President Obama Just Shut Down Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

February 19th 2016

Alex Mierjeski

President Barack Obama took a big step this month towards better sexual education. He proposed eliminating government funding for abstinence only education, which is widely considered to be grossly ineffective.

In his Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal, President Obama — unhindered by the threat of Republican pushback in his final year in office — proposed halting funding for abstinence-only sex ed and increasing funds for other programs like the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

"After three decades and nearly $2 billion in federal spending wasted on this failed approach, the President's proposed budget increases support for programs and efforts that seek to equip young people with the skills they need to ensure their lifelong sexual health and well-being," SIECUS interim president and CEO Jesseca Boyer said in a statement.

Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs — which instruct students that the only way to avoid the perils of intercourse, like teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, is to avoid canoodling altogether — get millions in federal funding each year. Since 1996, Congress has spent close to $2 billion on abstinence only programs, according to SIECUS.


And yet, research, research, and more research has called into question the effectiveness of abstinence programs. At the same time, comprehensive sex ed programs that factor in condoms and other birth control methods are associated with significantly decreased rates of teen pregnancy, and also suggest lowered rates — or at least more knowledge of — sexually transmitted illnesses. 

President Obama has proposed similar cuts before, with little success in the face of pushback by conservative lawmakers in Congress. But there have also been victories: in 2010 and 2011, Obama and Congress slashed federal funding for abstinence programs by about two-thirds, and directed nearly $190 million to "initiatives that support evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention and more comprehensive approaches to sex education," SIECUS notes.

The more than $4 trillion budget will have to be approved by Congress before it goes into effect in October.