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Teen Sexual Abstinence Education: Statistics Say It Doesn’t Work

Yet Republican platform calls for increased funding.

With the recent selection of Sarah Palin as running mate, Presidential candidate John McCain reinforced an ongoing Republican alignment with conservative Christians. The Alaskan Governor has been a strong proponent of both creationism and abstinence education for public school students.

GISuser.comDirectly after McCain’s selection of Palin, the Republican Party formally released its platform for 2008. Among the educational planks was a commitment to pursue increased funding for abstinence education.

Support for Abstinence Education Dissipating
While the Republican stance sought to increase funding for the program, abstinence-only education has been losing steam in recent years. According to the web site WebMD Health News, “Seventeen states, including California, have opted out of the programs, choosing to forgo federal funds and instead teach about abstinence along with contraception, including condom use.”

An Associated Press article confirmed that data noting “that participation in the program is down 40 percent over two years.” And while 28 states are still in, the AP reports that “Arizona and Iowa recently announced they will pull out at the start of the upcoming fiscal year.”

The sum result is that of the $50 million budgeted for three possible Title V abstinence education programs only $21 million has actually been distributed.

Abstinence Only Education Deemed Ineffective

Though it is hard to imagine cash-strapped states forgoing potential funds for education in any form, recent data demonstrates that abstinence-only programs have failed to produce the desired outcome. Such programs show no evidence of delaying kids’ first sexual experience nor have the programs been effective in reducing teen pregnancies for those who do have sex.

In discussing abstinence-only education, Harvey Feinberg, MD and President of the Institute of Medicine, noted a recent summary by the Cochrane Collaboration. Feinberg indicated that of 13 studies testing abstinence-only education, not one showed an “enduring effect” on teen’s sexual behavior.

“To limit them (sexual education programs) to abstinence-only does not comport with the evidence,” states Feinberg.

Despite that data, abstinence proponents point to recent teen pregnancy rates for support. According to the National Survey of Family Growth, pregnancy rates “have fallen from 117 births per 1,000 females in 1990 to 76 per 1,000 in 2002.”

However, John Santelli, a professor of population studies at Columbia University, indicated that “most of the 35% drop occurred before 1998, when two separate federal abstinence-only programs were started.”

Skepticism amidst a Rigid Curriculum
While some states have pulled out of the program because of the continuous uncertainties regarding funding for the program, others have also taken note of the lack of supporting evidence of program success. For example, a rising pregnancy rate among 15-19 year-olds in Idaho had state officials thinking it was simply time to get out of the program.

Viva la VibsIn addition, opponents note that the government program is simply too dogmatic. “It was just too strict,” stated Emily Hajek in the AP article. The policy adviser to Iowa Governor Chet Culver added, “You cannot be that prescriptive about how it has to be taught.”

But any summation against abstinence education likely comes best from Dr. Ned Calonge, Colorado’s chief medical officer. Calonge’s assessment was based upon the federally funded study of four abstinence-only programs by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. published in April of 2007.

MPR “found that participants had just as many sexual partners as nonparticipants and had sex at the same median age as nonparticipants. That finding led Calonge to state:

“To show no benefit compared to nothing. That was striking. These are tax dollars that are going for no useful purpose, and it would not be responsible for us to take those dollars.”

Uphill Battle for Republicans

Ironically, the platform also made a point of stressing support for programs that had a demonstrated track record of success. The platform states: “We advocate policies and methods that are proven and effective.”

While proponents of abstinence education continue to assert that abstinence is the only failsafe method for avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, there is no concrete evidence that this unambiguous message for adolescents is effective. Taken as a set of statements, increased funding for the governmental abstinence education program definitively contradicts the notion of supporting a program with a proven record.

baratundeAnd as for the presidential race and the Republican platform, given that Governor Palin is a proponent of abstinence education the recent revelations regarding her teenage daughter, Bristol serve as additional evidence that the abstinence-only message simply does not cut it with adolescents. In fact, Republicans, most especially Governor Palin, all have to be hoping that a 527 political action committee does not take a page out of the politics of personal destruction playbook that has been the hallmark of the Karl Rove era and apply it to the situation involving the Governor’s teenage daughter.

