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Feds Want You Sexually Frustrated

Washington- The federal government’s “no sex without marriage” message isn’t just for kids anymore.

Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007.

The government says the change is a clarification. But critics say it’s a clear signal of a more directed policy targeting the sexual behavior of adults.

“They’ve stepped over the line of common sense,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that supports sex education. “To be preaching abstinence when 90% of people are having sex is in essence to lose touch with reality. It’s an ideological campaign. It has nothing to do with public health.”

Abstinence education programs, which have focused on preteens and teens, teach that abstaining from sex is the only effective or acceptable method to prevent pregnancy or disease. They give no instruction on birth control or safe sex.

The National Center for Health Statistics says well over 90% of adults ages 20-29 have had sexual intercourse.

But Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the revision is aimed at 19- to 29-year-olds because more unmarried women in that age group are having children.

Government data released last month show that 998,262 births in 2004 were to unmarried women 19-29, the ages with the most births to unmarried women.

“The message is ‘It’s better to wait until you’re married to bear or father children,’ ” Horn said. “The only 100% effective way of getting there is abstinence.”

The revised guidelines specify that states seeking grants are “to identify groups … most likely to bear children out-of-wedlock, targeting adolescents and/or adults within the 12- through 29-year-old age range.” Previous guidelines didn’t mention targeting of an age group.

“We wanted to remind states they could use these funds not only to target adolescents,” Horn said. “It’s a reminder.”

Last year, 46 states applied for the federal abstinence-education money, to fund programs in schools, neighborhood clubs and faith-based organizations.

Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, says abstinence programs are among many messages that have helped reduce teen pregnancy rates. But “the notion that the federal government is supporting millions of dollars worth of messages to people who are grown adults about how to conduct their sex life is a very divisive policy,” she says.

“We would oppose any program that stigmatizes unmarried people,” adds Nicky Grist, executive director of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, a non-profit organization based in Brooklyn, N.Y., that advocates for the rights of unmarried people.

For last year’s state grants, Congress appropriated $50 million. A similar amount is expected for 2007, but the money has not yet been allocated, according to the Administration for Children and Families.

“I think the program should talk about the problem with out-of- wedlock childbearing – not about your sex life,” Brown says. “If you use contraception effectively and consistently, you will not be in the pool of out-of-wedlock births.”

 

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