Abstinence Education Grants and Welfare Reform
Remarks of Sarah S. Brown
Thank you for including me in todays event and hello
to all of you in other parts of the country.
My task in the next few minutes is to talk about ideas
for using the abstinence funding through the MCH black grant. I do indeed
have a few ideas, but before outlining them, I wanted to offer a few minutes
of, as they say, the big picture.
People often ask us at the National Campaign to Prevent
Teen Pregnancy (the Campaign) where we are on the abstinence issue do
we think this is a major path to preventing teen pregnancy? How do we view
it in relationship to contraceptive services and education? Which is more
important? How do we resolve this conflict? Or is this conflict driving
In fact, we spend a lot of time talking about abstinence
and our interests seem widely shared. First, we wanted to know where the
U.S. population stands on this issue. (See attatched polling question #3
95% polled teens and adults felt it either very important or somewhat
important for teens to be given a strong message from society that they
should abstain from sex until they are at least out of high school). So,
then, there is lots of support for this message. What then does the Campaign
say about abstinence education?
Let me begin with several background, contextual observations:
1) NSFG and NSAM data released in early May suggest
it is possible to decrease teen sexual activity it is not a quixotic
2) We know that many teenage girls report that they
are not too happy about their sexual activity and often ask, in fact, how
to say no without hurting their boyfriends feelings; remember three in
four sexually active teens queried on a Ms. Foundation poll suggested that
the main reason they were having sex was because their boyfriends wanted
3) We also know that a later onset on sexual activity
is associated with fewer sexual partners (which has major implications
for overall STDs and for risk of infertility, among other things), an increased
chance of good contraceptive use and therefore a lessened chance of teen
pregnancy. For all these reasons and more, I think we should view the chance
to invest in, as they say, postponing sexual involvement, with great interest.
It is important to add, of course, that not all Americans share the view
that reserving sex only for marriage is either desirable or even attainable,
given what we know about the course of human history, but Ill leave that
for another day and another conference. Instead, Id like to focus on the
widely shared view that teens especially those of school age should
be abstinent. In that context, let me remind you that in a poll the Campaign
and ARHP conducted, we found support for abstinence. INSERT
DATA PAGE (ATTACHED)
4) Prevention starts early. We need to encourage
adults to talk to their children about sex, love, and values early on
waiting until a child is 15 of 16 to tell him or her what we expect and
why is too late. This is not a 45 minute conversation, it is a lifetime
5) Two-thirds of adults say they have talked to
their teen-aged children about these issues. Whatever we think we are saying
is not getting through. We need to try harder.
6) We have a poster in our office that says: "One
of the best ways to keep our daughters from getting pregnant is to talk
to our sons." I think we are gender biased in this area. When we talk about
abstinence, we really mean, in our heart of hearts, abstinent girls. The
current fracas over sex in the military cozies up to the standard and I
think that we should demand that if we are going down this road of abstinence
that we be crystal clear that we mean boys as well as girls. As a matter
of fact, I challenge at leat one member in our audience to apply for these
abstinence funds to do a program focused only on encouraging abstinence
7) We need to see abstinece as a tool that requires
motivation to use just as contraception is. The truth is that at present
in America, we havce a large number of teens who are sexually active but
use contraception episodically at best. That is, they are neither abstinent
nor use contraception. Why is this? Well, the best answer I have come up
with is that kids will do neither will neither be abstinent nor use contraception
scrupulously unless they have a reason to do so. Advocating one or the
other misses the point. Both require motivation, a reason, a context. So,
I suspect that programs offering abstinence as a desired behavior will
have little impact unless they are embedded in something larger something
that has to do with self-worth, future goals, resisting peer pressure,
having tangible goals that are seen as realistic and are perceived to be
more attractive than pregnancy, and that include generous amounts of adult
supervision, investment and limit setting.
NOW THEN: What to do? Here are a few of the ideas
that have occurred to us:
1) Develop programs that help parents talk with their
children about sex, love, and values early and often. This is a big gap
that could be filled by parent groups, development of videos and books,
school programs, church groups, and be distributed through any number of
2) Develop programs that encourage more adult mentoring
of high-risk young people. We know that many teens drift into sexual activities
because no adult is on their case day and night. We need to begin filling
these voids. If we dont, pre-mature sexual activity will begin.
3) Develop a program that offers after-school activities
to kids sports, community service, computers the list is endless. Link
these to a strong program of peer counseling. As one of our posters says:
"It is hard to get pregnant while you are playing basketball."
4) Develop a media advocacy program whereby a state
or community will confront the media about the amount of gratuitous, violent
and casual sex portrayed in the entertainment media 89% of sexual activity
in the media is between unmarried people and usually with no adverse
consequences. We need to do something about that if we really want to change
our moral fabric.
5) Develop a state or local media campaign that
talks about abstinence, but in a way that avoids lecturing. Many groups
are doing this or getting ready to do so (Note our state-based media conference
at the end of June). Be creative how about "Abstinence: its not just
for girls anymore." Or try another approach as in California: Teen pregnancy
is an adult problem. It is adults, after all, who create the environments
in which kids grow, behave and get into different straits.
6) Develop a program that links senior citizens
to latchkey kids an old study that we all love but are not sure is true
says that lots of sexual activity occurs between the hours of 3 and 6 when
the adults are at work. If we cant fund a community program to fill those
hours, then how about getting some grandparents on the scene?
7) Develop a program to hold youth forums in communities
and invite the kids to speak out about abstinence. Why it is and is not
a good approach and what might increase it. I note so often that these
conversations are always among adults. We need the kids to speak. They
are, after all, the target audience.
8) Link the abstinence message to such traditional
maternal and child health activities as home visiting and care management
services, often health department based and Medicaid financed. More generally,
always link, never isolate.
9) Finally, evaluate. My sources tell me that these
monies can be used by states to evaluate the effects of their interventions.
This is essential: we cannot allow it to be the case that after five years
we will know nothing about the effectiveness of these interventions. I
don' mean process data or program tracking. I mean the real thing comparison
groups, followed up over two or three years. Maybe states could pool resources
to do one or two studies of programs in which they have the most confidence.
Our recent review said, remember, that the jury is still out because we
have not yet invested in good science, we dont know enough here. Now some
money is in hand. Some MUST be used to learn the merits of our efforts.
Go To: Abstinence
Summary of Survey about Teen Pregnancy