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Abstinence, Evidence, Science and Nonsense: Smart Policies and Sensible Science in the Service of Sex Education

Abstinence, Evidence, Science and Nonsense: Smart Policies and Sensible Science in the Service of Sex Education

Multiple scientific and human right concerns have been raised by health professionals including the scientific accuracy of AOUM curricula, the withholding of life-saving information from young people, a lack of program efficacy, promotion of gender and racial stereotypes, insensitivity to non-heterosexual youth, and harm to traditional sexual health education. Since 2010, the USG has reduced support for abstinence-only promotion; however, AOUM programs remain widespread in the US and still receive federal funding. USG policy has shifted its primarily focus on evidence-based interventions (EBI) to prevent adolescent pregnancy. While clearly an improvement over AOUM programs, the USG definition of “evidence” ignores factors known to play key roles in adolescent sexual health.

Many EBI programs do not address gender and racial stereotypes, withhold life-saving information, disregard LGBTQ youth, and ignore societal-level structural inequities that shape adolescent sexual behaviour and sexual health. A holistic approach to adolescent sexual health is needed, one that assists young people to develop healthy relationships and social skills that will support their successful transition into adult societal roles. Alliances among health professionals, scientists, and advocates have been successful in reducing AOUM funding, refocusing USG policy, and promoting a more holistic scientific vision of sexual health. The perspectives of science and human rights are essential foundations for adolescent sexual health policy.