Can abstinence-only education work after all?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  February 2, 2010 08:46 AM

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Right on the heels of the news that teen pregnancy and abortion rates have gone up for the first time in a decade (an uptick that researchers blamed on the Bush-era emphasis on abstinence-only sex education and purity pledges), a study released yesterday seems to show that certain types of abstinence education may help teens delay sexual activity after all.

The latest study, which appeared in Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, a monthly journal published by the American Medical Association, focused on 662 African-American 6th and 7th graders in Philadelphia. The students were randomly assigned to one of five sex-education programs: an eight-hour program in which they were encouraged to delay having sex "until they were ready," an eight-hour program about safe sex, an eight-hour program that did both, 12-hour program that did both; or an eight-hour program focused, not on sex, but on teaching other ways to lead a healthy lifestyle, such as eating well and exercising.

Within two years, 33.5 percent of the students who took the class that encouraged them to delay having sex had lost their virginity, compared to 48.5 percent of those who attended the class on other ways to be healthy and to 52 percent of those who were only taught about safer sex.

"This takes away the main pillar of opposition to abstinence education," Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who wrote the criteria for federal funding of abstinence programs, told  The Washington Post. "I've always known that abstinence programs have gotten a bad rap."

That may be, but there are a few things about the study that raised red flags for me.

For one thing, the students in this study supporting abstinence-only education are young. Really young: tweens -- 11- and 12-year-olds, maybe 13, max -- whose sexual activity was surveyed again just two years later, when they were 13 or 14 years old. But the stats on teen pregnancy are for kids aged 15 to 19 -- a completely different age group. Also, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which documented the rise in teen pregnancies, African-American teen pregnancies increased less than other groups, so an abstinence-only study that focused only on urban African-American middle-school students may not be easily applied to teenagers in general.

Also, critics condend that the abstinence-only program in the study wasn't representative of abstinence-only programs across the country in that it didn't take a moralistic tone (by portrayng sex outside of marriage as inappropriate or disparaging condom use) and encouraged kids to delay sex until they were "ready," not necessarily until marriage.

"There is no data in this study to support the 'abstain until marriage' programs, which research proved ineffective during the Bush administration," James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, pointed out in The Washington Post article.

Another possible issue: Teens today treat sex so casually that, for some, having oral sex is an acceptable way to maintain one's virginity. Since the study relied on kids' own reporting on their virginity (how many teenagers do you know who voluntarily tell adults that they're sexually active?) and asked about intercourse only, it may not be an accurate way to measure how sexually active the repondents rfeally are.

I think that what this study really shows is that abstinence education is an important part of a more comprehensive sex-education program. Equally important: Parents need to get over their squeamishness when it comes to talking to tweens and teens about sex. I'll talk to some experts and get back to you with tips on how to do that later this week, but in the meantime, let's be honest: Did you wait until marriage to have sex? Do you expect your teenagers to?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.

 



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37 comments so far...
  1. Of course abstinence should be included as the core message of any sex ed curriculum -- it is the only 100% fool-proof method of preventing pregnancy and transmission of disease. You would have to be a fool not to include that information.

    The problem is that federal funding for abstinence only education prohibits comprehensive education, which includes safe sex practices, birth control, etc. Once they start having sex, kids need to be prepared.

    And they will start. Maybe it'll be sooner, maybe it'll be later -- but almost all people experiment at some point in their lives. Parents need to accept that it's their child's personal decision and the best they can do is prepare their child to make the decision with eyes wide open. Otherwise, they're just parenting with their heads in the sand and wondering how their 16 year old ended up pregnant.

    Posted by Elizabeth February 2, 10 09:27 AM
  1. The idea that abstinence-education can't work has always seemed as ludicrous to me as saying that education in general is a complete waste of time, energy, and money. It's akin to saying that people have already made up their minds that about what they know, will do and won't do, and that teaching is like barking at a brick wall. It's just not true. Young people with open minds have great ability to take in new ideas and process them. If they can learn the periodic table and science theory, learn about scary moments in history, and learn how to score a goal, then it's certainly possible that they can learn, at least in theory, about how a sexual relationship will change their lives. In many cases for teenagers, not for the good.

    By the same token that sex education in school is in place in case children and teens are not getting it at home, abstinence education should be in place for the same exact reason.

    Posted by RH February 2, 10 10:09 AM
  1. Abstinence-only sex education that has moralistic tones is definitely ineffective other than to layer shame on the bodies of kids. I'm curious about the content of the "non-moral tone" of the curriculum used in this study. Do they include information about masturbation as a healthy way to safely explore sexuality? I know that we don't want to see kids and teens as sexual being but they are experiencing hormonal changes as they grow which stimulate sexual feelings and curiosity.
    Comprehensive sex education with an emphasis on the health of masturbation and the message of waiting to engage in sex with others and how to do it safely if you choose to do that, seems like the best way.
    Also, let's stop having the creepy gym teacher being the person to do the sex education in the schools. There are organizations of professional sex educators, such as folks at Planned Parenthood who can come into the school and are knowledgeable and comfortable with talking about sex. I would like to know who was teaching the curriculum in this study too.

    Posted by Nellie Wilson February 2, 10 10:55 AM
  1. RH - the contention is that abstinence-ONLY education doesn't work, not that abstinence shouldn't be taught.

