Julie Sternberg is senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
If you’re like the majority of Americans, 75 percent to be exact, by the age of 20 you’ve had sex without being married to your partner. By the age of 44 that percentage rises to 95 percent. These figures, from a recent study published in Public Health Reports, make clear that engaging in sex before marriage is the cultural norm in the United States and has been for decades.
Yet our government is downright obsessed with abstinence until marriage. In fact, since 1996, the federal government has poured more than a billion dollars into programs that are required to promote abstinence until marriage, and forbidden from teaching about contraception, unless it is to emphasize failure rates.
Of course, the million-dollar question (or should I say, billion-dollar question) is: Do these programs work? The answer: No. Research shows that while some abstinence-only-until-marriage programs may delay sex for a bit, most teens who participate go on to have sex before marriage and when they do start having sex are less likely to use condoms and get tested for STDs.
In contrast, evidence shows that programs that promote abstinence and provide teens with information on how contraception protects against unintended pregnancy and STDs actually result in teens delaying sex and increased contraceptive use. Yet there is no federal funding for such reality- and truth-based programs.
Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are clearly not about science, nor are they about promoting public health. Rather they are about pushing a particular agenda.