The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
The past few weeks have brought mixed news in the realm of sexuality education. At the end of June, we wrote about a House sub-committee vote to eliminate programs proven to reduce teen and unplanned pregnancy, reduce abortion and save tax dollars in Fiscal Year 2016.
Since then, a Senate sub-committee voted to advance similar cuts, proposing a budget that would significantly cut funding for the evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) and for Title X family planning centers, while increasing funding for abstinence-only until marriage programs by 300 percent. By gutting funding to family planning services for low-income individuals and undermining evidence-based programs like TPPP, these appropriations bills would leave millions of Americans without information and services to keep themselves safe and healthy.
The abstinence-only until marriage “sex ed” curricula for which the budged proposals increase funding leave teens without the necessary tools to keep themselves safe and healthy. Studies show that abstinence-only until marriage programs do not prevent teenagers from having sex—instead, they prevent them from having safe sex. Our nation’s young people must have access to scientifically-based, medically-accurate information in order to make informed choices about their health.
Comprehensive sexuality education, by contrast, equips people with the information they need to avoid unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other health problems, and it also provides models for healthy adult relationships. It relies on accurate scientific knowledge and research to provide students with the truth about the potential risks of sexual activity, all while teaching tools to reduce these risks and to promote safe, healthy behavior.
In the midst of these damaging cuts, there is some good news on the sex ed front: key provisions of the Teach Safe Relationships Act (S. 355) were included in the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (S. 1177), the bipartisan education bill that reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Senators Kaine (D-VA) and McCaskill (D-MO) introduced the Teach Safe Relationships Act back in February to integrate a safe relationships component to all sexuality education curricula. The Every Child Achieves Act incorporates key provisions of the Teach Safe Relationships Act by requiring all schools that apply for Title IV funding to describe how they are educating students about safe relationship behavior. The bill also enables school districts to use their Title IV funding to improve their “safe relationship behavior” education, as well as defines safe relationship behavior as developing effective communication skills and recognizing and preventing coercion, violence, or abuse, including teen and dating violence, stalking, domestic abuse and sexual violence and harassment.
According to the Justice Department, more than 290,000 Americans are victims of rape and sexual assault each year, with young women between the ages of 16-24 consistently experiencing the highest rate of intimate partner violence. We know that one of the best ways to prevent sexual violence among adults is to educate them about healthy relationships as young people; by teaching safe and healthy behaviors early, we can shape how young people approach relationships throughout their lives.
The guiding principle of sexuality in the Jewish tradition is K’doshim tih’yu, “You shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Providing young adults with accurate and comprehensive information allows them to make informed decisions about their health and helps them maintain respect for themselves and their bodies.
The appropriations bill is scheduled move forward to the full House Appropriations Committee next week. Contact your Representative today to urge him or her to protect robust funding for TPPP, comprehensive sex education and family planning services!