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Euphemism: sexual risk avoidance

Valerie Huber, a prominent leader of the abstinence-only sex education movement, has been appointed to a senior position at the Department of Health and Human Services, joining several other social conservative activists in the leadership ranks.Paula Lyman/Ascend via AP

sex▪u▪al risk a▪void▪ance (n.): It sounds like prim bureaucratic phrase for “safe sex,” but it’s not. “Sexual risk avoidance” is a clunky rebranding of “abstinence until marriage” proposed by Valerie Huber, who’s now the chief of staff for the US Department of Health and Human Services. Strange as it may seem, “abstinence” has become a dirty word in the world of sex education and pregnancy prevention.

Federal funding for abstinence-only programs was cut under the Obama administration based on research that shows the approach tends to increase rather than reduce teen pregnancy. But proponents of abstinence have responded with a new term — “sexual risk avoidance” — that may act as a cloaking device for increased funding to abstinence-only education under President Trump.


The new term is used by Huber and an organization she led until recently: Ascend, which has also undergone a euphemistic rebrand. Their old name, National Abstinence Education Association, contained the now-taboo A-word.