Federal Funding Changes Impact Sex Education

Since its inception, the federal government has had an interest in funding the prevention of issues that negatively impact public health. Two of these issues have been teen pregnancy and HIV infection among youth. These two issues are connected to sex education since both are the result of unprotected sexual activity. In addition, evidence-based comprehensive sex education has been proven to result in these outcomes, which lead to lower rates of teen pregnancy and HIV infection:

  • Delay initiation of sexual intercourse
  • Increase use of condoms and/or contraception
  • Reduce number of sex partners

With each change in leadership at the federal level, funding priorities change based on philosophy and politics. For example, under the current administration, the following changes have been proposed:

Funding Grants

  1. Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP): Evidence-informed and rigorously evaluated comprehensive sex education. Previously funded at $101m, the FY19 presidential budget allocates $0, and the administration ordered an end to funding of programs that had two more years of funding remaining in their five-year grants. Advocacy for comprehensive sex education has resulted in funding being maintained in the budget. Lawsuits successfully forced previously allocated grant funding to be continued through the end of the grant cycle.
  2. HIV School Health (CDC-DASH): Builds school capacity to provide students with exemplary sexual health education, increased access to sexual health services, and safe and supportive environments. The FY19 presidential budget maintains funding at $33.1m. However, this funding decreased slightly since the 2016 budget and is now allocated in a manner that has dismantled the infrastructure at the state level in favor of local programming.
  3. Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP): Evidence-informed, accurate, and complete sex education. The FY19 presidential budget allocates $75m, but as one-year funding, not five-year funding.
  4. Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE): Abstinence-only-until-marriage education that is required to use an evidence-based approach. The FY19 presidential budget allocates $0. Advocates for abstinence programs and the philosophy of new federal department leadership have increased funding from the previous administration.
  5. Title V Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (Title V SRAE): Abstinence-only-until-marriage education that is required to use an evidence-based approach. The FY19 presidential budget allocates $75m. This funding was first established in 1996 with an eight-point definition of abstinence education (“A to H definition”). It was renamed and rebranded in FY18 with a new six-point definition.

The pattern that has emerged with the current administration is a renewed commitment to funding “abstinence-only-until-marriage education,” reframed as “Sexual Risk Avoidance Education,” even though research has not shown this to be an effective approach. This approach is usually delivered by groups with a religious origin. These curricula are often shame-based and stereotypical. The lessons are typically hetero-normative, ignoring or stigmatizing students who are LGBTQ+.

Evidence-based sex education programs are those that have been evaluated and shown to be effective as measured by at least one of the criteria mentioned above and/or a few additional measures. Only three abstinence-only curricula are on that list. Unfortunately, these lists of evidence-based programs do not indicate whether each curriculum is medically accurate, developmentally appropriate, trauma-informed, unbiased, and avoids fear-based messaging.

None of the federal funding is aimed at promoting sex education for the purpose of equipping young people with the knowledge and skills needed to form healthy relationships and develop into sexually healthy adults. Rather, funding is focused on preventing some of the possible outcomes of sexual activity among youth: teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Sadly, this approach places sexual activity in a negative frame instead of teaching young people about a normal, healthy part of life.

Youth continue to be the political pinballs of federal decision-makers and their beliefs about sex education. The United States has a long way to go before they deliver sex education that is effective in achieving the outcomes we all desire for our youth: that they are safe, healthy, and are equipped to develop into sexually healthy adults.

Call to action:

Contact your U.S. Senators (two) and Congressperson (one) to advocate for funding for comprehensive sex education via TPPP, CDC-DASH, and PREP. New funding decisions will be made in spring 2019. Find your federal legislators: