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Two ways to promote sexuality education. (From the President).

This year we came to a milestone that many of us have been waiting for (albeit with apprehension) for over five years. The Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding that was quietly slipped into the 1996 Welfare Reform law was finally up for reauthorization.

At the time this law was passed, I was working with states and communities to implement teen pregnancy prevention programs, and I worried about how this new stream of money would influence the choices state and community-based organizations made. I must admit that I wondered how advocates for comprehensive sexuality education would fare in these more challenging times.

Looking back, I begin to truly admire how far we have come. In the last year alone, advocates for comprehensive sexuality education have helped to introduce new proactive legislation in the U.S. Congress; defeat attempts to increase federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs; and spark debates about the federal government's abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

I attribute much of this recent success to two important lessons learned: (1) to loudly state what we are for, and (2) to take a multi-prong approach and advocate in many venues.

TWO LESSONS

When the funding was first announced, we rushed to tell educators and policymakers what was wrong with abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and to urge states and communities not to accept them. While these efforts were important, we learned that being against abstinence-only-until-marriage programs was not enough to build the support we needed in Congress. We needed to get past what we didn't want and help policymakers understand what we did want.

Having learned this important lesson, SIECUS and many of our colleague organizations worked to create model legislative language for the Family Life Education Act (FLEA), which was introduced into the House of Representatives last December. It provides funding over five years for states to conduct programs that include "education on both abstinence and contraception for the prevention of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS." FLEA has already provided a rallying point for advocates and is at least partially responsible for our successes during the reauthorization process.

The second lesson that we as advocates for comprehensive sexuality education have learned during the past five years involves a multi-prong approach. While the federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage education has in large part set the stage for sexuality education across the country, decisions about sexuality education continue to be made at many levels.

Advocates for comprehensive sexuality education have therefore worked to expand their state and local efforts.

EDUCATION EFFORTS

I believe that these two important lessons learned from our advocacy work can be replicated when it comes to education. We need to loudly state what we are for, and we need to take a multi-prong approach that utilizes many venues.

A number of years ago, SIECUS published Facing Facts, in which we acknowledged that sexuality education is often reduced to disaster prevention. After all, sexuality education is least controversial when it is billed as efforts to prevent unintended pregnancy, HIV, and STDs among teens. In the political climate of recent years, this has been the safest way to build support for our programs.

However, educators are all too aware that getting a young person out of their teen years free of pregnancy and disease is not enough. And while it may seem like this is all we can hope for today, I would argue that now is the time to speak loudly about what we do want for our young people.

When I think of what I want, several concepts always come to mind. I want to see youth who are able to communicate about sexuality-related issues, negotiate relationships, define their own values about sexuality, avoid coercive and violent relationships when possible, have positive feelings of self image, and enjoy sexuality as a positive and healthy part of life.

Once we decide on the outcomes we want, we must work on the same multi-prong approach that was so successful in our advocacy work. Schools remain one of the most important places where we can reach our young people. However, we must continue to look for other venues as well. In recent years, SIECUS has increased its focus on faith-based organizations, youth development programs, youth-serving organizations, and, of course, families.

Reauthorization of Title V is just a step away from securing funding for five more years. Yet I feel hopeful about what advocates can do to advance comprehensive sexuality education by 2007.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., Inc.
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Article Details
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Author:Kreinin, Tamara
Publication:SIECUS Report
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2002
Words:737
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