NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia
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Comprehensive Sex Education

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia strongly supports medically-accurate, age-appropriate, effective sexuality education programs as a vital part of any adolescent pregnancy prevention and health promotion effort.

Medically-accurate, comprehensive sex education that includes lessons on abstinence and delaying sexual activity, having healthy relationships, and preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection helps ensure adolescents have the life skills they need to make informed, responsible decisions for years to come.

Sex education programs that teach only "abstinence-until-marriage" while ignoring important lessons on sexually transmitted infections and preventing unintended pregnancy do a disservice to our youth and leave them vulnerable to negative health consequences in the future. Abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs do not prevent adolescents from ever having sex; it only prevents them from receiving the knowledge they will need to protect their health if and when they do eventually become sexually active. Many AOUM education programs also spread misinformation about sex and reproductive health and perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes. They do not empower young people to take charge of their reproductive lives and make responsible, healthy decisions in the long term.

Virginia Sexuality Education Law and Policy

Virginia law requires sex education (also known as Family Life Education) to be abstinence-based. Individual school districts have the freedom to decide what curricula to adopt and how much information to provide in addition to messages about the importance of abstinence and delaying sexual activity. Therefore, the sex education curricula that a student in Virginia public schools will receive varies widely throughout the state. Parents or guardians may remove (or "opt-out") their children from any or all sex education classes.

We believe Virginia's young people deserve better, more comprehensive sex education curricula that is more effective at preventing pregnancy and STIs and is free from scientific misinformation or harmful messages.

Trends and Statistics

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Virginia ranks thirtieth in the nation in regards to teen pregnancy, with 8,902 teens giving birth in 2008.[1] This places a great burden on young mothers, their babies, and their families. But the costs of teen parenthood are not only personal. A 2004 study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that teen childbearing costs Virginia taxpayers at least $177 million a year.[2] High rates of transmission for sexually-transmitted infections are also a serious concern among young people in Virginia and take an unnecessary toll on public health and health resources.

  • 60,000 unintended pregnancies occur in Virginia each year.[1]
  • Over 13,000 teen pregnancies occur in Virginia each year.[4]
  • 43,000 Virginians reported having gonorrhea, Chlamydia, or syphilis in 2008. Twice as many may be infected with herpes or HPV each year.[5]
  • The city of Richmond, Virginia has ranked #1 nationally for gonorrhea and/or Chlamydia rates nine times since 1992.[6]
  • Although 10 to 19 year olds account for less than 14% of Virginia's total population, they accounted for more than 37% of new Chlamydia diagnoses in 2004. 10 to 19 year olds also accounted for almost 29% of new gonorrhea diagnoses in 2004.[7]
  • Approximately one in four sexually active teens contracts an STD every year.[8]
  • It is estimated that half of all new HIV infections occur in people under age 25. Most young people are infected through sex.[9]

Comprehensive Sex Education Works

Numerous studies have shown that comprehensive sexuality education is an effective strategy in providing adolescents with the "tools, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values to make responsible choices about their sexual health."

Research has repeatedly found that comprehensive sexuality education programs that teach both "abstinence and contraception, including condoms, do not increase sexual activity among teens; rather such programs often delay first intercourse, reduce the frequency of sex and reduce the number of sexual partners."[10]

Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs Do Not Work

A congressional report for Representative Henry Waxman, commonly known as the Waxman Report, found that:

  • More than 80 percent of the abstinence-only curricula reviewed contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health.
  • The curricula reviewed misrepresent the effectiveness of contraceptives in preventing STDs and unintended pregnancy.
  • The curricula reviewed contain false information about the risks of abortion, blur religion and science, promote gender stereotypes, and contain basic scientific errors.[11]

Furthermore, in 2006, the Federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that government-approved evaluations of abstinence-only programs fail to follow scientific guidelines.[12]

In 2004, 11 states made the results of evaluation of state-wide abstinence only until marriage programs available for review. No evaluation demonstrated any impact on reducing teens' sexual behavior at follow-up three to seventeen months after the program ended.[13] In fact, "participants had just as many sexual partners as nonparticipants and had sex at the same median age as nonparticipants."[14]

Some studies have found that abstinence-only strategies may actually deter contraceptive use among sexually active teens, increasing risk of unintended pregnancy and STIs when they do have sex.[15]

"Virginity pledges" are often included in abstinence-only teachings. Studies have shown that 88% of young people who took the virginity pledge do have sexual intercourse before marriage. Meanwhile,  that those who took the virginity pledge were also one third less likely to use contraception when they became sexually active, putting them at risk for unintended pregnancy and STIs.  [16]

Virginia's young people deserve better than ineffective, inaccurate "abstinence only until marriage" sex education programs that can do more harm than good and do not give them the information and resources they need. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia will continue working to advocate for quality, comprehensive sex education throughout Virginia.

[3] According to the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), 49% of pregnancies in the United States (excluding miscarriages) and 31% of pregnancies resulting in a live birth are unintended. Virginia had 106,578 live births in 2008, from which we can infer that 33,039.18 we unintended, added to the 27,410 abortions in 2008 (assuming the majority of these are unintended pregnancies), approximately 60,449.18 unintended pregnancies occurred in Virginia in 2008.

[5] The Scope of Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Virginia. Virginia Department of Health. Web.

[6] Facts about Teen Pregnancy and STDs in Virginia: A Profile of Adolescent Sexual Health 2006. Virginia Department of Health, May 2006. Web.

[7] Facts about Teen Pregnancy and STDs in Virginia: A Profile of Adolescent Sexual Health 2006. Virginia Department of Health, May 2006. Web.

[8] Facts about Teen Pregnancy and STDs in Virginia: A Profile of Adolescent Sexual Health 2006. Virginia Department of Health, May 2006. Web.

[9] Facts about Teen Pregnancy and STDs in Virginia: A Profile of Adolescent Sexual Health 2006. Virginia Department of Health, May 2006. Web.

[10] Kirby, D. Emerging Answers: research findings on programs to reduce teen pregnancy. Washington, D.C.: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001.

Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting. Fact sheet, 2006.

[11] Prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman, The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs(Washington, DC: United States House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform, Minority Staff, Special Investigations Division, 2004)

[12] Abstinence Education: Efforts to Assess the Accuracy and Effectiveness of Federally Funded Programs Report GAO-07-87(Washington, D.C.: Government Accountability Office, 2006).

[13] D. Hauser,Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education: Assessing the Impact (Washington D.C.: Advocates for Youth, 2004).

[15] Kirby D. Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001.

[16] Peter Bearman and Hanah Brückner, "Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and the Transition to First Intercourse," American Journal of Sociology 106.4 (2001): 859-912.

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