There is a health care crisis in this country: A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study reports at least one in four teenage girls — ages 14 to 19 — has a sexually transmitted infection; The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that the US has the highest rates of teen pregnancy among comparable countries, and an estimated 750,00 teenagers will become pregnant this year.
In recognition of this crisis, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) recently introduced the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act, a bill that designates federal funds for age-appropriate and medically accurate information to help young people make informed decisions about their relationships and sexual behavior.
The REAL Act will create a grant program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services that would fund comprehensive sex education programs in schools nationwide. Currently, no federal program is dedicated to supporting comprehensive sex education, while failed abstinence-only programs under the Bush administration received $1.5 billion in federal funding.
This despite the fact that abundant research has shown that comprehensive sex education helps reduce risk behaviors by delaying the onset of sexual intercourse, reducing the number of sexual partners and increasing condom or contraceptive use among teens.
A study conducted by the University of Washington found that teens who had comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to become pregnant than teens who had no sex education or who were in abstinence-only programs.
The REAL Act is a necessary antidote to counterproductive abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that spread misinformation, marginalize gay and lesbian youth and reinforce gender stereotypes. Young people need real help – not worn out ideological or political agendas – to make decisions that will prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.
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