The New Frontier of Sexual Education

US President Barack Obama speaks before signing a memorandum directing the Federal Government not to discriminate against long-term unemployed job seekers at the White House in Washington, DC, January 31, 2014.      AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

by Randall S. Frederick


Yesterday, news broke that President Obama was removing government funding for abstinence-only education run by the Department of Health and Human Services. The cut comes as part of a 2017 budget proposal from the White House, specifically wiping out a $10 million grant for abstinence-only sexual education. Congress will have until the state of the new fiscal year on October 1st to debate the President’s budget proposal – including the $10 million cut and reallocation.

Personally, I couldn’t be happier. This cut comes about two decades later than it should have, but I’m thrilled that the ax finally fell. As Michael Stone of Patheos writes,

Currently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers grants to states and territories for teaching abstinence-based curriculums in sex education classes. Obama’s 2017 budget would eliminate this funding completely, thereby removing a huge incentive for states to teach such programs.

Abstinence only sex education programs are dangerous and harmful programs rooted in religious ignorance and prejudice. While supporters of abstinence-only sex education often claim such programs delay sexual initiation and reduces teen pregnancy, the facts tell a different story. Abstinence-only sex education programs are not educational, and rarely provide information on even the most basic topics in human sexuality such as puberty, reproductive anatomy, and sexual health.

Instead, abstinence-only sex education programs are most often covert vehicles to promote faith-based superstition and shame. Bottom line: By eliminating funding for abstinence-only sex education programs, President Obama supports the sexual health of our nation’s youth.

The cut doesn’t leave sexual education without a clear directive. According to a statement by The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), the proposal eradicates abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education, redirecting those funds towards a teen pregnancy prevention program and maintains funding for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, requests a five-year extension of the Personal Responsibility Education Program. In that statement, Vice President for Policy, Interim President and CEO of SIECUS, Jesseca Boyer, states

SIECUS is grateful for President Obama’s leadership in seeking to end abstinence-only-until-marriage funding once and for all. After three decades and nearly $2 billion in federal spending wasted on this failed approach, the President’s proposed budget increases support for programs and efforts that seek to equip young people with the skills they need to ensure their lifelong sexual health and well-being.

SIECUS also applauds the President’s proposed $4 million increase for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, helping communities implement evidence-informed and innovative strategies to support the sexual health of our nation’s youth.”

The continued funding for the Division of Adolescent and School Health and request for future Personal Responsibility Education Program funding demonstrates this administration’s commitment to secure the right to quality sexuality education for young people.

As a writer, sex educator, and sexual advocate, I would strongly and urgently request that you do a few things following this news.

  1. educate yourself on sexual and reproductive health,
  2. educate yourself on the budgetary cuts as details on this cut continue to come forward,
  3. educate yourself on the budgetary reallocation and spending,
  4. contact your local representatives to express your views and positions, and what you hope they can do for your local area to help provide sexual and reproductive information,
  5. take action on these views by donating your time, efforts, knowledge, education, or money toward proper and sustainable sexual education in your area

One of the great challenges for citizens after news like this breaks is that we feel either tired, disinterested, or angry. We are really fixed at one of two points: apathy/inactivity or reactionary frustration that can so easily derail the kind of conversation we would like to have. Times like these require that we be honest with ourselves about not only what we believe, but where those beliefs come from. Science or our interpretation of science? Religion? What we learned in high school a decade and a half ago? It’s rare that you find someone who is truly “evil” or antagonizes us to feel stupid, so instead of seeing the President’s proposal as a harbinger of doom or the salvation of millions, let’s continue to talk about why sexual education is important to us, individually, and what kind of sexual education we would like to see presented in our communities.

For me, what this means is:

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, my home state of Louisiana “was 6 out of 51 (50 states + the District of Columbia) on 2011 final teen births rates among females aged 15-19 (with 1 representing the highest rate and 51 representing the lowest rate). On a similar scale – where 1 is the highest teen pregnancy rate and 51 is the lowest – Louisiana was ranked 8 out of 51 (50 states + the District of Columbia) in pregnancies to females aged 15- 19 in 2008.”

I would encourage you to look at the statistics in your own state. The charts, graphs, and breakdowns provided above by the Dept. of Health and Human Services was at once enlightening as much as disheartening. I believe the tragic position my home state finds itself is an opportunity we must seize upon immediately.

For me, what this means is:

Growing up, sexual education came primarily from my parents, where my mother was very affirming of sexual activity “with someone who is important to you” and my father was at times comical, evasive, knowingly misinformed, knowingly ignorant, and individually liberal (ex: “If it moves, fuck it.”) and socially conservative (ex: “If a woman gets pregnant and wants to have an abortion, they should kill her too. If she’s too stupid to close her legs, she’s too stupid to live.”) Sexual education, when it was presenting to me in junior high and high school consisted of one message: sex before marriage would send me to Hell. A junior high teacher once asked me, “You don’t want to disappoint Jesus, do you?” Sexual activity inside or outside of marriage does not have to mean sexual shaming, destructive labeling, or divine judgement.

For me, what this means is:

Sexual activity has been a very pleasurable experience and nothing like the terror it was presented to me as in Sex Ed classes. In fact, the only person who I feel has been completely honest with me about sex and sexuality has been my mother and my closest friends. As I have gotten older, I am perpetually horrified both by the outright lies that were communicated to me in Sexual Health classes until I began attending graduate school, by the outright lies of “experienced” professionals who knew how to sell an idea but not facts, and by the lies and misinterpretation of data by sexual educators today.

I’m thoroughly excited by the prospect this $10 million cut will provide for a stronger, more fact-based sexual education program will have for students currently aging into the changes that need to take place in sexual education, and the prospect this will provide for future generations who will (hopefully) be provided with a realistic presentation of sex that will not be woefully inept or, as was my case, an outright lie. This is the new frontier of sexual education and I’m looking forward to it.

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