    I agree that we need to teach kids that waiting is a good idea, and that the only 100%-effective method to prevent pregnancy and STDs is abstinence, but also acknowledge that at some point, they will decide to become sexually active, and teach them how to protect themselves.

    I didn't wait until marriage, and don't expect my children to. I did become active more out of a sense of being the last virgin standing than out of any real sense of love, and I do regret that. I plan to share that with my children eventually, to help guide their choices.

    Posted by akmom February 2, 10 11:00 AM
  1. acknowliging your kids will have a desire for sex is no different that admitting they have an appetite for food. Just like you don't expect them to starve you also don't encourage them to over eat. The trouble is Republicans want to starve them of information where as the dems want them to over eat by providing fisting manuals( do some reseearch this has happened) and other deviant sex practices as normal and acceptable in all society. We should teach safe sex but leave the fetish advocacy for another venue.

    Posted by John Diamond February 2, 10 12:02 PM
  1. None of these were abstienence only education programs. So in answer to the title of the article. No, abstience only programs don't work, and none of the research above suggests otherwise.

    The Heritage Foundation (cited above) seems to play fast and loose with the term "abstinence educuation" on their website when they really mean "abstinence only education".

    But there is a HUGE difference.

    Posted by DaveVn February 2, 10 12:37 PM
  1. Yes, I waited until I was married to have sex. And I'm really glad I did. Both my husband and I are each other's first and only sexual partners and I think that creates a certain bond that really cannot be duplicated any other way. I love my children and I want them to experience that kind of happiness. Also, I can't help but notice that soooo many people regret their first sexual experiences and I want my kids to be aware of that and not have that experience. I treasure my first experience and I think an abstinence-only mindset is the only way to feel that way. So yes, I expect my teenagers to do the same.

    Posted by Adrienne February 2, 10 01:07 PM
  1. Nobody EVER disputed that abstinence education worked. It is Abstinence-ONLY. That is harmful to kids. Children NEED to learn about abstinence as a part of a COPREHENSIVE abstinence and then when you are ready safe sex and those are the steps for safe sex. VERY diferent from the Bush's policies of abstinence ONLY that are reflecting increase rates of teen pregnancy and STDs.

    Posted by D Sartori - professor of Human sexuality February 2, 10 01:15 PM
  1. I work in teen pregnancy prevention, and while I welcome any new evidence-based program to add to our field, I have to say this news made me wonder "so what?" Even if this program worked, it is unethical to deny information on condoms and contraception to teens. By age 19, 70% have had sex, and by age 20, about a third of teen girls have been pregnant at least once in our country. So one program helps really young teens delay sex- OK, but there are dozens of programs out there proven to work to reduce initiation of sex AND actually reduce pregnancy, STI rates, # of sexual partners, and increase condom or contraception use too. Public opinion has been on the side of comprehensive sex ed for years (despite the Bush administration policies, which would not have allowed this particular abstinence-only program to have been funded). Science has shown it works. Our teen pregnancy & STD rates are an international embarrassment. Given the context, the news about this one abstinence only program is just not that exciting.

    Posted by Erica Fletcher February 2, 10 02:03 PM
  1. It's worth noting that the main beef with abstinence only education is most certainly NOT how long it keeps kids from having sex. Broad studies have shown that children subjected to abstinence only education do tend to delay their first sexual encounter by a couple years but they are far more likely to have unprotected sex which is a far greater risk than the risk of thinking your first sexual partner wasn't great.

    I happened to have gotten fantastic sex ed training through my school system that covered things many adults I know don't know about. We learned what a dental damn is and what different STDs look like under a microscope. We knew every part of the reproductive system in both men and women and the pros and cons of every readily available birth control option. We were also repeatedly told that abstinence is the only way to be 100% sure you won't get an STD or pregnant but if you can't or won't hold off, these are ways to make yourself safer.

    Posted by Marnie February 2, 10 02:22 PM
  1. I was a teenager with access to birth control, supportive people, and plenty of facts. I knew kids who had sex early and regretted it, and I knew that my parents would prefer that I waited. I ended up delaying sex until I was in college. I figured that if I didn't respect and protect my body, why would anyone else?

    My cousin, who is the same age as I am, grew up in a very restrictive environment with no sex edcuation at home and a moralistic "sex is a sin" type program at her school. She was having unprotected sex at 15, was pregnant at 17, got married a few months later, became a mom at 18, and was divorced by 19.

    Abstinence ONLY education is unrealistic. Abstinence-emphasized education totally works.

    Posted by Momof2teens February 2, 10 02:36 PM
  1. Adrienne, it's lovely that you feel that way but you're deluding yourself if you think it's guaranteed that your kids will feel that way too. Expectation and reality are often two very different things.

    Posted by Linney February 2, 10 02:43 PM
  1. A "delay sex until you are ready" message aimed at 11-year-olds is a completely different situation from a "wait until you're married" message directed at 16-year-olds.

    Posted by Amanda February 2, 10 02:43 PM
  1. Adrienne, although I regret my first experience, I had other experiences before marriage that did involve love, and I don't regret them, and don't think that anything would make me regret them. I think it's fabulous that you waited, and I think it's a lovely thing to share with your kids, but I also think you're unrealistic if you think that your kids will wait just because you did.

