Abstinence-Only Sex Education Statistics – Final Nail in the Coffin
In both 2006 and 2008, Republicans took a sound beating, seemingly losing every close election contest. While many linked this phenomena to an unpopular president and his failed administration, it must be said that some perennial Republican party positions are also at the root of the party’s demise.
Funds for Abstinence Education
One such party position involves funding for abstinence education. Our outgoing president made increased funding for abstinence education a centerpiece of his campaign in 2000. During the Bush era funding nearly tripled, from $73 million per year in 2001 to $204 million per year in 2008.
The Republican party also took a similar position in 2008, a position that was certainly reinforced by the choice of Sarah Palin, an abstinence-only proponent for vice-president. That stance appeared as a plank in the platform alongside another party position, support for programs demonstrating a track record of success.
This stance came in spite of growing concerns over the effectiveness of abstinence education programs. We noted in a prior article that “abstinence-only education has been losing steam in recent years.” The web site WebMD Health News indicated that “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.”
We also referenced an Associated Press article that confirmed the data noting “that participation in the program is down 40 percent over two years.” States opting not to partake in the program meant that nearly half of all funds for such programming remained unclaimed, this despite the fact that most states were experiencing enormous funding shortfalls.
Effectiveness of Program
Previously, when discussing abstinence-only education, most people would reference a recent summary by the Cochrane Collaboration. The Cochrane folks studied 13 abstinence-only education programs – they could not find one that showed an “enduring effect” on teen’s sexual behavior.
In addition to the Cochrane study, another federally funded study of four abstinence-only programs by the Mathematica Policy Research Inc., published in April of 2007, revealed similar results. The research group found that “participants had just as many sexual partners as nonparticipants and had sex at the same median age as nonparticipants.” In other words, abstinence education programs did nothing favorable – the result was the same as if there were no program being offered at all.
Now a third study, this by Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, revealed some of the most troubling data of all. A national longitudinal study of adolescents, specifically 934 high school students, examined one of the factors used as a measurement of success for abstinence-only education programs, the virginity pledge.
Final Nail in the Coffin
In the most recent study, researchers compared teens who had taken the virginity pledge to those who had not taken a pledge. The researchers found results similar to the aforementioned studies.
First, the rate of the teens taking part in sex was the same. Those taking the virginity pledge were just as likely to have intercourse. The only positive, statistically small, was that those taking the pledge had 0.1 fewer sex partners over the five year study than did those who did not take such a pledge.
However, two other findings were most damning. First, those taking the virginity pledge were less likely to protect themselves. Pledge takers were found to be less frequent users of condoms and other forms of birth control.
Therefore, those youngsters who took the virginity pledge were not only just as likely to have intercourse, they ultimately were more likely to take part in sex in an unsafe manner. This has led experts to conclude that the lessons students take from their abstinence-only education programs is a negative and/or faulty view of contraception.
Second, and most importantly, virginity pledges are one of the measurement tools for determining if the abstinence education program is effective. For these federal funded programs, the government has counted pledges as data that the program is effective.
Rosenbaum summarizes the data succinctly, “Abstinence-only education is required to give inaccurate information. Teens are savvy consumers of information and know what they are getting.”
Time to Put an End to Program Funding
Ellen Goodman, a national columnist, offered this assessment of the entire abstinence-only education movement.
“Our investment in abstinence-only may not be a scam on the scale of Bernie Madoff. But this industry has had standards for truth as loose as some mortgage lenders. All in all, abstinence-only education has become emblematic of the rule of ideology over science.”
While Goodman points to our current president as the source of ideology over science, it is important to recognize that it is not a Bush position, but a Republican position. It is one that may well find its way into the next presidential party platform if certain constituents have their way.
If it does, then people must speak up once again – as Goodman writes: “What the overwhelming majority of protective parents actually want is not a political battle. They want teens to delay sex and to have honest information about sexuality, including contraception.”
Recent data makes it clear – the only way forward towards these objectives is through programs that combine comprehensive sex education lessons.