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The Federal Government & Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs

The federal government currently spends $80 million per year on ineffective and shaming abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs. This wasteful spending is set to increase to at least $80 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, with the likelihood of even further increases in years to come.

Government spending on AOUM programs is nothing new. Beginning in 1981 under the Reagan Administration, the federal government has consistently supported AOUM programs despite a lack of research proving that they are effective. Since 1996 alone, Congress has funneled over $1.7 billion to AOUM programs.

Today, there are two federal funding streams supporting AOUM programs.

Title V “Abstinence Education” AOUM Program

Initially signed into law in 1996, Title V, Section 510 of the Social Security Act established a new funding stream to provide grants to states for AOUM programs. Under the Title V AOUM program, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), provides $75 million in federal funds each year to states that choose to participate in the program. (This is scheduled to increase to $75 million for FY 2016 and FY 2017). 

States that choose to accept these funds must match every four federal dollars with three state-raised dollars or an in-kind match and are then responsible for using the funds or distributing them to community-based organizations, schools, county and state health departments, or other entities. Every state, with the exception of California, has at one time accepted Title V AOUM funds. In FY 15, 36 states and three territories implemented Title V AOUM programs.

The original passage of the Title V AOUM program included a strict eight-point, (Section 510(b)(2)A-H) federal definition of “abstinence education.” (See “What’s Wrong with the Federal Definition for AOUM Programs” for more information.) As currently implemented, Title V AOUM-funded programs must promote abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as their exclusive purpose and may provide mentoring, counseling, and adult supervision toward this end.[1]

The Title V AOUM program expired briefly in 2010, but was reauthorized several months later as part of a last minute negotiation to include the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) in the Affordable Care Act. It was extended for one-year in FY 2014.  In FY 2015, the program was extended for an additional two years and received a $25 million per year increase. The extension also included a new provision requiring that any unobligated funds be made available to states implementing programs adhering to the full eight-point definition of “abstinence education.” In practice, this means that after all states have applied and received their Title V AOUM funds, the states that self-certify that additional funds will only be used for programs the adhere to all eight-points of the “abstinence education” definition may apply for an additional round of funding.

The Competitive “Abstinence Education” Grant Program
Appropriations negotiations for FY 2012 resulted in the revival of a $5 million discretionary grant program for AOUM. The Competitive Abstinence Education (CAE) grant program has received funding through the annual appropriations process each year since. All programs funded by CAE grants must promote abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as their exclusive purpose, adhere to the federal A-H definition of “abstinence education,” and provide mentoring, counseling, and adult supervision toward the promotion of abstaining from sex outside of marriage. As currently implemented by ACF, the programs must also be medically accurate. Since FY 2012, 30 two-year grants have been awarded to community- and faith-based organizations in 18 states and two territories.

For additional information on previous and current AOUM funding streams, see SIECUS' A History of Federal Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs and SIECUS' Funding Chart.


[1] Section 510 (b) of Title V of the Social Security Act, P.L. 104–193.
For the purposes of this section, the term “abstinence education” means an educational or motivational  program which:

A.    Has as its exclusive purpose teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;
B.    Teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children;
C.    Teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;
D.    Teaches that a mutually faithful, monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity;
E.    Teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects
F.    Teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child's parents, and society;
G.   Teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances, and
H.    Teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.