    Posted by akmom February 2, 10 03:01 PM
  1. akmom, It is lovely that you had such wonderful and loving sexual experiences before marriage but I think you are also lucky you did not get pregnant or catch a disease. Perhaps one of those things would have made you regret somthing. To think every person that has sex will be as lucky as you is also unrealistic. But as I said earlier, the problem is two fold. Republicans want to restrict too much and the Dems insist we teach too much. Isn't there common ground between " no information". and a veritable smorgasborg of fringe sexual information?

    Posted by John Diamond February 2, 10 03:20 PM
  1. I think Adrienne makes a good point about an abstinence-only mindset. I waited too and I'm glad I did.

    I think that people who decide to wait until marriage have that mindset regardless of what type of sex education they had at school or at home. There are kids who learn about sex and birth control who choose not the have sex. An abstience-only education doesn't always lead to an abstinence-only mindset. Look at Bristol Palin.

    Posted by Waitedtoo February 2, 10 03:22 PM
  1. John Diamond, anyone having sex is lucky not to get an STD and anyone having sex who doesn't want to become pregnant is lucky when they don't. Marriage, sometimes, has nothing to do with it. Many people, with the right tools (condoms or bc), don't go into a sexual relationship constantly fearful of contracting a disease or getting pregnant. Luck would have very little to do with either if kids were given these tools instead of being denied access to them. It's possible to have what akmom had with some partners in her past-a loving, legitimate relationship, outside of marriage. This is not a taboo concept. There is no such thing as teaching too much. Who gets to decide what it left in and what is left out? What's this fringe information you speak of?

    Posted by Linney February 2, 10 04:31 PM
  1. I didn't wait until marriage--I was 20 though. My first time sucked--not because I wasn't in love, (I was in a committed, loving relationship) but because I was raised in a religious environment and taught that sex was dirty. It was traumatizing. It would have happened whether or not I was married. Part of what made it traumatizing was not understanding sex, our bodies, etc. --thanks to abstinence-only programs. All I knew/thought about my body (and her body) is what my religious community had told me.

    I didn't get anyone pregnant, didn't get any STD's (hello John Diamond) have had positive sexual experiences in my pre-marriage relationships. We need to teach our children about safe-sex and to value their bodies. Abstinence is just one important option to remaining emotionally and physically healthy.


    Posted by MakeLoveNotWar February 2, 10 05:08 PM
  1. Parents need to stay in the loop as well. I never had formal sex education in school - ever. I learned about menstruation from a presentation to my girl scout troop. I learned about everything else by reading and talking to my parents.

    My mom was very clear: She would prefer if I waited until marriage. But top on her priority list was NOT being a grandmother before I was married. She acknowledged that teen hormones are very strong. She did not expect my boyfriend and I to look at each other from across the room with no other contact. At the same time, I got the message loud and clear: do not get pregnant, or your life is over, because I am not raising any more kids. Because my mom was open and honest, and gave me the info I needed when I needed it, I had the ammunition to say "I am not having sex until I am a legal adult". When I got to college, was engaged, and decided that I couldn't wait any longer, I felt comfortable enough with my mom to discuss birth control options, ask her opinion, and get good advice. Although that engagement failed for numerous reasons, I was able to protect my health because I was educated about choices, options, and consequences. Big difference between that and "Sex is bad, no sex before marriage" full stop.

    Posted by bms February 2, 10 05:27 PM
  1. While teen pregnancy rates were consistently descending before former President George W. Bush funneled billions of dollars to the right for "abstinence only" programs between 2000 and 2009, now they're rising, as are rates of abortion, which were headed south prior to the Bush abstinence-only era.

    Posted by Larry Linn February 2, 10 08:56 PM
  1. I really wonder if any type of school-based sex education "works," ie, prevents dz and pregnancy. It's parents' responsibility to teach this stuff, mostly be example, in the values they teach their kids and in how they live their own lives. I'd be very willing to wager that home environment is a better predictor of who is having sex/getting pg than what is taught in schools. I'd also be willing to guess that any parent who leaves it to schools to teach their kids about sexual decision-making is someone who becomes a grandparent at an early age...

    Posted by gigi February 2, 10 08:57 PM
  1. First, I'd like to know more about the abstinence only program--what exactly where they teaching. Second, what did they find with the students who took the class that included both. Third, did the length of time the class went on make a difference. Fourth, what was the post class question that helped them evaluate sexual activity (are you a virgin, are you having sex, are you having sexual intercourse). Fifth, was there other content in the classes that may have influenced the outcome (such as the definition of sex, virginity, etc). SO for example was there a bias in the abstinence class that might have lead them to report that they were virgins when they had been having oral sex and those in the safer sex class reported they were no longer virgins because they were having oral sex.

    Most studies that evaulate abstinence only programs do show that they do delay intercourse by one year, but that after one year the benefit is lost because most of them, once they have sex, use no contraception.

