145 Advocacy Groups Send Letter to HHS Secretary Criticizing Government Sex Ed Web Site as Biased, Inaccurate
Nearly 150 advocacy groups on Thursday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt criticizing a government Web site designed to help parents discuss sexual abstinence with their teenage children, saying that the site provides biased and inaccurate information to parents and does not emphasize the need for contraception if a teenager becomes sexually active, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Freking, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/1). The Web site -- 4parents.gov -- is one of several new communication tools developed by HHS' Office of Population Affairs and Administration for Children & Families to help parents talk to their teenage children about sexual abstinence. The site includes information on various health topics, statistics, conversation starters and interactive tools (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/29). The site instructs parents to tell their teenage children to abstain from sex and "paints a bleak picture" of teenagers who become pregnant, according to the AP/Arizona Daily Star. The site says, "Tell them abstinence is the healthiest choice," adding, "They will not have to worry about getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant. They will not have to worry about sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Nor will they have to worry that the person they are dating is only interested in them because of sex" (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 4/1). The site also says that condoms are "imperfect" and can break or be used incorrectly, according to the AP/Sun. The site includes a chart that shows whether condoms provide "a little, some or a lot" of protection against STDs, according to the AP/Sun.
The 145 advocacy groups that signed the letter -- including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States -- called on the government to take the site off the Internet, saying that although its emphasis on abstinence is "fine," information on contraception also should be included, according to the AP/Sun. "There's this misconception that giving young people negative information about contraception will encourage them not to have sexual intercourse, when all it will do is encourage them not to have contraception, so the strategy backfires," Monica Rodriguez, vice president of education and training at SIECUS, said. HRC submitted a separate letter to HHS criticizing the site for its information on homosexuality. The site says, "If you believe your adolescent may be gay or is experiencing difficulties with gender identity or sexual orientation issues, consider seeing a family therapist who shares your values to clarify and work through these issues." HRC President Joe Solmonese said that the site's characterization of sexual orientation as an "alternative lifestyle" is outdated and inaccurate, according to the AP/Sun. "By terming sexual orientation a 'lifestyle,' HHS is discussing it as a matter of choice, which is contrary to the vast majority of scientific evidence," Solmonese said, adding, "Sexual orientation is not a lifestyle" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/1).
Leavitt defended the site, saying that it was designed to help parents who are "embarrassed" about talking to their teenage children about sex, according to USA Today (USA Today, 4/1). "Parents have a tremendous amount of influence on their children, and we want them to talk with their teens about abstinence so that they can stay safe and healthy," Leavitt said (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/1). HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce said he was "not surprised" by criticism from the groups, according to the AP/Daily Star. "They've always opposed us on the issue of abstinence," Pierce said, adding, "That's fine. One thing we do know about abstinence is that if you practice it, you will not have an unintended pregnancy or risk catching a sexually transmitted disease" (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 4/1). Patrick Fagan, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said that the site's information on condoms appeared to be accurate, adding, "This is standard, straightforward research on the effectiveness of condoms" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/1).