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Lori Prichard reportingIf you live in Weber or Morgan counties your phone may have rung recently, and the person on the other end wanted to talk about sex education. Health workers conducted a survey to find out if their abstinence education program is working.
Eighty percent of residents in those two counties say it's important to emphasize abstinence in public sex education courses. But the respondents weren't given an opportunity to say whether abstinence should be taught as part of a comprehensive sex education program. Instead, abstinence is the program.
The abstinence programs are taught in Odgen, Morgan and Weber school districts to kids in sixth, seventh, eighth and 10th grades.
But according to a 10-year, federally-funded study of abstinence programs published this year, "youth in the program group were no more likely than control group youth to have abstained from sex."
That's why the head of Utah's Planned Parenthood, Karrie Galloway, says kids should be taught how to protect themselves in all situations.
"Abstinence can be the focus," she said, "but the plus part has to be comprehensive, medically accurate sexuality information to help kids make good decisions for themselves."
Comprehensive means talk of condoms and other contraceptives that abstinence-only critics say aren't honestly addressed.
Becky Tierney, program director for the Weber Morgan Health Department, said, "That, again, is a misconception that we don't talk about that, and that's not true. We talk about it, and it's mentioned in schools in the context of failure and success rates."
And according to a 2004 congressional report, those failure and success rates are distorted.
The FACTS abstinence-only curriculum, which is taught by Weber-Morgan Health, states, "The actual ability of condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS, even if the product is intact, is not definitively known."
However, the Centers for Disease Control clearly states, "Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing heterosexual sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Research on the effectiveness of latex condoms in preventing heterosexual transmission is both comprehensive and conclusive."
That distortion leaves some to question whether abstinence-only programs are part fact and part fiction.
Karrie Galloway said, "That has been one of the criticisms of abstinence-only programs from the start."
That brings us back to the phone survey recently conducted by the Weber-Morgan Health Department. Surveyors asked questions like "Do you agree or disagree with this statement: "It's important for teenagers to participate in abstinence programs in schools and other community agencies."
Experts call that a response bias survey and say it pretty much guarantees the kind of answer the surveyors are looking for.