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HELENA - The state Department of Public Health and Human Services will spend $90,000 in federal money over the next school year on sexual education programs that steer teenagers away from contraception and into abstinence until marriage.

Montana received another $96,000 as part of the same grant to fund a media campaign against premarital sex. Personnel for the program are also paid by the grant.

Opponents of abstinence-only sexual education said that the message is cautious at best, and dangerous at worst since it leaves some high school students unprepared for college life.

Jon Berg, director of the Montana Abstinence Partnership program, said that since Montana began offering abstinence-based education in the late 1990's, the teen pregnancy rate in the state has dropped.

"Our message is condoms are not very effective," Berg said in a phone interview Monday.

However, Montana's leading abortion rights organization argues that since more than half of Montanaís teenagers aged 15-19 are having premarital sex, contraception as well as abstinence should be part of all sexual education discussions.

"We all might feel more comfortable in a world where teens aren't having sex, but that's not reality," said Morgan Sheets, director of Montana's chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

Berg said most sexually transmitted diseases can be spread despite condom use. And for condoms to be effective against unwanted pregnancies, they must be used correctly and consistently.

"Teenagers donít tend to use them consistently and correctly and that's the problem," Berg said.

Both genital warts and herpes can be spread despite condom use, and Berg acknowledged that the number of sexually-transmitted diseases is on the rise in Montana. More than five million new cases of genital warts, a virus linked to cervical cancer, are reported in the United States every year.

"It's a huge issue," Berg said. "We're encouraging teens to be abstinent until they get married."

The federal grant program, now in it's sixth year, also pays for billboards, television commercials and a Web site. You can see it target="_blank">here.

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