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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Congress inches toward sane sex education policy

Some good news below from my friend Valerie Huber of Ascend (formerly the National Abstinence Education Association). The majority GOP Congress has increased the amount of funding allocated to sexual risk avoidance (SRA) sex education. 
However, a huge federal funding gap remains between programs that teach teens how to save sex while protecting their hearts and programs that teach teens how to have sex while protecting their sexual organs. The sexual risk avoidance strategies regarding teen sex parallel similar strategies for risky behaviors such as smoking and substance abuse.
The House has released the long-awaited Omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year 2016. Tucked within the many pages of the bill are several policy changes in the nation’s sex education priorities. Three improvements have a direct impact on Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) education, funded through the annual appropriations process:
1.    Funding. Funding for Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) education is doubled from $5 million to $10 million. The disparity is still great between SRA and so-called “comprehensive” sex education (or more accurately Sexual Risk Reduction [SRR] education), but this year’s omnibus is a step in the right direction. SRR education received funding at $90 million.
2.    New Language. Legislative language governing the SRA program ensures that students will receive clear and accurate information and skills to avoid sexual risk.  The new language is taken from the Healthy Relationships Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Randy Hultgren and Rep. Dan Lipinski, and in the Senate by Sen. Lindsey Graham.
3.    New Name. The term “sexual risk avoidance” more clearly describes the optimal health priorities of our programs. Congress replaced the term “abstinence education” for “sexual risk avoidance” to reflect the overriding health benefits teens experience when they forgo sexual activity. Consistent with how the public health community addresses other youth risks, the sexual risk avoidance approach offers a well-defined and consistent emphasis on information and skills that help youth avoid all sexual risk.
With the expected and quick passage of the Omnibus, these important improvements to federal sex education policy set a new precedent for teen health.
 “We are encouraged that Congress listened to the majority of Americans* who say that pregnancy-prevention-only programs are not enough for our youth.  They say that youth deserve all the skills to help them thrive – skills that are a part of SRA programs,” declared Valerie Huber, President/CEO of Ascend.
“We are encouraged that Congress is committed to reinforcing and amplifying the good decisions of the majority of youth. Most teens have not had sex – and that percentage has increased more than 15% over the past 20 years.** Finally, more sex education classes will help youth build healthy relationships, avoid all the consequences of teen sex, and ascend to brighter and healthier futures,” she continued.
“The legislative changes are important and the increased funding is one step closer to parity between SRA and SRR programs, a continuing goal for Ascend.”
Ascend applauds Congress for making important improvements to sex education funding and policy. The future of our youth trumps politics. The FY 2016 Omnibus sets a good precedent for that future.
*About 70% of Americans say students should learn how to avoid all the consequences of sex, rather than merely receive a pregnancy prevention message, according to the July 2015 Americans Speak Out Survey. Research conducted by the Barna Group. 
** The CDC reveals more than a 15% decrease in the percent of teens who have had sex from 1991-2013. Click here to see trends and further information.  
Ascend (formerly the National Abstinence Education Association) champions youth to make healthy decisions in relationships and life by promoting well being through a primary prevention strategy, and as a national membership and advocacy organization that serves, leads, represents and equips the Sexual Risk Avoidance field.

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