ABSTAINING FROM ABSTINENCE-ONLY.

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, chaired by Henry Waxman held an oversight hearing on the effectiveness of abstinence-only education programs. Shelby Knox, the young woman who was featured in the documentary The Education of Shelby Knox about growing up a conservative Southern Baptist in Texas before becoming an advocate for comprehensive sex education, was on hand to testify about the ineffectiveness of the programs. She blogged about her testimony afterwards:

What did the secularized abstinence-only program for students in my school district look like? Well, it was taught by the same pastor who officiated at my religious purity pledge ceremony. Many of the students were already having sex and needed information to protect their health. But our teacher only mentioned condoms to talk lengthily, and inaccurately, about their alleged "ineffectiveness," explaining in graphic detail, and with even more graphic pictures, the sexually transmitted diseases students could get if we trusted our health to a "flimsy piece of latex."

It was only later in my life that I learned that latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing pregnancy, HIV transmission, and several STDs. In fact, research by Dr. John Sanitelli, who also testified before the panel yesterday, and has a great blog up, suggests that 86 percent of the decline in teen pregnancy rates among 15-19 year olds between 1995 and 2002 was the result of improved contraceptive use. But back in my high school class, where we were all too intimidated or embarrassed to ask for clarification, it seemed as if sex with a condom was equivalent to sex without one.

This is no big surprise to people who care about reproductive rights. But here's the shocker: this was their first hearing of its kind abstinence-only education. Ever. After more than 12 years and $1.3 billion in funding.The Washington Independent has more on the hearing. Let's hope some honest conversation about it means it will soon be on the way out.

--Kate Sheppard

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