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Sexual risk avoidance advocate named to HHS post

WASHINGTON (BP) — A leading advocate of sexual risk avoidance — a holistic health approach encouraging sexual abstinence until marriage — has been named to a top post in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Valerie Huber, co-founder and president of the Ascend advocacy and education group, will join HHS under the leadership of Secretary Tom Price, Ascend announced today (June 8).

Huber’s appointment as chief of staff to the assistant secretary for health at HHS was first reported June 6 by The Hill, based on an internal email it obtained that HHS acting assistant secretary for health Don Wright wrote to his staff. Neither HHS nor President Donald Trump has officially announced Huber’s appointment in statements to the media.

Huber’s “wealth of professional experience in the field of public policy will serve her well in this position,” Wright said in the email, according to The Hill.

In her new post, Huber “will work to make optimal health possible for all Americans,” Ascend, formerly known as the National Abstinence Education Association, said in its news release.

Huber promotes sexual risk avoidance as an educational platform that extends beyond an abstinence-only model.

“Sexual risk avoidance is actually a term taken from public health,” she said in a 2016 Focus on the Family interview. “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 opposes the current Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TTP) program implemented in 2010 that Trump has announced plans to discontinue. In an April editorial in The Hill, she described TTP as a failure that has promoted sex more than health.

“Now, nearly one billion dollars later, troubling revelations have surfaced that show that most youth did not improve their health as a result of the TPP program — and too many were hurt,” Huber wrote in the guest editorial. “Multiple studies, mostly from federal sources, paint a stark picture of the results of this one-billion-dollar experiment.”

Huber cited HHS findings that more than 80 percent of teens in TTP “fared either worse or no better than their peers who were not a part of the program.” Rather, TTP harmed students, she said. “Some teens who were taught the TPP program were more likely to get pregnant, more likely to have sex, and more likely to have oral sex.”

Huber has praised Trump’s 2018 budget proposal that would increase abstinence education funding by 50 percent.

“We urge Congress to take the president’s recommendations and do all they can to give even more youth the opportunity to focus on their futures, rather than on any of the possible consequences of teen sex,” Huber said.

Read BP’s earlier story here.

In today’s press release, Ascend named Mary Anne Mosack as its executive director replacing Huber. Mosack has served as Ascend’s national director of state initiatives and a lead trainer in sexual risk avoidance.