Secretary of State Colin Powell says he and his wife, Alma, have been advocating sexual abstinence to young girls in Washington.

“Abstinence is a good thing to teach young people before they’re ready for the responsibilities of sexual activity,” Powell said in an interview with the BBC. “Abstinence works. We know it works … and it is a perfectly sensible strategy to take to young people.”

Powell was defending plans to earmark for abstinence education fully one-third of the administration’s promised $15 billion in aid to fight AIDS.

Powell explained how he and his wife frequently came face to face with girls at high risk for contracting HIV. Alma Powell runs an organization in Washington called Best Friends, reports London’s Independent newspaper, aimed at showing girls how to improve the quality of their lives.

Ironically, Powell came under harsh criticism early last year when, appearing on MTV, he advised the nation’s children this way:

“It’s important that the whole international community come together, speak candidly about it, forget the taboos, forget the conservative ideas with respect to what you shouldn’t tell young people about. It’s the lives of young people who are put at risk by unsafe sex and, therefore, protect yourself. … In my own judgment, condoms are a way to prevent infection – and therefore, I support their use … among people who are sexually active and need to protect themselves.”

Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, in a major speech before 3,500 people at the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention, said this of Powell’s MTV comments:

Feb. 14, two nights ago, you may have heard that Secretary of State Colin Powell went on MTV, broadcast internationally, and recommended that kids use condoms. And I’ll quote for you. Listen carefully to the words he used: “Forget about taboos.” Guess whose taboos are we going to forget about? “Forget about conservative ideas.” Guess whose conservative ideas? “With respect to what you should tell young people about, it’s lives of young people that are being put at risk by unsafe sex, and therefore, protect yourself.”

What he didn’t tell them is that the Centers for Disease Control, an arm of the federal government, last year issued a report that the press wouldn’t report on that said, “Condoms do not protect against syphilis, gonorrhea, human papilloma virus, herpes, and most of the other sexually-transmitted diseases.” And yet, here is the secretary of state on MTV, not the secretary of health and human services, the secretary of state making a statement like that.

In this weekend’s BBC interview, Powell said that to dissuade girls from sexual activity and its negative consequences, he tells them: “You are not ready for this, so let’s take your energy and any hopes and dreams you have and convert that into other healthy activities … dance, group activities, other things.”

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