Ten years ago, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my Canadian homeland and moved to New York City. It was the end of the Clinton era and, like many people around the country, I was more caught up in the President’s affair with an intern named Monica Lewinsky than I was in his recent signing of the Welfare Reforms Act and how it would affect sex education.
I soon learned that, in addition to cutting thousands of people off of public assistance, the Welfare Reforms Act also set aside money for something no one had heard of at the time: abstinence-only education.
When Bush was in office a few years later, we began hearing a lot more about this form of "sex ed." Soon it became clear that Clinton had laid the groundwork for some pretty scary stuff.
Throughout his almost eight years in office, Bush funneled over a billion dollars into abstinence-only education. As a lot of you may know firsthand from school, this consists of government funded programs designed to teach teens that the only acceptable form of sex is that which happens between a married man and woman. Keeping in line with this philosophy, programs are barred from discussing things like condoms, birth control and sexual orientation.
Initially, these program got a lot of support. In fact, in 1998–the first year funding was offered–California was the only state to decline the money. What a contrast to today, when almost half of the states have rejected it!
A big reason for the massive change of heart is that it has become increasingly obvious that the sex ed policies of our past two presidents have left teens in a bad place. How bad is it? Here are some pretty bleak facts to consider:
- After a 15 year decline, teen pregnancy rose for the first time in 2006.
- Young people between the ages of 13 and 24 are now the fastest growing group to contract HIV.
- Last year, the CDC reported that one in four teenage girls have an STD.
Luckily, our next president, Barack Obama, has promised to right some of these wrongs! He has pledged support for age-appropriate comprehensive sex education and vows to increase federal funding for science-based HIV prevention programs. Additionally, Obama took on teen pregnancy by introducing the Communities of Color Teen Pregnancy Prevention Act of 2007, which was designed to help prevent teen pregnancies in minority communities. He also plans to improve access to health insurance with a focus on increasing coverage for children and teens.
These are all real ways to improve teens’ reproductive health and are long overdue in the oval office. Here’s to hoping that teens have finally found a president who is looking out for them, and not just one who is parroting the party line when he claims to care about not leaving children behind.