OP-EDS

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November 6, 2003

It's all fun and games until someone gets syphilis

The issue of abstinence-only sex education seems particularly surreal on this campus, where most people getting an education are busy trying anything but abstinence. Equally strange (although no more surprising) is that the same administration that claims to be cutting the government out of our lives is so intent on getting it into our pants.

Not only has the Bush administration hiked spending on abstinence-only programs from $60 million to $100 million, it's also actively stalling the efforts of comprehensive sex-ed programs that prioritize medical information over social control. Through intense, selective auditing, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has diverted the time and energy of comprehensive sex-ed programs like Advocates for Youth and STOP AIDS. Ostensibly, this is to prevent the use of taxpayer money "to engage in political activities, not to help people" (Congressman Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania). Yet HHS (and Pitts) somehow overlooked the shenanigans of Louisiana Governor Mike Foster's Program on Abstinence, which spent taxpayer funds on such apolitical activities as educational skits starring Christ and prayer vigils at abortion clinics. Advocates for Youth and STOP AIDS, meanwhile, have emerged from their audits squeaky clean. As Advocates' president James Wagoner explains, "Our complaint is not with getting audited. Our complaint is with the selective and political nature of these audits."

More pernicious than mere auditing, however, is the implicit message from the Bush administration to health professionals: put the party line before your Hippocratic oath. Rather than confront the issue of domestic AIDS, now the third leading cause of death for African-American women aged 25-44 in the U.S., Bush caters to special interest groups at the cost of women's lives. Sadly, it's a choice he's made before on an international scale, by cutting $34 million from the United Nations Fund for Population Activities on the false premise of U.N. complicity in forced abortions in China. And black women aren't the only group sold (especially) short by abstinence-only sex ed: abstinence-only programs, by emphasizing marriage as the exclusive arena for sexual activity, provide no useful health information for gay and lesbian youth who have no option to marry. A second implicit message emerges: if you make choices with which the Bush administration disagrees, your life is not worth protecting.

What is taught by Bush's sex education programs is just as telling as what isn't. From the federally-funded textbook Sex Respect comes the advice that "one of the best ways to avoid AIDS is to ‘avoid homosexual behavior'"—a statement which is not only discriminatory but patently false, as the majority of emerging cases of HIV/AIDS are the result of heterosexual contact with drug users. That's not just offensive to gay people, it's offensive to anyone with a teenage child, brother, sister, or friend navigating a country with the one of the highest adolescent STD rates (and the highest rate of teen pregnancy) in the developed world.

Advocates of abstinence-only sex ed often claim that they're protecting the rights of parents to teach their kids moral values, but instead, they're usurping that right by entrusting it to Bush and Co. And getting your sexual information from a man who just recently admitted that there actually wasn't a connection between Saddam and Osama is setting yourself up for some seriously unsafe sex.