Sexual content has long been a target for censors in the United States. Its controversial nature is highlighted in the debate over sexuality education in public schools. Opponents argue not only with the substance of such courses, but the right of the state to provide instruction on sexuality at all. Some consider the topic so freighted with religious and moral overtones, that they consider it inappropriate for the public schools to provide any information other than basic biology.

The abstinence-only movement began in 1981, when Congress passed the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA), which funded charitable and religious organizations to promote “chastity education” to young people. It was in 1996, however, that the movement began to gain greater support from government and public institutions. That year, Congress established a federal program to exclusively fund abstinence-only education programs. In 2005 alone, Congress devoted approximately $170 million to abstinence-only education.

The exclusive purpose of abstinence-only education, as stipulated by federal law, is to teach “that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual acitivity” and “that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.”

The result of this focus on abstinence-until-marriage usually means that materials about contraception, STDs and safer sex practices go unmentioned – sometimes as far as being razored out of textbooks or being given minor treatment in sex ed classes. Lessons on sexual orientation are taught only in the context of HIV/AIDS infections. Abortion is presented as morally wrong. And teachers are warned against talking about certain topics and sometimes disciplined or threatened with lawsuits for speaking frankly about sexual matters.