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The New Spending Agreement Revives Abstinence Education

The last budget request asked for no funds for abstinence education, but now it’s to get $15 million.
(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Congressional leaders in Washington reached an agreement last night that extends the government budget through the end of September, putting to bed any anxiety of a looming government shutdown. Included in the bipartisan spending bill is one small but symbolically important provision: The new budget offers$15 million for abstinence education, now rebranded as “sexual risk avoidance programs for teens.”

Compared to the size of other health and education budgets, $15 million is not a lot of money. And it’s still a fraction of what abstinence-only education received in funding under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush: Between 1998 and 2007, the federal government supported abstinence education to the tune of $50 million a year. But the $15 million is still a turnaround from the policies of the previous administration, which had cut abstinence-education requirements for its overseas anti-HIV aid and had requested no money for domestic abstinence programs in the 2017 fiscal year (though the programs did receive $10 million in the 2016 fiscal year).

Recent research has shown abstinence education to be ineffectual. Several state-sponsored analyses of their own abstinence programs found them to be ineffective. In 1998, federal agencies asked a centrist think tank to study the problem, as required by Congress. Nine years later, Mathematica Policy Research finally published its results. Out of more than 2,000 American teenagers in rural and urban schools, kids who underwent abstinence programs were no more likely to report being abstinent than those who hadn’t. Participants were also no more or less likely to report using condoms when they had sex, and reported the same average number of sexual partners.

Following the publication of Mathematica’s study, several states turned down Title V federal funding for abstinence education, which would require states to match any money provided by the federal government. “We’ve spent millions of dollars on such education since Ohio first started getting grant money in 1998,” the Ohio governor’s office told the Los Angeles Times in April of 2007. “If the state is going to spend money on teaching and protecting kids, the governor believes it’s better to spend it in a smarter, more comprehensive approach.” It remains to be seen which states will accept this latest funding.