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Report: Federal
abstinence site contains inaccurate information

Report: Federal
abstinence site contains inaccurate information

A report by several medical experts released this week says that a federal Health and Human Services Web site designed to help parents discuss abstinence with their teenage children contains a wealth of inaccurate information and misleading content, The Washington Post reports. The Web site, at, contains inaccurate information about condoms, sexual orientation, dangers associated with oral sex, and single-parent households, according to the report, prepared at the request of Democratic representative Henry Waxman from California. The abundance of misinformation could lead to riskier sexual behaviors by some teens or alienation among families, the experts say.

The site was reviewed by three physicians and a child psychologist. While three of the four reviewers said there is some useful information on the site, all four noted accuracy problems. One of the reviewers, King Holmes, a University of Washington professor specializing in infectious diseases, says a sexually transmitted disease chart on the site understates condom effectiveness in preventing STDs, saying that condoms are "associated with some decreased risk" of contracting herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. But Holmes says studies have shown condoms to significantly decrease the risk of acquiring those STDs, adding that the chart appears to deliberately downplay their effectiveness. He also says the site fails to acknowledge the success of antiretroviral drugs in prolonging the lives of HIV-positive people.

Site reviewer John Santelli, chairman of the Department of Population and Family Health at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, says the Web site also claims "oral sex is as dangerous in terms of disease as in intercourse," which Santelli says is wildly inaccurate.

Richard Pleak, a child psychologist and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University, also added that the site includes inaccuracies about homosexuality. Previously, the site urged parents who may have a gay teenager to "consider seeing a family therapist who shares your values to clarify and work through these issues." After receiving a letter from 145 advocacy groups, HHS changed the wording to say that supportive therapy should be considered for the family.

Gay groups also protested the site repeatedly referring to homosexuality as an "alternative lifestyle" rather than sexual orientation.

Waxman on Wednesday sent a letter to HHS secretary Mike Leavitt outlining the report's findings and urging him to immediately take down the site and start from scratch in developing a new one. "The content appears to have been guided by ideology, not a commitment to providing parents and teens reliable information about sex," Waxman wrote. "A federally funded Web site should present the facts as they are, not as you might wish them to be. It is wrong--and ultimately self-defeating--to sacrifice scientific accuracy in an effort to frighten teens and their parents."

HHS spokesman Daniel Morales said the agency hadn't received Waxman's letter and couldn't comment on it, but noted the Web site is effective in giving parents "the resources they need to talk to their youth about sex" and to "encourage their teens to remain abstinent."

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