3 in 10 Statistic Calculated? Washington, DC: 2006.

10. National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Analysis of Teen Pregnancy Data. Washington, DC: 2006.

11. Guttmacher Institute. U.S. Teenage Pregnancy Statistics: Na- tional and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity. New York: 2006.

12. CDC. STD Surveillance Report, 2007. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2008.

13. Personal Responsibility & Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Title V, §510(b)(2)(A-H) of the Social Security Act.

14. Kaiser Family Foundation, National Public Radio, and Har- vard University. Sex Education in America: General Public/Parents Survey. Menlo Park, CA: The Foundation, 2004.

15. National Coalition to Support Sex Education. Coalition Mem- bers. NY: SIECUS;; accessed 7/3/2007.

16. Society for Adolescent Medicine. Abstinence-only education policies and programs: a position paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. Journal of Adolescent Health 2006; 38(1):83-87.

17. The White House Office of National AIDS Policy. National HIV/AIDs Strategy for the United States, 2010.

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