Several years ago, David Wiley, a professor of health education at Texas State University, was discussing human papillomavirus in one of his classes. The virus, known as HPV, is the most common sexually-transmitted disease. Often it is harmless and infected individuals aren’t even aware they have it. But it can also cause cancer, including of the cervix.
Wiley was discussing all of this with his students — the different types of HPV, the connection between HPV and cervical cancer, and its prevalence; “you know, just an intro, lower-level course,” he recently recalled — when a male student raised his hand with an earnest question: What was his risk of contracting cervical cancer?
“And I don’t know what’s sadder,” Wiley told The Intercept, “that he asked that question or that really nobody in the classroom even laughed because they didn’t know either.”
The federal government began funding so-called Abstinence-Only Until Marriage programs in 1981 as a way to encourage “chastity” and “self-discipline.” Since then, the feds have poured more than $2 billion into this strategy — commonly known as “ab-only” — without any proven positive effects, like delaying sexual activity or avoiding unintended pregnancy. In recent years, that funding had been in decline, in part because research — and practical experiences like Wiley’s — shows that the programs do not work. But in an ironic twist, they’re now making a comeback. Trump, an alleged serial adulterer who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and has been accused of such behavior close to two dozen times, has asked that abstinence funding be increased. And in the budget deal he signed last month, he got his wish, enough to bring total spending on abstinence up to $100 million for 2018.
Under Obama, funding for ab-only programs decreased as new emphasis was placed on using science to develop evidence-based sexuality and reproductive education strategies. But the Trump administration is trying to reverse course. Along with the return to Bush-era funding levels to push the ab-only message, Trump has appointed anti-abortion, anti-birth control, and pro-ab-only advocates to positions within the Department of Health and Human Services and has yanked funding for a successful evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention strategy.
Among the biggest proponents of ab-only programs — and their rebranding — is Valerie Huber, a Trump appointee to HHS. Huber started her career promoting ab-only programs in her son’s school before moving on to manage the ab-only program at the Ohio Department of Health. She became the president of the National Abstinence Education Association in 2007. (The advocacy organization has also rebranded itself. It’s now known as Ascend.) Huber acknowledges that the term “sexual-risk avoidance” was taken from public health, but insists it was appropriately chosen. “I bristle at the terminology ‘abstinence only,’ because our programs are so holistic,” she told Focus on the Family’s magazine “Citizen,” and address “a whole battery of different topics that surround a young person’s decision whether to have sex or not.”
This is, of course, exceedingly bad news. If you’re a parent who prefers their child to be prepared and safe, best to tackle comprehensive sex-ed at home, or an outside of school class. This will affect some states much more than others, so it’s important to find out just what the sex-ed in your child’s school is like. Ab-only also cuts out all queer students, and teaches girls that being assaulted or raped is their fault, emphasising dress and behaviour.
The Intercept has an in-depth article about this mess, recommended reading. As the Tiny Tyrant has a vested interest in giving the lunatic evangelicals whatever they want, and they want a whole lot, you might want to have a click over to Religious Dispatches to read about Project Blitz. That’s enough to scare anyone silly.