strange bedfellows:
    welfare reform and sex ed

for more info, see the sexuality and information council of the us

by marnee meyer

In August of 1996 President Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Act (Persons Responsibility to Work Act). Included in this act was a provision for \$500 million dollars for abstinence-only sex education. This provision was surreptiously added in the final version of the legislation which is typically reserved for corrections and technical revisions. It was inserted into the act without the benefit of open public or Congressional debate.

Under the guidelines of the provision for abstinence-only education, funded programs used in public schools must teach students that, “sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects, ” and “a monogomous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity” Organizations applying for money cannot include in their education programs any information about contraception, condom use, or any sexuality but heterosexuality This provision for abstinence only education is basically a way fund Far Right ethics and morals in public schools.

Moreover, the abstinence-only education provision in the Welfare Reform Act was upgraded to “entitlement status” which means that Congress automatically funds abstinence-only education programs each year during the appropriations process without debate. The abstinence-only education programs will continue to be funded by the federal government without any type of evaluation to assess its effectiveness. The states or local schools can elect to take the money only if they design programs which meet the abstinence-only education requirements, and they are expected to match the federal funding with state funding.

Since the “teenage pregnancy” scare of the 1970s, the Federal government has only provided funding for abstinence-based sexual education to the states and local school districts. States and schools that want to provide comprehensive sexuality education to student must look elsewhere for funding. Some states have tried to find creative ways to use the abstinence only funding… Unfortunately, many states-especially those in the South and Midwest---have adopted the Federal Government’s funding guidelines and accepted the money. Teens in these school districts get little more than the sex segregated film presentation and 2 hour discussion about-well I only know from the girls only presentation-menstruation and our changing bodies. There is no talk of contraceptive methods and only scientific based discussions of sex.

Now you may ask why would a provision for sex education be included in the Welfare Reform Act? I was very curious myself why sex education would fall under the rubrics of welfare reform legislation. It seems like an unlikely place for public health related funding, doesn’t it? Well, the authors of the legislation admitted that the intent was not to promote adolescent sexual health but to change the social norm of premarital sexual activity by enacting federal law. the explicit goal of the abstinence-only education program is to change both behavior and community standards for the good of the country. It follows that no program that in any way endorses, supports or encourages sex outside marriage can receive support from the abstinence education money” (Haskins & Bevan, 1996).

Right, right, now I get it. Adolescent sexuality leads to those pesky welfare moms that the Far Right is always talking about. By providing our young people with the “proper” sexuality education-abstinence based sex education-we can completely eliminate teenage pregnancy, better yet we can eliminate adolescent sexuality and thereby reduce the number of young women seeking welfare. Because if you don’t let young people know about sex, they won’t have it. And if they are not having sex, then they are not joining the welfare rolls. Ok, now I see the connection between sex education and welfare reform.

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