Trump administrations decision to cut nationwide sex ed programs is putting many young lives at risk
It was a muggy afternoon, and Nakesha Martin raised her voice to be heard over the rattle of the air conditioner. Is that a high-risk behavior, or a low-risk behavior? she shouted to the class.
High-risk, came a murmured response. Martin beamed.
Thats right, she said, passing out candy in the direction of the reply. And what could we have done to be safer?
Used a condom, someone suggested. Not had sex. There was a round of sheepish laughter.
Martin was on the outskirts of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where two dozen teens and several 12-year-olds had gathered as part of the citys first serious push to offer every local teenager comprehensive lessons in sex education.
Over the next two hours, Martin doled out facts previous generations in Oklahoma, where sex education is not mandatory, were never taught. Yes, you can transmit HIV through oral sex. No, not through kissing. Later, the room crowded around a set of flashcards listing the steps for putting on a condom and tried to put them in order.
The class is part of a much larger initiative undertaken by Barack Obamas administration in pursuit of a daunting goal: reducing teenage births and pregnancies in a country that has nearly always led the industrialized world in both. Here in Tulsa, several of the participants brought babies, who passed the time wiggling against the straps of their strollers.
But less than one year from now, this class and dozens like it in the region will probably vanish, swept away by the Trump administrations decision to cut the entirety of the funding for the program, known simply as Teen Pregnancy Prevention.
The decision was announced with little warning in July.Eighty-one programs across the country, including Tulsa Youth Services, which funds Martins class, received identical notice that their grants would end on 30 June 2018 and not, as planned, in 2020. The cuts add up to $213.6m.
The real cost, though, say grantees, will be borne by the 1.2 million teenagers the program was expected to serve.
We have to teach this stuff, its important, said LaKala Williams, 18, who went through a sex education course funded by the grant and is now involved with the education efforts. We all want to lower teen birth rates, and so, why the cuts? Do you want these young kids to get pregnant? Is that what they want?
Few places will suffer the loss as deeply as Oklahoma, where the teen birth rate is the second-highest in the country.
For two decades, the state has not dedicated a single dollar of its own budget toward preventing teenage pregnancy, relying instead on the federal government to fund 90% its efforts. Oklahoma has used much of that money to pay for some of the states first comprehensive sex education programs, which research has shown reduces early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The cuts will shortchange those efforts by about $8m.