    Posted by ash February 2, 10 10:40 PM
  1. When you buy a new car you either do or aught to follow the owners manual supplied by the manufacturer regarding maintenance, right. Well then why not try the same thing regarding sex. The manufacturer's (Creator's) manual includes instruction regarding this. There are several good reasons for not having sex prior to marriage (abstinance). The manufacturer knows His product very well and is not just trying to be mean when He instructs us to wait. The marriage relationship will definately be enhanced by abstinance prior to marriage. The Bible describes marriage as two people, a male and a female, becoming one and this is consumated by sex. For best results, follow the manual.

    Posted by George Waugh February 2, 10 11:18 PM
  1. John Diamond, I was not lucky, I was well educated about how to prevent pregnancy and disease. That's the whole point to needing education beyond purely abstinence. As I said in my first post, kids should be encouraged to abstain, but should also be taught how to protect themselves. Isn't that a common ground between 'no information' and a smorgasbord of fringe information??

    Posted by akmom February 3, 10 06:49 AM
  1. AKMOM, If you don't think luck AND your education weren't involved I think you are pretending. I don't discount information. I am saying that even information cannot stop stds and condom breakage or pill failure or or sex related cervical cancer. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. So the claim that information protects is just as false as saying only abstinence is needed.
    You ask if that is common ground. My answer is yes, as long as we define the fringe information you are either unaware of or are pretending doesn't exist in some sex ed programs. There is no need to introduce "fisting" to twelve year olds, ever. Are you and others clear about what I eluded to when I used the word fringe now?( and please Google this to see it has happened. I am asking all of you to not beleive me and reasearch this yourselves.

    Posted by John Diamond February 3, 10 08:22 AM
  1. Well here we have it. Teaching abstinence only is a failure. Granted it does work for some but one size does not fit all. I keep thinking of Palin saying we have to teach abstinence only in classrooms and in the background is her pregnant teenage daughter. I guess her daughter was absent on that day. What we should teach is a full rounded curriculum. Abstinence should be taught but along with knowledge of STD’s and if you decide to have sex, the different types of birth control. Also I might add what would happen to your life if you did have a baby.

    People have argued that teaching teenagers about birth control will only make them to want to have sex. Bad news they already are. Just look at the teenage pregnancy rates in this country. If you ask any teenage parents what they used for birth control they will say the same thing, nothing. Then they will add I didn’t think it would happen to us.

    Posted by Edmondo February 3, 10 09:21 AM
  1. I went to Catholic high school and was taught about sex, although abstinence was a BIG part of it. My family was very restrictive at home (couldn't date til 16, etc.), but I managed to wait until my early 20s to have sex. Not all kids who come from "restrictive" homes will be sluts, just like not all kids who come from hug-me liberal homes will be respectful of their bodies and wait. There are no generalizations.

    Posted by Julia February 3, 10 10:02 AM
  1. John Diamond, what is your point-that nothing works? I think we are all aware that nothing about sex is fool-proof. But kids are still doing it. No information doesn't stop disease and unwanted pregnancy either. And while I agree that certain topics, like "fisting" should not be part of basic sex education, I would prefer that a teacher have some sort of answer or resource to point to for every question a 12 year old asks-even if it's about fisting.

    Posted by Linney February 3, 10 11:38 AM
  1. Linney, surely someone as intellegent as yourself is not non plussed by my simple and consistent point. To repeat, anyone who pretends giving kids information prevents pregnancy and disease is as foolish as those they make fun of for suggesting abstinence. My point is that kids SHOULD be taught sex education but that Teachers and administrators have a duty to not make it a social issue by including bizarre practices as normal. I am all for education but demand accountabilty when schools include their social agenda in my child's sex education. I hope that clears up my point. Lastly, I also want a child who asks about fisting to be answered,. I just don't want it part of the carriculum. Thanks.

    Posted by John Diamond February 3, 10 12:34 PM
  1. I think you might just be anti-lesbian, John Diamond, honestly. Gay sex is sex - and I would hate to think that my child was made to feel like a freak because he/she has different sexual urges than more other kids. Those practices are NOT bizarre to those who practice them. Just because you don't does not make them abnormal.

    Of course giving kids information prevents pregnancy and disease. I don't follow that argument. Knowledge is power. Demanding abstinence is just as much making it a social issue as anything else.

    Posted by Liz February 3, 10 01:06 PM
  1. Hey Liz, Thanks for your baseless attack. I will be sure to tell my Lesbian friends that I hate them. I'll tell them some anymous woman named Liz, says so. Enogh of your silliness back to the real argument.
    There is gay sex and then there is fetishes like Fisting. and how honest do we want to be with our kids? Do we leave no stone unturned? And what is wrong with seeking a middle ground between abstinence and information?. Should we only mention the beauty and fulffillment of a gay relationship? Or should we include realities like Lesbian on lesbian violence and the role San Franscisco bathouses played in the spread of aids?

    Posted by John Diamond February 3, 10 01:56 PM
  1. Your last few questions cleared that up nicely. There is domestic violence in every single type of relationship out there. No group has a monopoly on it.

    You seem mightily upset about a practice that isn't all that abnormal for a lot of people. And it probably isn't a bad idea to teach kids about it, since those who don't want to experiment with intercourse may try other options. Like oral or sodomy which are completely normal even in heterosexual relationships.

    Of course there should be a middle ground. You're just not in it.

