Waxman Report – Abstinence Only Programs (2004)

In 2005, the federal government planned to spend $170 million dollars on abstinence-only sex education programs under the Bush administration.  At the request of Rep. Henry Waxman, this report evaluates the content of the most popular abstinence-only curricula used by grantees of the largest federal abstinence initiative at the time, SPRANS (Special Programs of Regional and National Significance Community-Based Abstinence Education). Through SPRANS, the Department of Health and Human Services provides grants to community organizations that teach abstinence-only curricula to youth. The curricula used in SPRANS and other federally funded programs are not reviewed for accuracy by the federal government.

The report finds that over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula, used by over two-thirds of SPRANS grantees in 2003, contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health.   Some examples include:

  • None of the curricula provides information on how to select a birth control method and use it effectively. However, several curricula exaggerate condom failure rates in preventing pregnancy.
  • Two other curricula understate condom effectiveness by neglecting to explain that failure rates represent the chance of pregnancy over the course of a year. One states: “Couples who use condoms to avoid a pregnancy have a failure rate of 15%.”50 The other claims: “The typical failure rate for the male condom is 14% in preventing pregnancy.”51 These statements inaccurately suggest that the chance of pregnancy is 14% to 15% after each act of protected intercourse. In addition, they do not make clear that most condom “failure” is due to incorrect or inconsistent use.

The report provides details about the following conclusions–

Abstinence-Only Curricula…

  • Contain false information about the effectiveness of contraceptives
  • Contain false information about the risks of abortion
  • Blur religion and science
  • Treat stereotypes about girls and boys as scientific fact
  • Contain scientific errors

Citation:  United States House of Representatives (2004).  The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs.

Link to “Waxman Report- Abstinence Only Programs”

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