Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Abstinence Education for Medical Students

Via Slate:
As Michael Specter pointed out in The New Yorker last month, the Bush administration spends hundreds of millions of dollars touting the benefits of abstinence. Most abstinence-promoting programs waste the government's money funneling misinformation directly to adolescents. But one such group, the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, has another audience in mind—medical students. With the help of Congress, the institute has finagled $200,000 out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a sexual-health curriculum for doctors in training. It's a small bit of pork, but it represents the hijacking of a government agency that normally funds research based on merit. And the CDC's imprimatur could persuade medical schools to use the institute's work.

Based in Texas and Washington, D.C., the Medical Institute provides technical material on sexual health to youth organizations and educators. Its founder, Dr. Joe McIlhaney, served as adviser to President George W. Bush while he was governor of Texas and now sits on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, as well as on the Advisory Committee to the Director of the CDC. Unlike some conservative groups, the Medical Institute strives for medical respectability, focusing on public-health arguments in favor of virginity rather than moral virtues. The institute objects to being called "abstinence-only," perhaps because it wants to distance itself from more blatantly ideological groups, or perhaps because according to a recent poll, most Americans believe that abstinence-only education doesn't work. Yet the institute mainly discusses condoms to disparage them and sexually transmitted diseases to assert that only abstinence offers reliable protection. Its core message is that "the behavior choices necessary for optimal health are sexual abstinence for unmarried individuals and faithfulness within marriage."
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