Cut to the Chaste

State-funded sex abstinence classes for adults face financial turn-off

Some class members sign the pledge, while others refuse.

"I can't say I won't have sex until I'm married," says James Lamoree, who has been married three times and has five children. He says he doesn't know the names of three of them, who were born out of wedlock. "In all honesty, I love a woman's body. If a good woman propositioned me, I would think about it."

Roy Kruger says the class didn't have a profound effect on him, or anyone else. "It would be a good class, but not for us.

From left, Roy Kruger, James Lamoree, Louis Scott and Ray Kight take their rehabilitation at the Salvation Army seriously.
Paolo Vescia
From left, Roy Kruger, James Lamoree, Louis Scott and Ray Kight take their rehabilitation at the Salvation Army seriously.

"There's guys in here with AIDS, Hepatitis, STDs," he says. "I've had STDs. I've had Hepatitis B. You're not going to change what we've already done. Our course is pretty well set."

Sexual temptations can be hard to overcome, especially among men whose lifestyles have been anything but Puritan, Manchester acknowledges. But she says she's had some success asking students to stay abstinent, at least for a little while, by setting their own time frame for going without sex.

Like Alcoholics Anonymous, the class, called "Healthy Relationships," discourages participants from getting involved in a relationship during the first year of recovery. But Healthy Relationships is mainly a course about values, telling addicts about the importance of attitude, maturity, self-love, boundaries, STDs, commitment and chastity.

Manchester and her boss, Elizabeth Holman, say they got the idea for the program while seeing people from the Salvation Army at their clinic. Many of the patients had sexually transmitted diseases and children out of wedlock, but appeared to know little about their bodies or health prevention.

When class begins every Monday, the adult students take a pre-test, answering questions about their attitudes toward relationships and their own sexual behavior. Squirming in their seats with pencils in hand one Monday evening this year, one student leans over to ask another what "contraceptive" means.

Like the other instructors in taxpayer-funded abstinence programs, Manchester is not allowed to talk about contraceptives, except to point out their rates of failure in protecting against STDs. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, calls condoms "effective in preventing many STDs, including HIV infection," and it recommends that people use a condom if they are having intercourse with someone who has an STD, or who may be at risk of having one.

Originators of the abstinence program, Republican congressmen and the conservative Heritage Fund, were adamant that funding be tied to the message of abstinence-only, fearing that talk of contraception would encourage sexual activity. In return for increased Title 10 funds for reproductive health care to poor families, the Clinton administration added abstinence education to 1996 welfare reform legislation, making block grants available to states willing to spread the abstinence-only message.

In Arizona, lawmakers latched onto the program, agreeing to the required one-third match from the state of $670,000. Plus, they threw in another $2 million in welfare dollars.

The funding windfall made it possible to reach beyond the teen population, to groups like the at-risk adults in the Salvation Army program. But officials from Planned Parenthood, which refuses to participate in the abstinence program, say funding to deliver only an anti-sex message deprives people of contraceptive information they need to protect themselves. The Salvation Army's program, which serves a risk-taking population, is a perfect example of this, says Joseph Feldman, director of education and counseling for Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona.

"I don't have a lot of faith that sexually active adults will stop being sexually active adults because of a program at (the Salvation Army)," Feldman says. "If you really wanted to help people, expose them to information and prevention strategies."

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