The National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) has renamed itself Ascend and is calling abstinence-only sex education by the new title sexual risk avoidance (SRA).
"Our critics like to pigeonhole this as a religious issue, but the truth is that this has value for every student regardless of faith or moral framework—or lack thereof," Valerie Huber (pictured), president and CEO of Ascend, recently told Citizen Magazine, which is published by the conservative Christian ministry Focus on the Family.
Huber, who has self-identified as a Christian since age 17, added:
Sexual risk avoidance is actually a term taken from public health. I bristle at the terminology 'abstinence only,' because our programs are so holistic. They contextualize a whole battery of different topics that surround a young person’s decision whether to have sex or not. Rather than someone telling a young person, 'Do this, don’t do that,' it’s casting a vision for a young person’s future.
Huber has been a strong supporter of abstinence-only education for years.
Citizen Magazine notes that Huber used to manage Ohio Department of Health’s Abstinence Education Program, and held a position on the National Abstinence Leadership Council, which created the NAEA in 2007.
In February, Huber slammed the Obama administration for cutting funding for abstinence-only education in The Christian Post: "The president's recommendation to Congress is really indefensible. To say that there is not evidence that the sexual risk avoidance approach has research behind it is just not true."
A national study funded by Congress found in 2007 that abstinence-only sex education didn't stop teens from engaging in sex, and did not increase or decrease the likelihood that sexually active teens would use a condom, reported The Washington Post.
"There's not a lot of good news here for people who pin their hopes on abstinence-only education," Sarah Brown, executive director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, told the newspaper at the time.
"This is the first study with a solid, experimental design, the first with adequate numbers and long-term follow-up, the first to measure behavior and not just intent," Brown added. "On every measure, the effectiveness of the programs was flat."
In her recent interview with Citizen Magazine, Huber compared sex to smoking:
When we’re talking about any potential risk behavior, the messaging and the skills around that should be designed to help that individual avoid all the risks. We’ve done that for smoking, but we don’t do it for teen sex. When we talk about the merits of sexual risk avoidance, that erases all those caricatures that our critics have tried to attach to our approach.
Huber also described how SRA is different from comprehensive sexual education: "We don’t distribute or demonstrate [contraceptive methods]; we educate about it. You may be told that 'sex plus condoms equals safety,' but it’s not true. We don’t want to over- or underestimate any of the facts."
Condoms have been recommended by major medical associations and government health agencies to reduce the chances of STDs and unwanted pregnancies.
"We have to remind ourselves that if we care about the future of our nation and youth, we always have to side on what is in their best interest," Huber added. "SRA education is the only sex ed approach that does that, and does it well."