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in brief: competing sex-ed bills hit US congress

Two sex education bills were introduced to the US Congress on Valentine’s Day – one promoting medically-accurate, gender-inclusive and queer friendly content; the other pushing funding for abstinence-only programs.

The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act was introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, and 32 other Democratic politicians last Thursday. The Act would overhaul outdated health education in US public schools, mandating that funding be directed to effective and medically-accurate programs.

The Act also focuses on emotional wellbeing of students, requiring programs to support ‘healthy attitudes and values’. This encompasses issues such as body issues, gender identity, and sexuality. It prevents the omission of information regarding same-sex intercourse and HIV.

The curricula funded by the bill educates on all measures of birth control, including abstinence. Teachers are also required to refer students to relevant clinics for more information. This in particular has angered conservatives, as it potentially involves Planned Parenthood.

In the USA, less than 20 states require information disseminated to students to be scientifically accurate. Young people are being exposed to information that puts them at risk of teen pregnancy, and diseases including HIV.

Information released by the Centre for Disease Control last week showed that almost half of the 19 million new cases of STIs reported in 2012 occurred in young people between 15-24 years old. According to Rep. Barbara Lee’s website, 39% of new HIV cases occurred in young people in the same year.

In a statement, Lee said: ‘Research has shown that programs which teach abstinence and contraception effectively delay the onset of sexual intercourse, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase contraceptive use among teens.’

However, the Bill has drawn criticism from the right, with National Abstinence Education Association’s Valeria Huber claiming the bill ‘provides harmful messaging that puts teens at risk by suggesting that condoms make sex safe.’

Her comments come as Illinois Reps. Randy Hultgren, a Republican, and Daniel Lipinski, a Democrat, re-introduced the Abstinence Education Reallocation Act, also on Thursday.

The bipartisan Act was first introduced in 2012, and the earlier version would allocate $110 million dollars to programs that focus on waiting until marriage to have intercourse.

The Domestic Policy Director for Advocates for Youth, Sarah Audelo, was strongly in favour of the Democratic ‘Healthy Youth Act’, for its focus on medically-accurate education.

‘The United States has some of the worst sexual health outcomes in the developed world, and we can’t blame young people for their poor decisions when we don’t teach them how to make the right choices for their bodies.’

States that push abstinence-only policies have the highest teen pregnancy rates, while students that receive accurate information on birth control are 60% less likely to get pregnant, or impregnate someone.

While little is known of the current form of the Abstinence Education Reallocation Act, it is evident that it will be less queer-friendly or factually-accurate as the ‘Real Education for Healthy Youth Act’.

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