ELECTION 2008 | Los Angeles Times Examines Differences Between McCain, Palin Over Discussion of Condom Use in Schools
[Sept. 8, 2008]
The Los Angeles Times
on Saturday examined differences between Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and his vice presidential running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) over whether condom use should be discussed in schools. According to the Times
, McCain and the Republican Party platform
say that students should be taught that abstinence until marriage is the only safe way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Palin in a July 2006 survey was asked if she supported abstinence-only sex education programs instead of "explicit sex education programs, school-based clinics and distribution of contraceptives in schools." Palin wrote, "Yes the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support." In a radio interview in August 2006, Palin was asked whether programs that discuss condoms are included in "explicit" programs. Palin said no and called discussions of condoms "relatively benign." She added, "I'm pro-contraception and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues. So I am not anti-contraception. But, yeah, abstinence is another alternative that should be discussed with kids. I don't have a problem with that. That doesn't scare me, so it's something I would support also."
reports that such statements could raise concerns among social conservatives who have supported Palin strongly. Leslee Unruh, president of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse
and campaign manager of the VoteYesforLife.com
effort, said that children should be given a "clear and concise" message on the benefits of abstinence, adding that Palin's comments in the 2006 interview are not clear and seem "disjointed." However, Unruh two days later said that the statement was "old" and added that she supports Palin "in every way."
Palin spokesperson Maria Comella said Palin stands by her 2006 statement. Although the McCain campaign did not respond to questions about whether Palin's stand on sex education differs from McCain's, a campaign spokesperson previously had said that McCain believes abstinence is "the only safe and responsible alternative." A campaign statement said, "To do otherwise is to send a mixed signal to children that, on the one hand, they should not be sexually active, but on the other, here is the way to go about it. As any parent knows, ambiguity and equivocation leads to problems when it comes to teaching children right from wrong." The federal government has spent more than $1 billion on abstinence-only sex education programs since 1996 (Mehta, Los Angeles Times
, 9/6).USA Today Reports No Systematic Tracking of Sex Education in U.S.
In related news, USA Today
reports that despite the national debate over sex education, there is no systematic tracking of what schools in the U.S. are teaching students about sex -- "and either way, there seems to be little connection between what they're taught and their behaviors." According to USA Today
, state and local policies "trickle down" to individual classrooms, and a study of sex education in Illinois public schools earlier this year found that 30% of those teaching the subject had never received training. Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy
, said, "As much as we fight about sex education, we actually know very little about it in the real world."USA Today
reports that a new report by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States
found that 25 states now are rejecting federal funding for abstinence-only programs and that several studies have questioned the effectiveness of such programs. A recent analysis by long-time researcher Doug Kirby, published in the September issue of Sexuality Research and Social Policy, reviewed studies of nine abstinence-only programs and 48 comprehensive sex education programs. According to Kirby, a couple of the abstinence-only programs showed "weak evidence" for delaying sex, but most did not delay initiation of sex. Nearly half of the comprehensive programs delayed when teens first had sex, reduced the number of sexual partners and increased condom or contraceptive use. About one-quarter of the comprehensive programs reduced the frequency of sex.
Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association
said, "You can't expect that one class is going to undo all the misinformation teens are receiving from the other sources. It needs to be reinforced, and parents should be the primary sex educators of their children." Elizabeth Schroeder of Answer
, a New Jersey-based group that supports comprehensive sex education, said, "For any kind of behavior change or healthy maintenance, it has to be an ongoing program" (Jayson, USA Today
~ NPR's "All Things Considered
" on Friday examined sex education in the country, as well as Palin's stance on the issue. The segment includes comments from Brown; Bill Donovan, director of a crisis pregnancy center and the Let's Talk
abstinence-only program in Alaska; and Stephanie Burch, head of Alaska's Department of Maternal and Child Health (Wilson, "All Things Considered," NPR, 9/5).