Frequently Asked Questions About the Title V Abstinence Education Program
November 1997

National Coalition for Abstinence Education

There is considerable confusion about the federally funded Abstinence Education Program being implemented beginning in 1997. Unfortunately, certain groups that are opposed to the program are actively distributing misinformation in an attempt to undermine the program.

The purposes of this document are to answer the most commonly asked questions about the Title V Abstinence Education Program and to address the misinformation campaign being conducted by the program’s opposition.

What is the Title V Abstinence Education Program?
As part of the welfare-reform act of 1996, Congress authorized $50 million of federal funds annually for five years to be provided to the states in the form of block grants to promote abstinence until marriage. When combined with required state matching funds of $3 for every $4 federal dollars, $437 million will be available to support the abstinence message during the duration of the program.

Doesn’t the matching funds requirement place an undue burden on the states?
This argument is not factual. It is not unusual for federal programs to require state matching funds. Additionally, in many states not a single penny of state money will be used to meet the matching requirement. In some states, organizations such as curriculum providers will be required to find their own match. In other states, the match will be met with in-kind donations. In yet others, existing abstinence programs will qualify to satisfy the match. In fact, very few states are using actual state dollars to meet the matching requirements–and those states are doing so out of the conviction that abstinence education is greatly needed.

However, it is entirely fair to expect all states to provide at least a portion of the matching funds. After all, states provide funds to promote the comprehensive safe-sex message. Doesn’t it make sense for states to support adolescents who have made a healthy choice for abstinence as well?

Doesn’t the Title V abstinence money come with too many strings attached?
No more than usual conditions are placed on all block grants provided to the states. For example, highway funds may carry restrictions on speed limits, construction techniques, materials and so on.The Title V program requires the states to fund education 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 increases vulnerability to sexual advances; and(H) teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.

These eight conditions are entirely realistic and based on fact. As long as these conditions are satisfied, states are given great latitude in the implementation of abstinence programs.

But aren’t the majority of students sexually active? Won’t they have sex no matter what they’re taught?
Wrong. Not everybody is doing it. In fact, in 1995 the federal Centers for Disease Control found that nearly half of high school students (48 percent of girls, 46 percent of boys) had never had a sexual experience. In addition, a large percentage of students who have had sex, wish they had remained virgins–and would like to acquire the skills to become abstinent.

Doesn’t this abstinence program take money away from other sexuality education programs?
Again, this is part of the misinformation campaign against the abstinence program. Not a single federal safe-sex program (such as Title X, Title XX, HIV/AIDS, etc.) has been defunded in order to make the Title V Abstinence Education program available. The condom crowd has not lost a single penny. They just don’t want any other approach to be given a fair chance.

Isn’t $50 million per year a lot of money?
As citizens, we should be concerned about how our tax dollars are spent. But $10 million is a modest amount of money for a new approach to such a serious problem. It amounts to just $1.33 for each adolescent in the U.S. and $10 million is just a fraction of the amount spent to promote contraceptives as the solution to adolescent pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Over $6 BILLION (adjusted to current dollars) has been spent since 1971 to support Title X “safe sex” education. Add to this other federal programs aimed at reducing the consequences of out-of-wedlock sexual promiscuity (such as HIV/AIDS programs, family planning, etc.) and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year to promote the comprehensive safe-sex message. And this does not include direct spending by states. For example, California alone will spend over $78 million in teen pregnancy prevention programs in FY 1998, largely focused on the contraceptive message.

Considering that the combined social, medical and economic cost of adolescent sexual promiscuity is about $35 billion each year (direct and indirect costs), $50 million is a small price to encourage and equip the over 50 percent of America’s youth ages 12 to 19 who have chosen abstinence and need our help to fulfill that choice.

Don’t comprehensive safe-sex education programs promote abstinence in a much more “balanced” manner?
Herein lies the key distinction between abstinence-centered sexuality education and comprehensive (abstinence-plus) safe-sex education.

The message of abstinence-centered sex education is as follows:

It is entirely possible for adolescents to remain abstinent. In fact, the majority of females ages 12 to 19 have never had sex. Health professionals agree that abstinence is far and away the single most healthy choice. But, to remain abstinent, teens need to be encouraged and equipped with medically and socially accurate information on the consequences of sexual promiscuity and with knowledge, character development and skills on how to remain abstinent. And abstinence needs to be presented in a manner which unapologetically states that choosing the best alternative in sexual health is the societal norm.

The message of comprehensive safe-sex education is as follows:

We’d prefer that you choose abstinence. But if you decide not to choose abstinence, make sure you use a condom.

A parallel message to abstinence-centered education would be this: “Don’t smoke; it is not healthy for all the following reasons…and here are a number of skills to help you avoid smoking.”

