Monday, June 05, 2006

Board to return to abstinence issue

Last month, the Board of Ed. took up a proposal to insert this statement into the optional standards on health education:

Each board of education shall provide a comprehensive program of abstinence until marriage in human sexuality that is developmentally appropriate, including information about sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. It is imperative that medically accurate and research-based information be provided, including factual information regarding contraception and disease prevention.
The idea was set aside because there was confusion about what the statement meant, where it was to be inserted, and why it was needed. People had thought it was supposed to have been put into accreditation requirements, so courses which offered comprehensive courses which didn't necessarily focus on abstinence until marriage (implying celibacy for gays) might not get state accreditation. Since abstinence until marriage programs are generally understood as an alternative to comprehensive programs – programs which focus on sexual health more broadly, discussing abstinence but also contraception and techniques for discussing sex in a relationship – the language about a "comprehensive program of abstinence" is ambiguous.

The issue was set aside for reconsideration, and this month's agenda includes a proposal to insert the same language into the introduction to the standards. None of the confusion will have gone away, and the proposal will do no more good now than it did then.

I caught Bill Clinton on CNN yesterday, talking about "The End of AIDS." At the end, he put the issue simply. We should promote abstinence, especially for students aren't sexually active, but teaching about abstinence without discussing contraception just leaves them at risk when they become sexually active. Sex education needs to respect people's moral beliefs, but it also needs to protect people. The name for those sorts of programs is comprehensive or abstinence-plus. That's what the Board should promote.