    Posted by liz February 3, 10 02:47 PM
  1. Is that more tollerance Liz? You miss the point completely. Then you ask for clarification and then you pretend I meant something else so you can feel good about you pettiness and your pathetic ad hominem attacks. I don't find your kind of nasty insulting nature worth debating. Think what you will Lizzy. And you did a lousy job proving your mind was open and somehow mine is closed for wanting to debate how we define the middle ground. I specifically reference that "practice" because it is not that normal to most people, despite your airy claim. I also reference that because kids have been taught that through the efforts oglesn. Grow up.

    Posted by John Diamond February 3, 10 03:57 PM
  1. I have taught an abstinence-only message to middle and high schoolers for several years now.  It is a three day program with a pre-test and a post-test.  We have been well- received with an increase in the number of students who say they plan to wait, after hearing the information.  Many thank me and say they now plan to wait until marriage.  I try to stress that girls are the "big losers" in a sexually active lifestyle...girls are the ones who get pregnant, most likely will be raising without the father, acquire diseases more easily and are more likely to be depressed when the relationship breaks up,(which usually happens).

    Posted by Sarah February 3, 10 05:26 PM
  1. WHat about the teens who are already having sex? And what is the abstinence - only program really consisting of?

    Posted by MoMo February 8, 10 05:38 PM
  1. I'm 29 years old, oh wait, I'm 30 now. And I am a virgin in every single sense of the word, and yes, I will wait until I'm married. But then that woman, whomever, she is, if she exists, is very important to me and it's not my right to steal that away from her. I just hope she hasn't already stolen it away from me.

    I know where I could and what I could have done if I wanted to have sex. Everyone, if they look for it, will eventually find it. I merely did not allow myself to get into any situation where sex was feesible. Oh wait there was that one time, but I was not interested in her even a little, so Ididn't do anything with her either. You see, there are hot girls for any guy if they are willing to find them.

    Bars, clubs are full of hot women that would get with a guy that doesn't have to look like Brad Pitt. So I know where to go to find them, and I have had friends that would have been willing if I had been willing, but I refuse because I will remain abstinate until that day I find the right one, and for me, I'll wait until I'm married, regardless of what she wants because I am human and as a human. I can make my own decisions, and I am not dictated by instinct or feelings.
    And when have kids, yes, I will expect them all to wait until they are adults. It' not that difficult because we are not animals. We are people with a mind and the abiltiy to deny our very own logic and feelings if we so choose to. We do it all of the time already when we get into bad relationships , yet we decide to stay in them. We do it when we are hungry and refuse to eat. When we don't spend money, when we pretend like we actually care about someone we don't. When we lie we deny our own feelings and logic.

    Just because liberal America wants to believe that we are animals that can't fight billions of years of evolution doesn't make it true. People are just using that as a psychological scape goat to pacify their own guilt that they feel due to their own short commings. I have very little sympathy for people who have sex so easily as teens because I was a teen and it's very selfish they are putting their own momentary pleasure above child that may come out of their "necessary" pleasure. Human life is not a joke, nor it cheap, and sexual pleasure is very cheap, even more so today because there are so many willing to have sex.

    Posted by Jacob April 23, 10 11:39 AM
  1. One other thing. I think it's silly that they separate it. Any sex ed should include both, equally important messages. Abstinance really is the only 100% effective protection and is really the only moral choice because like I said in my previous comment, life is not a joke, and a child may come out of it. However, for those that insist on doing it, there are other protections available that are usually in the high 90's effective. I know they like us to believe they are 99.9999.....% effective, but come on, let's be honest, even medical grade BSI is not that effective, because then hand washing wouldn't be of such paramount importance. But these liberal programs get tons of money to promise such effectiveness so that's what they promise, true or not. The label on the box and teachers that are told what to teach keep them from being held accountable in court anyway.

    Posted by Jacob April 23, 10 11:56 AM
 
37 comments so far...
  1. Of course abstinence should be included as the core message of any sex ed curriculum -- it is the only 100% fool-proof method of preventing pregnancy and transmission of disease. You would have to be a fool not to include that information.

    The problem is that federal funding for abstinence only education prohibits comprehensive education, which includes safe sex practices, birth control, etc. Once they start having sex, kids need to be prepared.

    And they will start. Maybe it'll be sooner, maybe it'll be later -- but almost all people experiment at some point in their lives. Parents need to accept that it's their child's personal decision and the best they can do is prepare their child to make the decision with eyes wide open. Otherwise, they're just parenting with their heads in the sand and wondering how their 16 year old ended up pregnant.

    Posted by Elizabeth February 2, 10 09:27 AM
  1. The idea that abstinence-education can't work has always seemed as ludicrous to me as saying that education in general is a complete waste of time, energy, and money. It's akin to saying that people have already made up their minds that about what they know, will do and won't do, and that teaching is like barking at a brick wall. It's just not true. Young people with open minds have great ability to take in new ideas and process them. If they can learn the periodic table and science theory, learn about scary moments in history, and learn how to score a goal, then it's certainly possible that they can learn, at least in theory, about how a sexual relationship will change their lives. In many cases for teenagers, not for the good.

    By the same token that sex education in school is in place in case children and teens are not getting it at home, abstinence education should be in place for the same exact reason.

