Oklahoma Congressman Promotes Abstinence Over 'Safe Sex'

By Matt Pyeatt | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Rep. Ernest J. Istook (R-Okla.) plans to introduce an amendment that would help President Bush fulfill a campaign pledge and increase the amount of federal money that goes into abstinence education. Istook wants the same amount
spent on abstinence that is currently spent on so-called "safe sex" education.

Critics, however, believe Istook's amendment would simply undermine efforts to promote contraception.

Advocates for Youth, an organization that says its goal is to help young people make responsible decisions about reproductive and sexual health, calls abstinence programs "unproven." James Wagoner, the group's president, believes abstinence programs deny young people "critical information about contraception and prevention in the era of AIDS."

According to Advocates for Youth, abstinence programs "have not been proven to have any effect on the rates of teenage pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease[s]."

Istook claims that just the opposite takes place when abstinence is taught to youth. "Since we began promoting abstinence as part of welfare reform, teen pregnancies have finally started to drop," he said. "Years of free condoms and safe sex programs only brought us more teen pregnancies. Telling teens not to have sex until they're married is the most effective message, because it's a clear message and it's the right message.

"We've had too many government programs that are values-free, which means they undercut what we teach our kids. It's all too rare that a program supports what parents say to their kids, and it's time to give more support to our families' values," Istook said.

In a letter to his colleagues in the House of Representatives, Istook cited President Bush's pledge to "raise the level of abstinence education funding to equal the amount spent on sex education," and stated that abstinence is the "only sure way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, out-of-wedlock births, and the cycle of poverty that has trapped so many unfortunates in our society in recent decades."

Istook went on to say in the letter that "three million teenagers a year are catching sexually transmitted diseases," and that in Virginia, two effective abstinence programs have reduced sexual activity 65 percent among a control group of students over a one-year period.

Wagoner believes Istook's priorities are misplaced. "It is unacceptable that politicians are still putting their ideology before the health and well-being of our nation's young people. Instead, Congress must act as the research directs, and they must do it now. Every day that Congress delays costs our young people dearly," he said.

Istook's amendment "would increase funding for abstinence education from $40 million to $73 million in an effort to help move toward parity between [sex education and abstinence]," said Micah Swafford, press secretary for Istook.

Swafford said much of the appropriated money in the past has been misspent. For example, she said some money was used to fund midnight basketball programs in certain areas.

Swafford said when teachers combine the education of abstinence with the promotion of safe sex, they undermine the very idea of abstinence. Swafford said you can't tell children not to have sex and then show them how to do it safely.

"For years, Congress spent our tax dollars to provide contraceptives to kids, but not to tell them to wait until marriage. That attitude undercuts what we teach our kids; it has lowered our standards and our values. Teens don't respond to mixed messages; we need a clear message that abstinence is the only sure way to prevent teen pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases," Istook said.