Hawaii sticks with celibacy curriculum


POSTED: Monday, November 10, 2008

Hawaii still is participating in federally funded abstinence education while about half of the states have walked away from the program.

Critics say “;no-sex”; programs for teens are unrealistic and lead to unwanted pregnancies.

“;We're among those still taking the money, which means we cannot tell (youths) about birth control, abortion and venereal disease,”; University of Hawaii professor Milton Diamond said in an interview. “;Isn't that crazy?”;

Hawaii's Department of Health has received five-year federal abstinence education grants for nine years and is applying for a new one, said Marlene Lee, supervisor of the Children and Youth Wellness Section, Maternal and Child Health Branch.

The DOH allocates the funds, about $162,787 per year, to the Boys & Girls Clubs statewide for an after-school SMART Moves Curriculum, she said.

  Catholic Charities provides abstinence education in public and private schools and youth groups under a community-based federal grant totaling $600,000 per year.

The Bush administration has pushed “;abstinence-only”; programs that exclude information on how teenagers can protect themselves from pregnancy or disease if they are sexually active. About $50 million was budgeted for this year.

Supporters say it's the best way to prevent casual sex and sexually transmitted diseases. Opponents feel it's too restrictive and doesn't protect teens who don't stop having sex.

A federally funded study of four programs last year found abstinence education doesn't reduce teenage sexual activity. But Stan Weed, a researcher on teen pregnancy prevention and abstinence at the Institute for Research and Evaluation, presented research to Congress in April indicating “;risk avoidance can be a viable strategy for protecting youth from all the negative consequences of teen sexual activity.”;

In a recent paper on the “;potential developmental effects”; of abstinence-only education, Diamond and University of Hawaii professor Hazel Beh wrote, “;The debate regarding what to teach minors about sex is a political battle over defining American values,”; adding, “;While the nation engages in this debate ... America's youth are paying the price.”;

  According to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported by the Centers for Disease Control, 36.2 percent of Hawaii high school students have had sexual intercourse and 23.6 percent were sexually active. Of those sexually active, 45.8 percent did not use a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse.

In 2005, according to a study, the teen birth rate among Hawaii females age 15 to 19 was 36.2 per 1,000, the 22nd highest rate among states. Those numbers were reported by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

“;It's just not fair to play Russian roulette with the lives of young adults, particularly young women,”; said Beh.

Beh, a law professor, and Diamond, a professor of anatomy, biochemistry and physiology, detailed their objections in a paper, “;The Failure of Abstinence-only Education: Minors Have a Right to Honest Talk about Sex.”;

Programs are needed that teach teenagers the consequences of pregnancy and sex and mitigate health risks, Beh said. The average age of puberty is 12 to 13 but is as young as 9 for some girls, she said.

Lee, of the Health Department, said abstinence education is only part of the Boys and Girls Clubs program.

“;It is a comprehensive approach to really healthy relationships and decision-making and the abstinence portion is included,”; Lee said. “;It is a population that benefits. We have an evaluator and the results are positive. I don't think we would continue it if we thought it wasn't.”;