Photos courtesy of, Viva la Vibs, and Baratunde.


1 Joseph Thibault { 09.12.08 at 5:06 pm }

Great post! I hope this information will help inform the individuals who still support the program (Especially our presidential/veep nominees!)

2 Phil Fite { 09.15.08 at 8:48 pm }

Great post my eye.
It is SAD you would rather advocate the killing of babies than stick to REAL education issues, Like Why the minorities are failing out of school after generations of being given education?
Maybe because they know they really don’t have to work or be productive citizens to make it in this country of whiny Liberals.

3 aaron { 09.17.08 at 4:43 am }

“they really don’t have to work or be productive citizens to make it in this country of whiny Liberals”

As opposed to the government leaders that state the constitution does not apply to them, spy on citizens, use lies to start wars under false pretense, double the debt in 8 years, and bail out any failing corporation with a billion dollar market capitalization.

How can anyone with a modicum of intelligence look at the growth of the U.S. national debt and talk about handouts to individuals after seeing a legacy of corporate welfare?

4 Dan Bailey { 09.29.08 at 10:10 pm }

Let’s see, the CDC studies show that teen virginity is up from 46% to 53% over the last 15 years and teen pregnancy is down 35% over the same period. Hmmmm. It sounds like abstinence is working and maybe we should encourage this trend by more funding and emphasis. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

5 Blessed { 09.30.08 at 6:57 pm }

Thank you Phil Fite for showing what education have given you-STUPIDITY. By the way, Its your kind of people that creates IGNORANCE

6 Justin B { 10.17.08 at 12:31 am }

Hey dan bailey, you missed the part of the article that says that most of that 35% decrease happened before the Abstinence education program, and that the program was only used in certain areas of the country, a shrinking number I might add. Those areas did not report a rise in teen virginity or drop in teen pregnancy over the duration of the program. Referencing national numbers under those circumstances actually proves that the areas NOT using that program must be doing a bang up job in comparison.

7 Kristen { 11.02.08 at 10:29 pm }

It is a great article, but it falls short on 2 things. faith (used broadly here; in self, religious, etc.) and open, transparent relationships with parents/guardians. sex ed, like broader education has to have a basis in the family. Also, we cannot be afraid to teach kids early, starting with the differences between the 2 genders, and adding more as they get older. there have been instances with younger and younger kids, getting into hush-hush sexual incidents with each other and themselves at times, because some see mom/dad do it, some get into mom/dads adult stuff, and in some cases, there’s child abuse. as a christian, I do try to encourage abstinence, but being 21, and having friends who have had babies, and a mom who has had five kids, and an older sister who has been through things and being able to talk to all of said people openly about anything from a young age has made a difference.

8 Karen { 11.08.08 at 12:46 pm }

I live in South Dakota, where we just defeated our second abortion ban attempt. One of the biggest national proponent for abstinance only programs lives in our state and constantly pushes for abortion bans. Here’s how well it worked for her. She was pregnant when she married her first husband (a minister). She aborted her fourth child when she was between husbands. Now she thinks she should be able to tell us how to comport ourselves. We want to look at other avenues to reduce unplanned pregnancies but we are constantly fighting regressive movements instead.

9 rob { 12.30.08 at 12:22 pm }

We have created a series of generations that believe that anything is okay. It is not good to be sexually active before marriage for a plethora of reasons. We have relegated ourselves to propagating a “gospel” that teaches “I am master of my universe and only i have to answer for it.” Well society teaches us differently. What i do or do not do does affect others. If I steal it has a ripple affect. Prices go up. If I give it also has a ripple affect someone is blessed and hopefully others will pass the attitude along. We have told ouselves so many lies that we believe them all. Now we are trying to right a ship that is humongus. Do we really believe deep in out heart that sex education should happen at school. I do not want the “state” teaching my children anything about sex. My spouse and I will cover that subject without the school’s help. If my children still make a mistake we will not ask the state to help us. We can make it without the goverment mandating anything that is personal to us. There should be no kind of sex education at school. What about irresponsible parents? They should pay the price for their failures not the state. We have allowed it for so long that now we have a culture that believes the Government should provide all things. Socialism doesn’t work. Yes, we have deep seeded problems that go beyond sex education. However this issue is a microcosm of what is wrong with the Education Department of the United States. We are intersted in putting band-aids on social problems instead of dealing with the disease. Abstinence will always be best. Whether the elites believe it or not. 20 or 30 years will not be long enough to evaluate the true consequences. It may take 100 years. If we do what is right now though the generations to come wil appreciate the proper choices we have made today.