    Posted by RH February 2, 10 10:09 AM
  1. Abstinence-only sex education that has moralistic tones is definitely ineffective other than to layer shame on the bodies of kids. I'm curious about the content of the "non-moral tone" of the curriculum used in this study. Do they include information about masturbation as a healthy way to safely explore sexuality? I know that we don't want to see kids and teens as sexual being but they are experiencing hormonal changes as they grow which stimulate sexual feelings and curiosity.
    Comprehensive sex education with an emphasis on the health of masturbation and the message of waiting to engage in sex with others and how to do it safely if you choose to do that, seems like the best way.
    Also, let's stop having the creepy gym teacher being the person to do the sex education in the schools. There are organizations of professional sex educators, such as folks at Planned Parenthood who can come into the school and are knowledgeable and comfortable with talking about sex. I would like to know who was teaching the curriculum in this study too.

    Posted by Nellie Wilson February 2, 10 10:55 AM
  1. RH - the contention is that abstinence-ONLY education doesn't work, not that abstinence shouldn't be taught.

    I agree that we need to teach kids that waiting is a good idea, and that the only 100%-effective method to prevent pregnancy and STDs is abstinence, but also acknowledge that at some point, they will decide to become sexually active, and teach them how to protect themselves.

    I didn't wait until marriage, and don't expect my children to. I did become active more out of a sense of being the last virgin standing than out of any real sense of love, and I do regret that. I plan to share that with my children eventually, to help guide their choices.

    Posted by akmom February 2, 10 11:00 AM
  1. acknowliging your kids will have a desire for sex is no different that admitting they have an appetite for food. Just like you don't expect them to starve you also don't encourage them to over eat. The trouble is Republicans want to starve them of information where as the dems want them to over eat by providing fisting manuals( do some reseearch this has happened) and other deviant sex practices as normal and acceptable in all society. We should teach safe sex but leave the fetish advocacy for another venue.

    Posted by John Diamond February 2, 10 12:02 PM
  1. None of these were abstienence only education programs. So in answer to the title of the article. No, abstience only programs don't work, and none of the research above suggests otherwise.

    The Heritage Foundation (cited above) seems to play fast and loose with the term "abstinence educuation" on their website when they really mean "abstinence only education".

    But there is a HUGE difference.

    Posted by DaveVn February 2, 10 12:37 PM
  1. Yes, I waited until I was married to have sex. And I'm really glad I did. Both my husband and I are each other's first and only sexual partners and I think that creates a certain bond that really cannot be duplicated any other way. I love my children and I want them to experience that kind of happiness. Also, I can't help but notice that soooo many people regret their first sexual experiences and I want my kids to be aware of that and not have that experience. I treasure my first experience and I think an abstinence-only mindset is the only way to feel that way. So yes, I expect my teenagers to do the same.

    Posted by Adrienne February 2, 10 01:07 PM
  1. Nobody EVER disputed that abstinence education worked. It is Abstinence-ONLY. That is harmful to kids. Children NEED to learn about abstinence as a part of a COPREHENSIVE abstinence and then when you are ready safe sex and those are the steps for safe sex. VERY diferent from the Bush's policies of abstinence ONLY that are reflecting increase rates of teen pregnancy and STDs.

    Posted by D Sartori - professor of Human sexuality February 2, 10 01:15 PM
  1. I work in teen pregnancy prevention, and while I welcome any new evidence-based program to add to our field, I have to say this news made me wonder "so what?" Even if this program worked, it is unethical to deny information on condoms and contraception to teens. By age 19, 70% have had sex, and by age 20, about a third of teen girls have been pregnant at least once in our country. So one program helps really young teens delay sex- OK, but there are dozens of programs out there proven to work to reduce initiation of sex AND actually reduce pregnancy, STI rates, # of sexual partners, and increase condom or contraception use too. Public opinion has been on the side of comprehensive sex ed for years (despite the Bush administration policies, which would not have allowed this particular abstinence-only program to have been funded). Science has shown it works. Our teen pregnancy & STD rates are an international embarrassment. Given the context, the news about this one abstinence only program is just not that exciting.

    Posted by Erica Fletcher February 2, 10 02:03 PM
  1. It's worth noting that the main beef with abstinence only education is most certainly NOT how long it keeps kids from having sex. Broad studies have shown that children subjected to abstinence only education do tend to delay their first sexual encounter by a couple years but they are far more likely to have unprotected sex which is a far greater risk than the risk of thinking your first sexual partner wasn't great.

    I happened to have gotten fantastic sex ed training through my school system that covered things many adults I know don't know about. We learned what a dental damn is and what different STDs look like under a microscope. We knew every part of the reproductive system in both men and women and the pros and cons of every readily available birth control option. We were also repeatedly told that abstinence is the only way to be 100% sure you won't get an STD or pregnant but if you can't or won't hold off, these are ways to make yourself safer.

    Posted by Marnie February 2, 10 02:22 PM
  1. I was a teenager with access to birth control, supportive people, and plenty of facts. I knew kids who had sex early and regretted it, and I knew that my parents would prefer that I waited. I ended up delaying sex until I was in college. I figured that if I didn't respect and protect my body, why would anyone else?

    My cousin, who is the same age as I am, grew up in a very restrictive environment with no sex edcuation at home and a moralistic "sex is a sin" type program at her school. She was having unprotected sex at 15, was pregnant at 17, got married a few months later, became a mom at 18, and was divorced by 19.

