Dale Brumfield criticizes U.S. Rep. John Dingell for reporting that the Democrats will not renew funding for nationwide abstinence-only sex education (“Rubber Stamp,” Back Page, June 16). His critique is based on a study published in the American Medical Association's Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. To the extent that this one article, based on self-reporting by a group of 662 sixth and seventh graders, with a mean age of 12.2 when entering the program, represents the seminal research on the effect of abstinence-only education, Brumfield is correct — for the 66.5 percent who reported they abstained from sexual activity. His conclusions do not apply to the 33.5 percent who reported they did not abstain. In the control group, 51.5 percent of participants reported abstaining while 48.5 percent reported they did not abstain. Furthermore, this study is limited to two years of follow-up, which means the mean age of participants at the end of the study was 14.2.
What bothers me about Brumfield's argument is the selective use of research to justify a simple solution to a multifaceted and complex issue. I don't question the value of abstinence-only education, but I don't think it is the only resource we can provide in our effort to minimize the incidence of sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy among those who are not prepared to take on the responsibilities of parenthood. One size does not fit all.
My criticism of federal support for abstinence-only programs, while excluding support for other approaches, is that we are not providing resources to those committed to promoting responsible sexual behavior through a broader array of services and resources that have demonstrated a positive impact. No one type of intervention, alone, will provide the overall result we desire. But if we deploy a range of resources, through a broad array of organizations, we can come closer to achieving our goal. Federal funding should support that approach.