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Since 1982, the federal government has spent over $2 billion on abstinence-only-until-marriage "sex education" programs. These programs must adhere to a strict eight-point definition, with the “exclusive purpose (of) teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity.”

They’re required to teach, among other things, that “sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects” and that “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity.” This eight-point definition promotes a sex-shaming “values” agenda put forward by members of Congress who are opposed to sex education.

Abstinence-only-until-marriage "sex education" came to a brief halt in 2010, but was reinstated in recent years, with funding for these programs increasing threefold from 2015 to 2017. And now, abstinence-only-until-marriage advocates have rebranded their programs as “sexual risk avoidance” (SRA) programs, and have secured a new stream of federal funding to support them.

There are several problems with the abstinence-only-until-marriage, or SRA, approach. First, almost no abstinence-only-until-marriage program has been shown to have any impact on young people’s behavior. So they don’t work. Actually, sex education programs that include lessons on both abstinence and birth control have a better track record of helping young people wait to have sex.

Even more importantly, withholding critical, possibly life-saving information about STIs and HIV puts young people’s health and future at risk. Abstinence and skill building around saying no to sex are important parts of any good sex education program, but they’re not the only parts.

We have to fight against abstinence-only-until-marriage/SRA programs and advocate for sex education laws and funding that support the full range of sex education topics that young people need.

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