The parallel message to comprehensive sex education would be: “We wish you wouldn’t smoke, but if you do, smoke filtered cigarettes…and we will provide them to you without telling your parents.

The comprehensive safe-sex education message is also known as the “dual message.” It sends adolescents a compromised and confused signal. Further, the “abstinence” component within comprehensive safe-sex programs is treated as just an alternative method to avoid pregnancy and STDs. The comprehensive safe-sex education message ignores basic human nature—that when given the option between two alternatives, some people will choose the worst alternative.

Abstinence-centered sex education, on the other hand, focuses on the root issue by seeking to reduce adolescent sexual activity rather than inadequately attempting to deal with the consequences after the fact. It treats abstinence as the healthy lifestyle choice–not just another option.

Isn’t it true that abstinence education is “fear-based?”
With one million pregnancies and three million cases of STDS among teens per year, it is a shame that the debate on sexuality education has been reduced to name-calling.

There are two major problems with dismissing abstinence programs as “fear-based.” The first problem deals with defining the terms we use. What exactly does it mean to be fear-based? Is a program fear-based if it discloses the social and economic costs of adolescent pregnancy? Is a program fear-based if it truthfully tells teens that condoms provide little or no protection against certain STDs?

Or, is a program fear-based if it simply presents an opposing viewpoint about teen sexuality? A case in point is the slide presentation produced by the Medical Institute for Sexual Health (MISH). The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) labels the MISH material as fear-based. Yet MISH’s statistics come directly from the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute for Health, established peer-reviewed medical journals and other reputable sources of medical information.

The second problem with the fear-based label is that it assumes there is never a place for legitimate fear. In truth, entire generations of Americans have avoided various risky behaviors because of the fear of the consequences. Further, Douglas Kirby in the booklet No Easy Answers states that “the fear of AIDS may generate greater receptivity to information about prevention.” If conveying truth about the medical, economic and social consequences of sexual promiscuity creates fear in adolescents, then perhaps a little more fear is what we need. Fear is a healthy respect for the consequences of bad decisions.

Didn’t a recent study show that most parents are against abstinence education?
Again, the misinformation campaign is hard at work. The Durex Condom Company conducted a telephone survey that asked the following loaded question:

“Do you support schools in your district accepting state and federal funds that would prevent them from teaching your children the complete facts about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases?”

Here is how Durex spun the results:

“More than 82 percent responded that they do not support schools that accept abstinence-only funding.”

This is not honest research. Durex knows that abstinence programs teach the complete facts about birth control and STDs. They just don’t promote condoms. The question Durex asked and the results they reported have nothing to do with each other. What if Durex would have asked this question:

Do you support schools in your district accepting federal and state funds that would mandate the promotion of condoms for unmarried teens but prevent schools from teaching your children the complete facts about the failure rates of condoms in protecting against pregnancy and STDs?

Is it any wonder that Durex received a sanction from both the Federal Trade Commission and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in 1997 for failure to meet minimum quality standards and unsubstantiated and deceptive claims about their condoms?
The TRUTH is that most parents approve of abstinence education. A major survey of 28,000 adults taken by USA Today in 1997 found that 56 percent thought the best way to reduce pregnancy is to teach abstinence while only 31 percent thought that the best way is to promote safe sex.

Speaking of surveys, NCAE would like to ask readers of this document the following question right now:

As parents, would you want your elected representatives in Washington, your community leaders, your school board members, your governor and your state health department officials to determine policies impacting the health of your children based on information, opinions or pressure they receive from the Durex Condom Company or Durex spokesperson Jane Fonda?

Isn’t there research to show that abstinence programs don’t work?
As the old adage goes, “figures can lie, and liars can figure.” Opponents of abstinence education can find or interpret research to support anything they want to say. An example of this is the analysis of an “abstinence” program entitled ENABL (Education Now and Babies Later) in California. Abstinence-until-marriage advocates had reservations about the program from its inception, because they felt it contained some mixed messages for teens. Abstinence-plus (contraceptive) advocates supported the program—until evaluation of ENABL came out showing inconclusive results. At this point, the safe-sex education advocates distanced themselves from the program and declared abstinence education a failure.

These are credible studies to prove that abstinence programs work. But true abstinence programs, on the whole, have received little or no federal funding for research. Congress realized this situation, which is why Title V funding hopes to gather credible data on abstinence-until-marriage education programs. The REAL question is: will abstinence opponents on many state committees try to sabotage the evaluation process as they have done with the intent of the law?

What about adolescents who, for whatever reason, can’t remain abstinent? Isn’t it irresponsible to withhold from these teens important information which could save their lives?
This is the biggest charge against abstinence education by its opponents. And this charge is so loaded with faulty assumptions that we must address it point-by-point.

