Study Shows Abstinence Education Can Delay Sex by Young Teens

A new federally funded study released this week provides the first clear evidence that  abstinence-only education can delay sexual activity in young adolescents.  The favorable report follows numerous other reports that questioned the usefulness of abstinence-only sex education.

The report, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, shows that youth placed in an abstinence-only curriculum were less likely to begin having sex within the next two years than participants placed in three other programs: a program that taught them safe-sex only; a program that combined safe-sex teachings with encouraging abstinence; and a program that taught other healthy living choices not related to sex.

Roughly one-third of the students – sixth and seventh grade African-American students given the education interventions between 2001 and 2004 – placed in the abstinence-only course began having sex within two years, compared with around 52 percent who were in the safe-sex only class, about 42 percent from the abstinence and safe-sex combined class and about 47 percent in the healthy living class. There were 662 study participants in total.

Obama administration officials said that the new findings could make programs such as the one studied eligible to compete for grants under its Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, which requires evidence of success for funding.

The Obama administration slashed funding for abstinence-only education last year because there was no firm evidence to support its efficacy. The new findings have divided youth advocacy groups. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy issued a statement in support of the study’s practicality.

“For the first time, there is strong evidence that an abstinence-only intervention can help very young teens delay sex and reduce their recent sexual activity as well,” the group said in a statement.

At the same time, an executive at Advocates for Youth, an organization that works to help youth make responsible decisions on their sexual health and champions against abstinence-only sex education, believes the abstinence curriculum taught to the selected population in new study is not as severe and inhibiting as past abstinence-only programs since it teaches delaying sexual activity, but not necessarily waiting until marriage.

“This is an important study. It’s a legitimate study. We’ve all got to keep in mind that this is not the abstinence-only education of the Bush administration,” said Debra Hauser, executive vice president of Advocates for Youth. “This program that was evaluated was a very different animal from the one that the government put $1.5 billion into over the past 10 to 12 years and that was zeroed out in President Obama’s first budget.”

Advocates for Youth said that the program involved in the study would not have qualified for funding under guidelines of the George W. Bush administration because it did not fit its strict ideological abstinence-until-marriage tenets.


Efficacy of a Theory-Based Abstinence-Only Intervention Over 24 Months: A Randomized Controlled Trial With Young Adolescents, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

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