The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is in violation of a federal law that requires federally funded educational materials that discuss sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to also provide medically accurate information about condom effectiveness, according to the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO). In a letter to the secretary of HHS released on October 18, the GAO rejected the DHHS interpretation that abstinence-until-marriage programs fall outside the scope of this law.

Long-standing federal policy has prohibited federally funded abstinence-until-marriage programs from discussing condoms’ and other contraceptive methods’ effectiveness at preventing unwanted pregnancy and STIs, including HIV. These policies moreover, have become increasingly restrictive under the Bush administration. They now explicitly require funded programs to emphasize that condoms and contraception fail, and that all unmarried people should abstain from any behavior that may be sexually stimulating—which could be interpreted as precluding even kissing. These programs not only are unrealistic but may undermine young people’s ability and willingness to use contraceptives when they become sexually active.

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The growing divide between federal policy and teen sexual behavior

Growing restrictions in the federal abstinence education program

Government rules for abstinence education grants

How the term “abstinence” is defined