CDC-Funded Sex Ed Programs Draw Fire

Taxpayer funds are being used for school sexuality education programs that subvert the idea of abstinence for teens and targets children as young as nine years old with lessons on masturbation, condom use and homosexuality, say opponents of the courses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (search) came under heavy fire last year for its "Programs That Work" (search) initiative, which offers a number of lessons targeting different age groups from elementary school through high school.

But Robert Rector, a public health researcher at the Heritage Foundation (search), said he has learned that the lessons continue to be taught in schools around the country despite the fact the Bush administration pulled the plug on the program.

“These programs, I can say with confidence, are still being promoted through the CDC — even though they are trying to hide it,” Rector said.

A CDC spokeswoman denied that the agency has continued officially promoting the controversial programs, but stands behind their efficacy for high-risk youth populations. Kathy Harben also did not deny that the programs might still be employed by public health organizations and schools.

"We are backers of teens being abstinent," Harben said, adding that "Programs That Work" has nonetheless been "proven to be scientifically effective" for certain populations. She also that that the CDC continues to fund other safe-sex programs that might be considered controversial by some.

"Our bottom line is our communities are the best judges about what are the best programs for their schools," she added.

Pro-safe sex organizations say the Bush administration is doing a disservice to schools and students by emphasizing abstinence-only programs over what they call “comprehensive sexuality education.”

“It’s more than just about the plumbing, about how the body functions,” said Adrienne Verrilli, spokeswoman for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (search) (SIECUS), which has so far received over $500,000 from the CDC as part of a five-year cooperative agreement for school health projects.

“We also stress the importance of the relationship, and communicating,” Verrilli said. “It’s not as if we don’t want people to delay sexual activity, that’s what we all can agree on, but we want to talk to kids in a comprehensive way.”

Among the programs that the CDC was "putting to work" before the order to kill them were:

— Becoming a Responsible Teen: Originally designed for teens from 14 to 18, it suggests in a list of recommended activities a trip to the grocery store to examine the different kinds of lubricants for condom use.

— Be Proud! Be Responsible!: Designed for adolescents from 13 to 18, it includes “brainstorming” about different ways to make condoms sexy. It also includes role-playing situations involving “negotiating safe sex” in bisexual and homosexual relationships.

— Focus on Kids: Designed for youths 9 to 15 years of age, provides “condom hunts” at local markets and a condom race to see who can apply the condom fastest.

Rector said all of the programs give the concept of abstaining from sex a nod, but the emphasis on condom use and sex play is over the top.

“It’s not as if every word in them is bad, but they have a considerable amount of material that no sane parent is going to want their kid exposed to,” he said.

SIECUS, comprised of a public health and education network as well as a lobbying arm that works with the leading gay and lesbian organizations, feminists, HIV/AIDS and pro-choice groups, has developed its own “Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education.”

The guidelines, published in 1991, cover 13 very broad subject areas "from communications skills to proper medical information to assisting parents with talking to their kids," Verrilli said.

“They’re not a curriculum, they are really a pick-and-choose for communities,” she said.

Among the choices in the guidelines are recommendations to teach children as early as 5 years old about masturbation and homosexuality. As early as age 12, children might be learning about having fantasies about other kids of their own gender, mutual masturbation to avoid sexually-transmitted diseases, and that legal abortion “is very safe.”

Verrilli said with 20,000 copies in circulation, the guidelines “have become the most widely recognized and implemented framework for comprehensive sexuality education across the country.”

The SIECUS Web site also recommends several other links for teens, including Planned Parenthood’s Teenwire (search), and Columbia University’s Go Ask Alice (search).  All offer graphic descriptions of sex acts, how-tos for so-called safe “sex play” and other hints and suggestions for achieving sexual pleasure.

Opponents of safe-sex education point out that many organizations that provide resources like these get some form of state and federal assistance to pursue their agendas, and say that taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going.

“All these things in schools are funded with government money, it’s their bread and butter,” said Brian Camenker, president of the Parents’ Rights Coalition (search) in Massachusetts, which has gone head-to-head with Planned Parenthood (search) and other groups in front of the state legislature.

“[They] stand to lose money if parents stop these programs. They never want parents to have a choice,” Camenker said.

Groups heralding the candid approach say talking openly with kids who are going to have sex anyway gives adults an opportunity to offer them information and options to avoid STDs, HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. They say critics would rather tell kids not to have sex and leave it at that.

“It’s not the abstinence we object to, it’s the abstinence-only programs we object to because they are dangerous and they do not work,” said Jim Farrell, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood, which says teens armed with information about safer sex methods use them when they become sexually active. “We want to give them the skills and information to delay the activity until they can have a mature experience.”

Camenker, who has two kids in the public school system and has been vilified by gay rights' groups for his activism, said he has heard this justification before, and is sickened by it.

“This is about selling sex to kids, and a lot of people don’t realize it,” he said.