Abstinence Advocate Gets High Post at HHS

couple beachCommentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

Valerie Huber, a tireless champion of sexual risk avoidance education for teens, has been appointed as Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Hill is reporting on the appointment of Huber, president of Ascend, which is formerly known s the National Abstinence Education Association, to serve at the HHS. In an email to staff, HHS acting assistant secretary for health, Don Wright, said Huber’s “wealth of professional experience in the field of public policy will serve her well in this position.

Huber is devoted to educating and equipping teens with the information they need to avoid sexual risks, which is why she prefers to use the term “sexual risk avoidance” (SRA) rather than “abstinence education.”

“Sexual risk avoidance is actually a term taken from public health,” she told Citizen. “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.”

Her aim is to see Ascend become known for its focus on SRA as a public health issue, using what she says is an “approach that sits so clearly within a public health model for optimal health.”

The mother of four, Huber got involved in public health policy when her oldest son was in middle school. The sex education he was receiving in his health class was promulgating the old myth that “everyone is doing it” and she decided that instead of complaining, she would do something about it.

As Citizen reports, Huber encouraged the school to adopt a more age-appropriate curriculum in the school, which they agreed to do. But what about children in others schools? What kind of sex education were they receiving?

Valerie Huber

Valerie Huber

This was an especially pertinent question because one of the main suppliers of sex education in the U.S. is the Sexuality Education Council of the U.S. (SEICUS).

Formed by the former medical director of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Mary Calderone, SEICUS promotes Alfred Kinsey’s so-called “New Biology” which was based on his research on human sexuality which promoted promiscuity across all sexual orientations, including pedophilia. In fact, the initial funding for SEICUS came from Playboy and the organization’s first director, Wardell Pomeroy, a close associate of Kinsey, served on the board of Penthouse Magazine. Even though Kinsey’s research was later discovered to have been based on seriously flawed data, American sex education continues to promote promiscuity under the guise of “public health.”

Huber had a different idea and founded REACH, a character-building and risk-avoidance educational organization in 1999 which provided thousands of middle- and high school students in Southwestern Ohio with education that emphasized the benefits of sexual abstinence.

From there, she was tapped to manage the Ohio Department of Health’s Abstinence Education Program where she oversaw and granted awards to community abstinence programs serving more than 100,000 students statewide every year.

“I kind of started a career that I didn’t necessarily anticipate,” Huber told Citizen. “When I had that first meeting with my son’s health teacher and principal, I had no interest in having a career in sex education. It never entered my mind; I was only concerned about the well-being of my own child. But I count it as a real honor to today be in that particular place—to have an impact that can really change the trajectory of a young person’s life.”

She then became a member of the National Abstinence Leadership Council which ultimately became the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) which she has headed since 2007.

As Citizen reports, the board members of the NAEA represent more than a century’s worth of experience in the fields of public health policy and abstinence education.

But that’s not how Planned Parenthood and other critics of sexual risk avoidance see this work.

“Our critics like to pigeonhole this as a religious issue,” Huber tells Citizen, “but the truth is that this has value for every student regardless of faith or moral framework—or lack thereof.”

Opponents are also prone to attack Huber’s work as being unscientific and frequently cite studies supporting their conclusion that “comprehensive sex ed” (also known as sexual risk reduction rather than avoidance) is better. Of course, they never mention the many serious flaws in these studies, such as how the majority of these programs were evaluated by program developers or publishers rather than independent researchers.

And they absolutely never mention studies that have arrived a negative conclusions about the prevailing sex ed curriculum, such the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study which found that  “students who had no sexual contact have a much lower prevalance of most health-risk behaviors compared with students” who had sexual contact.

Nor would they dare to cite research released last week conducted by UK researchers which found that reductions in sex ed budgets actually led to reductions in teen pregnancy rates. Researchers believe the reason for this could be that easier access to birth control may encourage some teens to either start having sex or to have sex more frequently.

Not surprisingly, SEICUS issued an angry press release after the announcement of Huber’s appointment which contains the usual talking points about religion.

“Valerie Huber pushed a religiously-motivated agenda to promote false and misleading information about sexual health and deny young people the education and skills they need to lead healthy lives,” SEICUS said.

“The people served by the programs within the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary deserve more than a science-denialist who has built a career on perpetuating fear, shame, and stigma of sexuality for our nation’s young people.”

Others are resorting to the usual disingenuous rhetoric, such as claims that President Trump “continues to make appointments that put partisan ideology ahead of public health and science” while conveniently forgetting that former President Barack Obama surrounded himself with the most extreme appointees in American history.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins calls these hysterical reactions “comical.”

“How are conservatives anti-science, when we actually believe what research says about gender, conception, life, the environment, and creation?” Perkins asks. “The Left is so confused about basic biology that it doesn’t even know which bathroom to use!” 

As for Ms. Huber, we applaud her appointment. As we read in Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant Life, she is fulfilling her divine task to be a “purveyor of life in a culture infatuated with death.”

Let us keep Ms. Huber in our prayers!

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