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CDC: Abstinence is the ‘surest way’ to prevent STDs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says that abstinence is the prime prevention strategy for the most common sexually transmitted disease in the country — human papillomavirus (HPV), a viral STD with no cure. Various forms of HPV virus are associated with almost every case of cervical cancer.

“The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including HPV, is to refrain from genital contact,” the CDC said in a report to Congress in January.

Among the CDC statements about condoms:

— “The available scientific evidence is not sufficient to recommend condoms as a primary prevention strategy.”

— “The use of condoms should not be a substitute for routine screening with Pap tests to detect and prevent cervical cancer.”

For those who choose to be sexually active, the report said, the best way to avoid HPV –- which now infects an estimated 20 million Americans — is to remain in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.

Gene Rudd, an Ob/Gyn physician and associate executive director of the Christian Medical Association, praised the CDC’s declaration.

“The myth of 100 percent condom effectiveness has undoubtedly led many individuals to the dangerous and false conclusion that condom use will make them immune to a host of sexually transmitted diseases,” Rudd said. “After years of scientific studies, experts generally hold that condoms can offer at best an effectiveness rate of 85 to 95 percent.”

Michael Schwartz, vice president for government relations with Concerned Women for America, said the emergence of stronger abstinence promotion within the CDC is something new.

“The CDC has for a long time had a division of adolescent sexual health, and up until the Bush administration the task the agency undertook was simply to facilitate fornication,” Schwartz told Baptist Press. “It has dawned on them in these latter days that that may not be the greatest contribution they can make to health. So they’re trying to integrate an abstinence message as part of a consistent health message. This is an administration-wide effort, but it’s being implemented kind of slowly because bad habits die hard.”

Schwartz said an effort is underway throughout the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to review the messages that health programs aimed at adolescents are sending and to make sure that risk avoidance is the priority.

“I think it’s the right direction to go with respect to adolescent health. Parents knew this a long time, and I think a lot of people were dismayed that the government was contributing in so many ways to endangering their children by sending the wrong kind of message,” Schwartz said. “I think most parents will be greatly heartened to hear that the government’s policy is putting a risk avoidance message as a priority in its educational efforts for young people.”

According to a recent report by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one out of every two sexually active young people can expect to become infected with a sexually transmitted disease by age 25. Sexually active teens ages 15 to 19 have the highest STDs of any age group of the general population, the study found, according to The Washington Times Feb. 25.

The 14 public health experts who prepared the UNC report said the best ways to avoid infection are to abstain from sex or remain in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner, The Times said.

President Bush released a $2.4 trillion budget Feb. 2 which includes expanded initiatives to promote abstinence and healthy marriages.

“In my budget, I propose a grassroots campaign to help inform families about these medical risks,” Bush said in his State of the Union address Jan. 20. “We will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually-transmitted diseases.”

The president’s new budget includes $270 million for programs to encourage teens to abstain from sex.

The debate over abstinence shows no sign of abating. The Associated Press, for example, reported that one CDC-related study, which is yet to be published and has been challenged as unscientific, found that sexual activity doubled among a sample of junior high school students in Minnesota enrolled in an abstinence-only program. The AP did not specify the approach or components of the Minnesota program or the study, but Robert Rector, a senior researcher with the Heritage Foundation who helped the Bush administration develop its initiative, said the Minnesota study does not give enough credit to abstinence.

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  • Erin Curry