Teach contraception

Parents concerned about children getting sunburn will likely urge them to stay in the shade, but will also slather on sunblock. They hope their children will heed their advice and stay out of the sun, guaranteeing safety, but because they love their children they will ensure they are protected regardless of their choices.

One would hope the government would also simultaneously warn and protect its youth, but President George W. Bush is pushing for nearly the opposite: a 33 percent, $33 million budget increase for abstinence programs that bar discussion of birth control or condoms. This request fulfills Bush’s campaign promise to devote equal amounts of government money to abstinence and contraceptive education.

Conservatives, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson support these programs despite the high number of already sexually active teens for whom this program will do nothing. Even the surgeon general reports there is no evidence that “abstinence-only” programs work. However, proponents of the plan believe contraceptive education second-handedly condones sexual activity. These people need to realize teens today are not naïve and innocent. They are aware that sex is an option, and contraceptive education will not serve as a catalyst to sexual activity; rather it will encourage them, whatever their choice, to be safe and will teach them how to do so.

Taxpayers’ money better serves American youth in “abstinence-plus” programs, which advocate the benefits of abstinence but recognize not all youth will abstain, and encourages contraceptives for those who do not. Previously funds were spent on advertising campaigns and after-school programs that barely discussed sex because states were uncomfortable with “abstinence-only” programs. Now the administration wants tougher programs that overtly push virginity.

The futility of this concept should be glaring. No one, chiefly the young, will be spoon-fed wisdom from others, particularly in a media-driven society saturated with sex. Ironically, the same program that funds “abstinence-only” education also funds the care of teen mothers. Now in addition to caring for the child, the mother, having chosen to be sexually active, must be educated on contraceptives to avoid burdening the state’s resources with more children. Clearly the mother would have been better served if she knew about contraceptives before. Rationally and realistically the problem is better addressed with a combination of abstinence and contraceptive education.

If our country has learned anything from decades spent educating youth about sex, it should be that people make independent decisions despite warnings. Our government’s responsibility in this area lies in funding programs that will benefit, to the highest degree, the largest amount of people. In this case that means ensuring all teens know how to protect themselves. Abstinence is noble, but with limited funding and 900,000 teen pregnancies annually, we must devote money to what is most pragmatic.