Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

login / register  arrows

The Answer Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Prevention First Act’

Family Life Educator-in-Chief

February 6, 2009

President Barack Obama is our Commander-in-Chief, and First Lady Michelle Obama refers to herself as Mom-in-Chief. Awhile back, former President Bill Clinton earned the title Sex Educator-in-Chief, but he earned it for all the wrong reasons—namely, his indiscreet, lewd and disrespectful conduct with a much-younger intern. I would only bestow that title on someone again if that person attains the highest standards associated with sexuality education. But I will, however, declare President Obama our Family Life Educator-in-Chief.

Why? Because when you look at Obama’s persona, conduct and ideas over the two-year presidential campaign and first 100 hours in office, it is clear that he is a model partner and family supporter who espouses the values of responsibility and caring. Just consider the following:

  • Obama adores his wife. When the President and First Lady danced together to the romantic ballad “At Last” during the inaugural ball, no one in the world could have doubted the depth of their love and attraction for each other—and after 16 years of marriage. They radiate real, not manufactured, intimacy.
  • He is committed to the institution of marriage. At first, President Obama dragged his feet about asking Michelle to marry him. (She was the one that kept pushing him, telling him that “marriage is everything.”) But then he bought the ring and showed it to every member of her family before offering it to her on a dessert plate at a fancy restaurant where he finally proposed. Their commitment to their marriage is a shining example for young people about the importance of partnership. (Note: President Obama has not yet supported same-sex marriage, but he strongly endorses civil unions, where partners have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. This is an important step forward.)
  • He adores his two young daughters. President Obama glows in his daughters’ presence and always refers to them by name in his speeches. I read that after his eldest was born, he worked “the night shift,” because he was only teaching at the time, his schedule was more flexible than his wife’s and she needed more sleep. (You can see his affinity for small children and theirs for him in these photographs from the campaign.)
  • He shows respect and kindness toward family members, scattered as they are from Hawaii to Indonesia to Kenya. Obama’s willingness to invite his mother-in-law to live in the White House also testifies to his understanding of the multi-generations that make up the American family.
  • He calls on young men to take responsibility. Just recall these comments from his speech on Father’s Day last June: “We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. … Too many fathers are M.I.A., too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men.” (Check out the full speech here.)

It’s clear that people have great respect for the Obama’s family life, as this cartoon demonstrates.

Beyond the basics about family life, President Obama is working toward another title: Sex Educator-in-Chief. With the stroke of a pen on his third day in office, he lifted the noxious global gag rule, which has prevented international family planning agencies from mentioning the option of abortion to pregnant women, even if the procedure is legal in their own country.

While saying that abstinence is the ideal, he has also acknowledged the need for young people to have comprehensive information about contraception, because human fallibility and sexual desire can cloud even the clearest minds. (Just check out his official statement on the Prevention First Act.)

If Obama keeps moving in this direction, he may (unlike Bill Clinton) become the true version of a Sex Educator-in-Chief—one that meets our country’s need for sexuality education policies that are based on common sense, intelligence, responsibility and understanding.

In or Out of Limbo?

January 28, 2009

The AP headline “Future of Abstinence-Only Funding Is in Limbo” gives sexuality educators hope that the winds of change presently sweeping the land will finally end our government’s funding of abstinence-only programs, which have cost us $176 million each year and $1.5 billion over the past decade.

Many hope that new policies and funding for comprehensive sexuality education will replace abstinence-only funding and policies. Comprehensive sex ed balances instruction about the merits of delaying sexual activity with medically accurate instruction about the benefits of using contraceptives.

Our hopefulness comes because President Obama is considered an advocate for comprehensive sex education. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told the AP: “[Obama] totally understands the need for young people to have comprehensive sex education—they need information that protects their health. … I hope that will be the position of the administration, but when Congress gets involved, sometimes things get more complicated.”

An Obama spokesman refused to confirm or deny what the President would propose in his budget—keeping the funding issue still firmly in limbo and advocates on both sides of the issue on a tether.

Congress has gotten involved in a way that should warm the hearts of comprehensive sexuality education advocates. On the first day of Senate business, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced the Prevention First Act. This legislation would increase access to both contraception and comprehensive sexuality education and support programs designed to reduce unintended pregnancies. Congresswomen Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Diane DeGette (D-CO) introduced the same legislation in the House of Representatives.

Slaughter, who strongly opposes any continued funding for abstinence-only programs, introduced the legislation by saying: “We can’t have both [comprehensive and abstinence-only programs], because abstinence-only doesn’t work. We believe the amount of money that goes into [abstinence-only] would be so much better used on things to prevent unwanted pregnancies.”

Slaughter is sanguine that when the Prevention First Act comes to a vote there will be enough support in the new Congress to pass it.

In his important work Emerging Answers 2007: Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Douglas Kirby, Ph.D., reviewed 115 programs and found “strong evidence” for the effectiveness of comprehensive sexuality education programs and “limited evidence” of the effectiveness of abstinence-until-marriage curricula.

But before we start celebrating, Sarah Brown, the executive officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, offers a cautionary note.  She recommends that “science-driven” be applied to sexuality education programs, saying that this approach favors comprehensive sex education over abstinence-only, but that, in due course, researchers might find that some abstinence-only programs are effective. (This list of “science-driven” or “evidence-driven” programs is not long and can be found here.)

More and better research about comprehensive sexuality education can only continue to move it out of limbo and into the educational sunlight where we believe it belongs.