    Abstinence ONLY education is unrealistic. Abstinence-emphasized education totally works.

    Posted by Momof2teens February 2, 10 02:36 PM
  1. Adrienne, it's lovely that you feel that way but you're deluding yourself if you think it's guaranteed that your kids will feel that way too. Expectation and reality are often two very different things.

    Posted by Linney February 2, 10 02:43 PM
  1. A "delay sex until you are ready" message aimed at 11-year-olds is a completely different situation from a "wait until you're married" message directed at 16-year-olds.

    Posted by Amanda February 2, 10 02:43 PM
  1. Adrienne, although I regret my first experience, I had other experiences before marriage that did involve love, and I don't regret them, and don't think that anything would make me regret them. I think it's fabulous that you waited, and I think it's a lovely thing to share with your kids, but I also think you're unrealistic if you think that your kids will wait just because you did.

    Posted by akmom February 2, 10 03:01 PM
  1. akmom, It is lovely that you had such wonderful and loving sexual experiences before marriage but I think you are also lucky you did not get pregnant or catch a disease. Perhaps one of those things would have made you regret somthing. To think every person that has sex will be as lucky as you is also unrealistic. But as I said earlier, the problem is two fold. Republicans want to restrict too much and the Dems insist we teach too much. Isn't there common ground between " no information". and a veritable smorgasborg of fringe sexual information?

    Posted by John Diamond February 2, 10 03:20 PM
  1. I think Adrienne makes a good point about an abstinence-only mindset. I waited too and I'm glad I did.

    I think that people who decide to wait until marriage have that mindset regardless of what type of sex education they had at school or at home. There are kids who learn about sex and birth control who choose not the have sex. An abstience-only education doesn't always lead to an abstinence-only mindset. Look at Bristol Palin.

    Posted by Waitedtoo February 2, 10 03:22 PM
  1. John Diamond, anyone having sex is lucky not to get an STD and anyone having sex who doesn't want to become pregnant is lucky when they don't. Marriage, sometimes, has nothing to do with it. Many people, with the right tools (condoms or bc), don't go into a sexual relationship constantly fearful of contracting a disease or getting pregnant. Luck would have very little to do with either if kids were given these tools instead of being denied access to them. It's possible to have what akmom had with some partners in her past-a loving, legitimate relationship, outside of marriage. This is not a taboo concept. There is no such thing as teaching too much. Who gets to decide what it left in and what is left out? What's this fringe information you speak of?

    Posted by Linney February 2, 10 04:31 PM
  1. I didn't wait until marriage--I was 20 though. My first time sucked--not because I wasn't in love, (I was in a committed, loving relationship) but because I was raised in a religious environment and taught that sex was dirty. It was traumatizing. It would have happened whether or not I was married. Part of what made it traumatizing was not understanding sex, our bodies, etc. --thanks to abstinence-only programs. All I knew/thought about my body (and her body) is what my religious community had told me.

    I didn't get anyone pregnant, didn't get any STD's (hello John Diamond) have had positive sexual experiences in my pre-marriage relationships. We need to teach our children about safe-sex and to value their bodies. Abstinence is just one important option to remaining emotionally and physically healthy.


    Posted by MakeLoveNotWar February 2, 10 05:08 PM
  1. Parents need to stay in the loop as well. I never had formal sex education in school - ever. I learned about menstruation from a presentation to my girl scout troop. I learned about everything else by reading and talking to my parents.

    My mom was very clear: She would prefer if I waited until marriage. But top on her priority list was NOT being a grandmother before I was married. She acknowledged that teen hormones are very strong. She did not expect my boyfriend and I to look at each other from across the room with no other contact. At the same time, I got the message loud and clear: do not get pregnant, or your life is over, because I am not raising any more kids. Because my mom was open and honest, and gave me the info I needed when I needed it, I had the ammunition to say "I am not having sex until I am a legal adult". When I got to college, was engaged, and decided that I couldn't wait any longer, I felt comfortable enough with my mom to discuss birth control options, ask her opinion, and get good advice. Although that engagement failed for numerous reasons, I was able to protect my health because I was educated about choices, options, and consequences. Big difference between that and "Sex is bad, no sex before marriage" full stop.

    Posted by bms February 2, 10 05:27 PM
  1. While teen pregnancy rates were consistently descending before former President George W. Bush funneled billions of dollars to the right for "abstinence only" programs between 2000 and 2009, now they're rising, as are rates of abortion, which were headed south prior to the Bush abstinence-only era.

    Posted by Larry Linn February 2, 10 08:56 PM
  1. I really wonder if any type of school-based sex education "works," ie, prevents dz and pregnancy. It's parents' responsibility to teach this stuff, mostly be example, in the values they teach their kids and in how they live their own lives. I'd be very willing to wager that home environment is a better predictor of who is having sex/getting pg than what is taught in schools. I'd also be willing to guess that any parent who leaves it to schools to teach their kids about sexual decision-making is someone who becomes a grandparent at an early age...

