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New Data Emerges on Abstinence-Only Sexual Education

Despite the George W. Bush administration supporting abstinence-only sexual education, there previously had been little to no evidence that such programs worked. Even more significantly, notwithstanding this enormous influx of funding for such programming, recent data indicated that sexual activity, pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases were increasing among teens.

Such information lead us to proclaim on at least two prior occasions, Final Nail and Doesn’t Work, that funding abstinence-only education was a waste of taxpayer’s money. However, earlier this week proponents of abstinence-only education were finally given some reason to cheer with the release of the first ever study indicating the format may work.

iStock_000003483564XSmallAccording to the LA Times:

“A new study shows for the first time that a sex education class emphasizing abstinence only — ignoring moral implications of sexual activity — can reduce sexual activity by nearly a third in 12- and 13-year-olds compared with students who received no sex education.”

The results were considered extremely significant:

“This study, in our view, is game-changing science,” Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group based in Washington, told the Times. “It provides, for the first time, evidence that abstinence-only intervention helped young teens delay sexual activity.”

But while proponents of abstinence-only education were quick to pounce, the Times also went on to write:

“Other forms of sex education also worked, however, reducing sexual activity by about 20% and reducing multiple sexual partners by about 40%, according to the study reported Monday in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.”

Moreover, an editorial accompanying the report insisted that “no public policy should be based on the results of one study, nor should policymakers selectively use scientific literature to formulate a policy that meets preconceived ideologies.”

In addition, it is important for readers to realize that the curriculum used did not match the approach of most of the previously funded, religiously-based programs. Instead, the option producing some positive results focused on the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and skipped the moral value or sex is negative approach.

According to the Washington Post, many deemed that aspect very significant:

iStock_000004762963XSmall“….. critics of an abstinence-only approach said that the curriculum tested did not represent most abstinence programs. It did not take a moralistic tone, as many abstinence programs do. Most notably, the sessions encouraged children to delay sex until they are ready, not necessarily until married; did not portray sex outside marriage as never appropriate; and did not disparage condoms.”

And before proponents get too excited, it must be noted that when it comes to effectiveness, the criteria used to measure the impact involved self-reporting by young teens of their sexual behavior over the two year period following the class. According to the Times, “diseases and pregnancies were not monitored.”

In addition, much of our prior criticism was based upon the Cochrane Collaboration study which previously indicated no enduring implications for abstinence-only approaches. We are assuming that two years cited in the recent study would not constitute a long term impact.

But the proponents of abstinence-only education have to be heartened by the response of the Obama administration. Citing the same studies we have mentioned previously, the administration has reduced funding for abstinence-only education as part of an overall approach to move away from all programs that are not scientifically proven to provide results.

Early indications had the administration adjusting their stance and considering funding this new program based upon the evidence of effectiveness.


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