First, this question implies that abstinence education is all adolescents will receive. This is just plain false. We have already established in this document that funding for the safe-sex message remains intact. It is doubtful that a single student will lose access to the contraceptive message directly due to the Title V abstinence funding.

Second, this question implies that abstinence education will not discuss contraceptives, pregnancy and STDs. Wrong again. The fact is that the Title V funding cannot be used to promote contraceptive use to teens for sex outside of marriage. Abstinence programs do address contraceptives and STDs, but they do so honestly by showing the failure rates for pregnancy and disease prevention.

Third, this question implies that condoms are the answer to pregnancies and STDs. Wrong again. Study after study shows that adolescents do not use condoms correctly 100 percent of the time. The Centers for Disease Control states that “consistently means using a condom every time you have sex—100 percent of the time—no exceptions.” CDC adds that “Used inconsistently, condoms offer little more protection than when they are not used at all.” This fact is important because studies show that basic knowledge of and access to condoms by adolescents have low correlation with consistent and correct use.

Fourth, condoms, even when used correctly, offer little or no protection against human papillomavirus (HPV) and only slightly better protection against chlamydia. Both are among America’s fastest-spreading STDs. HPV is incurable, and both HPV and chlamydia, if untreated, can lead to serious medical consequences. In fact, genital cancer caused by HPV has claimed the lives of more females than AIDS.

Further, about 15 percent of female adolescents using condoms get pregnant during the first year of use. So much for the “98 percent effective” claim by the condom industry.

Fifth, NCAE acknowledges that some adolescents will choose to be sexually active no matter how much abstinence is taught. But the decision to be sexually active is a health decision. Such a decision is too serious to be promoted or facilitated by school teachers or anyone else who is not in a position of primary responsibility for the adolescent’s health. It must be made with input from parents, the family’s primary-care physician, a family counselor and the family’s spiritual advisor…people who will strive to move the adolescent back toward truly healthy behavior.

With sexual maturity coming at a younger and younger age, and marriage coming at an older age, is it reasonable to expect people to remain abstinent until marriage?
Attacking the Title V Program on the basis of whether or not it is “realistic” to expect adults to remain abstinent until marriage is irrelevant for two reasons. First, the Title V Abstinence Education Program is aimed at adolescents because they are more susceptible to STDs, have a less developed and more emotionally driven decision-making capacity, are more influenced by peer pressure and make choices that reflect an attitude of invincibility.

Second, and more important, true realism demands we recognize that the sexual revolution has proved to be a disaster for American society. Congress has done just that, calling for a paradigm shift in the best medical, emotional and economic interest of America. In this it is following a distinguished precedent: Congress has taken similar bold action before in our history—for example, on drugs, racial equality and smoking. It is unfortunate that some people cannot accept the courageous act of Congress and are attempting to sabotage the law.

Given all of the above answers, why would someone be opposed to the Title V Abstinence Education Program?
That’s a great question. Frankly, we really don’t understand how someone can intellectually oppose the clear message that sexual abstinence among adolescents is the best choice for their physical, emotional, educational and emotional future.

But we do know that an entire industry exists in the U.S. because children are getting pregnant and contracting STDs. This industry would be financially harmed if adolescents should turn toward abstinence.

The safe-sex advocates (SIECUS, Planned Parenthood, Jane Fonda, Durex and their ideological allies) have held a monopoly on sexuality education since 1971. During their reign, adolescent pregnancies and STDs have reached epidemic levels.

As a society, we can argue about the details of this study or that study or this research or that research. But the reality is that teen pregnancies and STDs have skyrocketed during a time when comprehensive safe-sex education has been the dominant message in America’s classrooms. And on this basis alone, the safe-sex message must be considered a world-class failure.

Congress realized this, which is why it passed a bold, visionary and unapologetic new law.

The abstinence message deserves a fair, full and uncompromised chance. It’s the least we can do for our children.About NCAE

  • The National Coalition for Abstinence Education (NCAE) was formed in early 1997 as an ad hoc coalition dedicated to insuring that the Title V abstinence-education program is implemented consistent with the letter and the spirit of the law.
  • NCAE’s membership consists of 60 independent national, state and local organizations with a long-standing commitment to the abstinence-centered education message and the abstinence-only until marriage ideal. NCAE anticipates a membership of more than 100 organizations during 1998.
  • Member organizations include state abstinence coalitions, abstinence-only curriculum providers and educators, family advocates, research groups, policy councils and crisis pregnancy centers.
  • NCAE’s major undertaking during 1997 is the analysis and grading of plans on how states will implement the Title V programs. Specifically, NCAE will grade each state’s compliance relative to congressional intent and sound abstinence education principles in 12 different categories. A subsequent report card will grade actual program expenditures.