February 5, 2013
On January 14, 2013, President Dean L. Bresciani and other administrators at North Dakota State University froze a federal grant to evaluate a new evidence-based sexuality education program directed by Drs. Molly Secor-Turner (a member of SAHM) and Brandy Randall. President Bresciani has offered a number of shifting explanations for the suspension after complaints from several conservative North Dakota legislators due to the program’s affiliation with Planned Parenthood. The competitive $1.2 million grant, awarded in September 2012, was to be used to launch a three-year sex education program for Fargo-area teens to begin later this month. This voluntary program would teach sex education and adult life skills to teenagers aged 15 to 19 years whose parents consented to their participation. The NDSU Faculty Senate President Tom Stone Carlson has offered an insightful analysis of the situation and a spirited defense of the two researchers and the program. (See Letter to President Bresciani from the NDSU Faculty Senate).
SAHM notes several important considerations:
Teen pregnancy is an important health, social and fiscal problem in North Dakota (and in the United States), and sexuality education helps prevent teen pregnancy. Between 1991 and 2008, there were approximately 13,000 teen births in North Dakota, costing taxpayers a total of $300 million over that period. Of North Dakota youth attending high school, 45% are sexually active and 13% have had more than four sexual partners. Teens who have dropped out of school – the teens this very program aimed to reach – are at greater risk of teen pregnancy and STDs.
A 2010 review by the CDC’s Guide to Community Preventive Services found that sexuality education (aka comprehensive risk reduction) was effective in reducing adolescent sexual risk behaviors, including engagement in sexual activity and unprotected sexual activity. The CDC also found insufficient evidence for programs that deliver only abstinence messages to prevent pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Likewise, SAHM strongly supports comprehensive sexuality education and opposes abstinence-only programs. SAHM supports the findings of the CDC and is concerned that abstinence-only programs are ineffective in changing behavior and that they limit life-saving information to young people.
SAHM believes that politics should not interfere with research and the rights of young people to receive age-appropriate and medically accurate health information through sex education. We request that President Bresciani immediately reverse his decision to suspend this important program and evaluation. Teens in North Dakota are at risk for unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and should be able to access and receive information and education that can help them to make good, informed choices to prevent these outcomes.
Abstinence-only education policies and programs: A position paper of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine
The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine is a multidisciplinary organization of health professionals who are committed to advancing the health and well-being of adolescents. Through education, research, clinical services and advocacy activities, members of SAHM strive to enhance public and professional awareness of adolescent health issues among families, educators, policy makers, youth-serving organizations, students who are considering a health career, as well as other health professionals. Learn more at www.adolescenthealth.org.