Far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro plans to roll out a new message: don’t have sex before marriage.

Damares Alves, the minister of human rights, family, and women for President Bolsonaro said that young people in Brazil “by and large are having sex as a result of social pressure…You can go to a party and have lots of fun without having sex.” Ms. Alves calls herself “extremely Christian” and is an evangelical pastor. She is one of Bolsonaro’s most prominent cabinet members.

A vigorous debate about reproductive rights and sex education has arisen after Alves promoted the “I Chose to Wait” campaign, which was started by a group of evangelical pastors and has been largely advanced on social media.

Bolsonaro’s presidential 2018 campaign also prominently featured sex and sexuality. Bolsonaro and his supporters criticized a campaign against homophobia in schools that was introduced by the former administration and accused the left in Brazil of encouraging young people to have sex. Similarly to President Trump in the United States, Bolsonaro’s words rallied a large group of evangelical voters that is growing in political power in Brazil.

There are calls that this move blurs the line between church and state, and ignores decades of research about sexual health education. The administration has not been forthcoming with details about the campaign. Ms. Alves said that abstinence campaigns in the United States have been successful as a defense of the new policy.

Leslie Kantor, a professor at Rutgers University in the School of Public Health notes that this claim has proven to be false. A study published in PubMed Central, an archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine, is one of dozens that point to the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only education in preventing teen pregnancy and may actually contribute to high teen pregnancy rates. Dr. Kantor notes that sex education programs where abstinence is emphasized also exclude relevant information for gay and bisexual people.

Brazil was called a global leader in the early 2000s for its work to fight the spread of HIV. However, the new abstinence campaign could also affect Brazil’s already spreading HIV numbers. The Brazilian health ministry reported in 2018 a 41 percent increase in the number of new cases of HIV as compared to the numbers from 2014.

According to the New York Times, Brazil’s teen pregnancy rate has dropped in the past few decades, following the global trend, but continues to be about 62 per 1,000 births. This is above the global average of 44 per 1,000, and far above the rate in the United States, which is 18 per 1,000.

Sources: New York Times, 1/26/20; PubMed Central, 10/14/11.

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