Abstinence Ed Fires Back

Print More

Walk 10 paces, turn around and draw your conclusions.

That’s what abstinence education proponents and comprehensive sex ed proponents have been doing with recent studies that criticize each other. The latest ammunition is a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which says comprehensive sex-ed curricula “contain some level of medical inaccuracy” and “emphasize ways to lessen risks associated with sexual activity” while giving very little attention to abstinence.

The “Review of Comprehensive Sex Education Curricula,” released in May, reviewed nine curricula that teach about condom use and other safe sex practices as well as abstinence. It counted each curriculum’s use of such words as “spermicidal,” “withdrawal,” “pill” and “protection,” and compared that total with the number of times the term “abstinence” appeared.

Thus the study took all the methods and key words that were named in reviewing safe sex practices, and weighed them as a group against one other method, abstinence. Not surprisingly, reviewers found that the comprehensive curricula “often do not spend as much time discussing abstinence as they do … contraception and ways to lessen risks of sexual activity.” The report says that even the most “balanced” of the nine curricula discussed condoms and contraception “nearly seven times more than abstinence.”

“The message of abstinence is virtually nonexistent,” Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, said in a prepared statement.

The reviewers also found at least some medical inaccuracies in six of the nine comprehensive curricula, but found inaccuracies related specifically to condom effectiveness in only one.

The curricula examined were Reducing the Risk, Safer Choices, AIDS Prevention for Adolescents in School, Becoming a Responsible Teen, Teen Talk, Reach for Health, Making Proud Choices, Positive Images, and Be Proud! Be Responsible!

The study seems to have been a “them too” reaction to a 2004 analysis of abstinence-only curricula, which found that all 11 programs reviewed relied on “curricula that distort information about the effectiveness of contraceptives, misrepresent the risks of abortion, blur religion and science, treat stereotypes about girls and boys as scientific fact, and contain basic scientific errors.” That report was produced at the request of Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), who supports comprehensive sex ed.

The HHS report is available at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/fysb/content/abstinence/06122007-153424.PDF.