Religious support for comprehensive sexuality education is at an all-time high. Many denominations have developed their own curricula and also support medically accurate education in schools. Among Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice members, the Episcopal Church USA, Presbyterian Church (USA), Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, and Reform and Conservative Judaism have all passed resolutions affirming the need for sexuality education, both within their own faith tradition and in the public schools.
While most parents teach their children the value of abstinence, they also recognize that sexual references abound in almost every aspect of our culture and that their children need accurate information to deal with cultural influences and make informed, responsible decisions about sexuality. With the REAL Act, schools would be funded to teach programs that have been proven effective by over two decades of research and classroom use. Responsible, comprehensive sex education also builds young people's capacity for making decisions, resisting peer pressure, setting goals, managing stress, being responsible, understanding and accepting diversity, and building healthy relationships.
Since 1996, Congress has committed more than $1.1 billion dollars (through both federal and state matching funds) to abstinence-only education programs. Currently, there are three separate federal programs that support abstinence-only education. Programs receiving federal funds under the 1996 welfare reform act are prohibited from discussing contraceptives unless they are portrayed as ineffective. Congress continues to fund abstinence education despite research that shows that abstinence-plus-contraception programs are more effective in helping teens to delay sexual activity.
What Does the Responsible Education About Life Act Do?
The bill would reform the abstinence-only provision in the 1996 welfare reform act to allow states to receive federal funds for both abstinence and comprehensive sexuality education, including contraception. Currently, these states can only receive federal funding if they agree to teach abstinence-only according to the 8-point definition in the law (list of the 8 points is below). Next year, Congress will reauthorize the welfare reform act and the flawed abstinence-only provision can be corrected.
Public Opinion on Comprehensive Sexuality Education
Americans of all religions favor comprehensive sexuality education, including abstinence, in schools—including 59% of those who oppose abortion rights, 73% of Catholics, 57% of Baptists, and 67% of fundamentalists and evangelicals.
General public opinion polls shows that 93% of Americans support teaching comprehensive sex education in high schools, while 84% of Americans support sex education being taught in middle/junior high schools (Kaiser Family Foundation). Additionally, 7 out of 10 Americans believe that teaching abstinence-only prohibits education about the use of condoms, preventing HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.
Why Is The Responsible Education About Life Act Needed?
The rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continues to grow among young people in the U.S. Each year, U.S. teens contract more than 4 million STIs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that almost 3,000 adolescents between the ages of 13-19 were diagnosed with AIDS between 1995 and 1997. African American and Hispanic youth are disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Although less than 16% of the adolescent population in the U.S. is African American, nearly 50% of AIDS cases through June 2000 among 13-19 year olds were among African Americans. Hispanics comprise just 13% of the population but 20% of the AIDS cases among U.S. youth.
Research has also shown that 75% of the decrease in teen pregnancy between 1988 and 1995 was due to increased contraceptive use, while only 25% was due to abstinence (Alan Guttmacher Institute). While teen pregnancy rates are declining, there are still nearly 900,000 teen pregnancies per year in the U.S, nearly 80% of which are unintended.
Teenagers who receive sexuality education that includes discussion of contraception are more likely than those who receive abstinence-only messages to delay sexual activity and use contraceptives when they do become sexually active. Comprehensive sexuality education programs do not encourage teens to start having sexual intercourse, do not increase the frequency with which teens have intercourse, and do not increase the number of a person’s sexual partners (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy).
Support for The Responsible Education About Life Act
More than 140 national and state organizations are supporting The Responsible Education About Life Act, including religious, medical, civil rights, family planning, educational, public health, reproductive rights, and HIV/AIDS organizations.
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