10 James { 02.03.09 at 10:29 pm }

“We can make it without the goverment mandating anything that is personal to us. ”
I happen to agree with this statement. The government should not mandate a bunch of things, but it does anyway. Gay marriage, for instance, which you likely disagree with, is banned in its entirety in Florida. But to let a teenager’s care and education in the matters of sex be placed in the hands of religious parents who believe firmly in the “no sex EVER” policy? That is just absurd!
Point being, whether or not the government mandates it, it should be given in a non-biased manner, and completely. But what person could do that–ruin their child’s innocent ears by actually teaching them about sex?
“Do we really believe deep in out heart that sex education should happen at school. I do not want the “state” teaching my children anything about sex. ”
Yes, and it doesn’t matter what each person may or may not think.

11 ale { 04.21.09 at 3:35 am }

May I please have the last name of the author
thank you :)

12 Todd Wasmund { 05.21.09 at 8:33 am }

I am a health teacher at a middle school. I teach abstinence in my 6-8th grade classes. It amazes me from what is written in the article above that all they talk about is teen pregnancy again. The real issue is sexually transmitted disease which isn’t even mentioned. If I ask my students what is the number one sexually transmitted disease they almost always say HIV/AIDS. When students leave my class they know the real reason to stay abstinent. Having sex is a choice all students will have to make, but they should not be taught about contraception, you treat it like a get-out-of-jail free card. They do not protect students from these devasting diseases. Why in the world would you not want to teach students about abstinence. For all of you out there that think contraception should be taught to our children, I have a suggestion, drop to your knees and pray to GOD to remove the blinders (scales) from your eyes.

13 There's a God and nobody can tell me different!!! { 08.13.09 at 12:32 pm }

Well i think that teenage pregnancy is just a way God teaches teens that they are moving too fast and things like this will remain, unless they stop having sex, because they are not yet ready for the responsibilities having sex brings!!!! It could be worse; it could be aids or some other std! So they should be grateful!!

14 Kelsey F { 09.18.09 at 11:32 am }

The problem isn’t with the teaching of abstinence, it’s the teaching of abstinence ALONE. It’s a valid option, and certainly should remain a choice for all teens… but keeping abstinence only programs in our schools clearly isn’t getting the job done. Let all preventative measures be heard instead. You can’t make teens act the way you want by only exposing them to your one “perfect” option, and when they do decide to have sex for whatever reason they aren’t informed of any other birth control and that’s when STD’s are spread and pregnancies occur. A article on MSNBC just came out about how more religious states have higher teen pregancy rates, which is an effect of not only their religious beliefs (no birth control) but the fact that these states are pushing the abstinence-only education programs. The only way to prevent pregnancies/STD’s is to abstain completely, but when your child decides to have sex why wouldn’t you want them to protect themselves?

15 An ACTUAL teenager { 04.15.10 at 8:49 pm }

“double the debt in 8 years”- Aaron
Look what Obama has done.

And for anyone who cares for the opinion of a teenager i happen to be 16, and doing a report on how abstinence-only education is failing statisically. i believe in sex ed, because without it, how will some teenager know what disease he has after sex without education? Because of the emberassment of telling a parent about diseases that they may have on their genitals, they continue with their disease, leaving it untreated, and in some cases this could lead to death. Of course abstinence is the only way to be 100% prtected from STD’s/pregnancy/emotional stress of premature sex. Being left in the dark about this can not only increase teen pregnancies, but increase the ammount of STD’s contracted. I understand as a parent how many of you just want to protect your sons/daughters, but are you protecting them by allowing them to have unprotected sex because they don’t know better? what if they contract an STD? Educate, to protect. PLZ!

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