Censors in the United States frequently target sexuality. Internet filters are designed to prevent students from accessing “sexually explicit” material. The MPAA, a private entity whose ratings are voluntarily followed by theaters, frequently confers NC-17 ratings on films that contain sex scenes, effectively preventing minors from viewing these films in theaters. Finally, according to the American Library Association, “sexually explicit” content is the top reason that censors attempt to ban books.
The censoring of frank discussions and depiction of sexuality is especially problematic in sex-ed classes, which are (theoretically) designed to ensure that children going through puberty gain a thorough understanding of the biological and psychological aspects of human sexuality. Abstinence-only education threatens this vital mission by promoting a singular agenda and restricting the discussion of other information and ideologies.
In 1996, Congress established a federal program to fund schools that exclusively teach abstinence-only programs. To qualify for federal funding, programs must promote the beliefs that “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity” and that “sexual activity outside of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.” This law has resulted in indoctrination in these highly subjective viewpoints and the widespread censorship of information about sexuality. An early NCAC statement in opposition to the law, joined by dozens of organizations that focus on free speech or sexual health, notes that within a few years of the law’s passage, textbooks, programs, and teachers that discussed “inappropriate” topics like contraception, AIDS prevention, vaginal anatomy, and STDs were censored.
While the promotion of pro-abstinence views is not inherently harmful, the censorship of information about safe-sex practices can lead to higher rates of teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs. The federal funding of abstinence-only education therefore not only threatens academic freedom but also poses public health problems.
By 2009, federal spending on abstinence-only education amounted to nearly $163 million per year. Upon taking office, President Obama tried to curtail these expenditures. His 2009 and 2010 budget proposals eliminated the funding entirely; Congress agreed to slash spending by two-thirds. However, the Affordable Care Act allocated $50 million annual for abstinence-only education from 2010 until 2014. President Obama’s proposed 2017 budget entirely eliminated this funding, but a 2015 law that funds such programs at $75 million per year through 2017 remains in effect.