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A study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine shows that abstinence-only education is significantly more effective than “safer sex” education in delaying sex among early adolescents who are at risk for HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.
BY Janneke PietersRegister Correspondent
— President Obama allocated zero dollars toward abstinence-only education in
his 2011 federal budget. He did the same in his last budget.
a landmark study published in the February issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (a journal of the American Medical Association)
shows that abstinence-only education is significantly more effective than
“safer sex” education in delaying sex among early adolescents who are at risk
for HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.
of abstinence-only education have said [the study] is a game-changer. We
certainly hope it is a policy-changer,” said Valerie Huber, executive director
of the National Abstinence Education Association.
research, which followed 662 urban black sixth- and seventh-graders for two
years, evaluated four sex education programs: abstinence-only, “safer” sex
(condom use), comprehensive (both abstinence and condom use), and general
results were telling: At the end of the two-year program, 32.6% of teens in the
abstinence-only program reported ever having sex, compared to 51.8% of students
in the “safer” sex program. Teens in the abstinence program also had fewer
sexual partners and were less likely to have unprotected sex.
research confirms the findings. Huber cited 17 peer-reviewed studies of
abstinence programs that showed results similar to the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine study. The Heritage Foundation found 16 studies
of abstinence-based education programs that showed “statistically significant
positive results in delaying early sexual activity and initiation,” according
to its website.
Which Failed Experiment?
critics of abstinence-based education believe it is ineffective and contributes
to risky sexual behavior. The Guttmacher Institute recently reported that for
the first time in 10 years, the nation’s teen pregnancy rates rose 3% in 2006
along with teen birth rates (4%) and teen abortion rates (1%) — and quickly
blamed the uptick on Bush-era abstinence-only programs.
abstinence-only-until-marriage programs” under Bush were a “failed experiment,”
Heather Boonstra, senior public policy associate, said in a press release. The
administration’s new teen pregnancy prevention initiative “ensures that
programs will be age-appropriate, medically accurate and, most importantly,
based on research demonstrating their effectiveness.”
scientifically proven, age-appropriate and medically accurate Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine study calls claims like Boonstra’s into question.
“The results may be surprising to some in that the theory-based abstinence-only
curriculum appeared to be as effective as a combined curriculum and more
effective than the ‘safer’ sex-only curriculum in delaying sexual activity,”
the study concluded.
fact, a close look at the data reveals that children who took the
abstinence-only course but still had sex were slightly more likely (75.8%) to
use a condom than those who took the “safer” sex course (73.8%).
theory-based abstinence-only intervention would not necessarily reduce
adolescents’ condom use,” the study concluded.
real failed experiment is “safer” sex education programs, which received four
times the federal funding of abstinence-only education programs even under the
Bush administration, according to the National Abstinence Education
Speaking the Lingo
co-author Loretta Jemmott attributed her program’s success at least in part to
efforts to “understand the children’s code, the ‘code of their street.’ We have
to hear them, talk to them, find out what their attitudes are,” she told the
difference between Jemmott’s program and other abstinence-only programs is that
it did not emphasize waiting for sex until marriage, disparage condom use or
use a “moralistic” tone.
the program worked with teens to delay sex until they were “ready” to deal with
its consequences. The program focused on teens’ short-term goals, and how HIV,
sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy were obstacles to those goals.
you talk only about sex before marriage, the kids turn off the message. You
don’t want to turn them off,” Jemmott said. Many of the children in the study,
Jemmott pointed out, did not experience being raised by married parents, making
it difficult for them to identify with the concept.
abstinence educator and author Mary Beth Bonacci feels differently. Children do
connect to the idea of marriage, she told the Register. “‘Ready’ is a nebulous
concept,” she said. “If this study had talked about sex within marriage in
light of Church teaching, I think the results would have been even better.”
line: “Abstinence is the right message for this age group,” Jemmott said. “It’s
a way for kids to think about themselves and to take care of themselves and
Sex Ed at Home
the relative success of the study, a third of the study’s population still was
are being overly simplistic saying a good sex education or abstinence education
program is going to solve the problem,” Huber said. “Mom and Dad need to be
front and center, learning how to communicate the benefits of abstinence.”
teaching affirms that parents have first say in sex ed: “Sex education, which
is a basic right and duty of parents, must also be carried out under their
attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and
controlled by them” (Familiaris
percent of parents want teenagers to be taught that abstinence is best,
according to a 2003 Zogby Poll. Seventy-nine percent said they want young
people taught that sex should be reserved for marriage or in an adult
relationship leading to marriage.
parents’ rights, interests and religious beliefs are barriers to the goals of
the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), which just released a
report advocating sex education worldwide for children as young as 10 years
old. The report blamed the “taboo on youth sexuality” for AIDS and teen
pregnancy, and accused “fundamentalist” religions like Catholicism and Islam
for imposing “tremendous barriers that prevent young people” from obtaining
sexual information and services and for denying “the pleasurable and positive aspects
goal of IPPF is to sexually engineer society, and one way to accomplish this
feat is to smear religious conservatives, especially Catholics,” said the
Catholic League’s president, Bill Donohue, in a statement.
A Course Correction
hopes that recent bipartisan calls for a “course correction” on sex-education
funding on Capitol Hill will gain momentum.
Archives of Pediatric and
Adolescent Medicine study, the
“most rigorous” of its kind to date, “gives Obama the perfect opportunity to
amend his [budget] request, and/or Congress to amend his request to allow a
stand-alone funding stream for abstinence education programs,” she said.
federal government should get more money out there for [abstinence education]
research,” Jemmott said. “Other age groups, cultures and communities should be
studied … to see what we can do to get these types of programs to work for
Pieters writes from Asheville, North Carolina.