    Posted by gigi February 2, 10 08:57 PM
  1. First, I'd like to know more about the abstinence only program--what exactly where they teaching. Second, what did they find with the students who took the class that included both. Third, did the length of time the class went on make a difference. Fourth, what was the post class question that helped them evaluate sexual activity (are you a virgin, are you having sex, are you having sexual intercourse). Fifth, was there other content in the classes that may have influenced the outcome (such as the definition of sex, virginity, etc). SO for example was there a bias in the abstinence class that might have lead them to report that they were virgins when they had been having oral sex and those in the safer sex class reported they were no longer virgins because they were having oral sex.

    Most studies that evaulate abstinence only programs do show that they do delay intercourse by one year, but that after one year the benefit is lost because most of them, once they have sex, use no contraception.

    Posted by ash February 2, 10 10:40 PM
  1. When you buy a new car you either do or aught to follow the owners manual supplied by the manufacturer regarding maintenance, right. Well then why not try the same thing regarding sex. The manufacturer's (Creator's) manual includes instruction regarding this. There are several good reasons for not having sex prior to marriage (abstinance). The manufacturer knows His product very well and is not just trying to be mean when He instructs us to wait. The marriage relationship will definately be enhanced by abstinance prior to marriage. The Bible describes marriage as two people, a male and a female, becoming one and this is consumated by sex. For best results, follow the manual.

    Posted by George Waugh February 2, 10 11:18 PM
  1. John Diamond, I was not lucky, I was well educated about how to prevent pregnancy and disease. That's the whole point to needing education beyond purely abstinence. As I said in my first post, kids should be encouraged to abstain, but should also be taught how to protect themselves. Isn't that a common ground between 'no information' and a smorgasbord of fringe information??

    Posted by akmom February 3, 10 06:49 AM
  1. AKMOM, If you don't think luck AND your education weren't involved I think you are pretending. I don't discount information. I am saying that even information cannot stop stds and condom breakage or pill failure or or sex related cervical cancer. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. So the claim that information protects is just as false as saying only abstinence is needed.
    You ask if that is common ground. My answer is yes, as long as we define the fringe information you are either unaware of or are pretending doesn't exist in some sex ed programs. There is no need to introduce "fisting" to twelve year olds, ever. Are you and others clear about what I eluded to when I used the word fringe now?( and please Google this to see it has happened. I am asking all of you to not beleive me and reasearch this yourselves.

    Posted by John Diamond February 3, 10 08:22 AM
  1. Well here we have it. Teaching abstinence only is a failure. Granted it does work for some but one size does not fit all. I keep thinking of Palin saying we have to teach abstinence only in classrooms and in the background is her pregnant teenage daughter. I guess her daughter was absent on that day. What we should teach is a full rounded curriculum. Abstinence should be taught but along with knowledge of STD’s and if you decide to have sex, the different types of birth control. Also I might add what would happen to your life if you did have a baby.

    People have argued that teaching teenagers about birth control will only make them to want to have sex. Bad news they already are. Just look at the teenage pregnancy rates in this country. If you ask any teenage parents what they used for birth control they will say the same thing, nothing. Then they will add I didn’t think it would happen to us.

    Posted by Edmondo February 3, 10 09:21 AM
  1. I went to Catholic high school and was taught about sex, although abstinence was a BIG part of it. My family was very restrictive at home (couldn't date til 16, etc.), but I managed to wait until my early 20s to have sex. Not all kids who come from "restrictive" homes will be sluts, just like not all kids who come from hug-me liberal homes will be respectful of their bodies and wait. There are no generalizations.

    Posted by Julia February 3, 10 10:02 AM
  1. John Diamond, what is your point-that nothing works? I think we are all aware that nothing about sex is fool-proof. But kids are still doing it. No information doesn't stop disease and unwanted pregnancy either. And while I agree that certain topics, like "fisting" should not be part of basic sex education, I would prefer that a teacher have some sort of answer or resource to point to for every question a 12 year old asks-even if it's about fisting.

    Posted by Linney February 3, 10 11:38 AM
  1. Linney, surely someone as intellegent as yourself is not non plussed by my simple and consistent point. To repeat, anyone who pretends giving kids information prevents pregnancy and disease is as foolish as those they make fun of for suggesting abstinence. My point is that kids SHOULD be taught sex education but that Teachers and administrators have a duty to not make it a social issue by including bizarre practices as normal. I am all for education but demand accountabilty when schools include their social agenda in my child's sex education. I hope that clears up my point. Lastly, I also want a child who asks about fisting to be answered,. I just don't want it part of the carriculum. Thanks.

    Posted by John Diamond February 3, 10 12:34 PM
  1. I think you might just be anti-lesbian, John Diamond, honestly. Gay sex is sex - and I would hate to think that my child was made to feel like a freak because he/she has different sexual urges than more other kids. Those practices are NOT bizarre to those who practice them. Just because you don't does not make them abnormal.

    Of course giving kids information prevents pregnancy and disease. I don't follow that argument. Knowledge is power. Demanding abstinence is just as much making it a social issue as anything else.

    Posted by Liz February 3, 10 01:06 PM
  1. Hey Liz, Thanks for your baseless attack. I will be sure to tell my Lesbian friends that I hate them. I'll tell them some anymous woman named Liz, says so. Enogh of your silliness back to the real argument.
    There is gay sex and then there is fetishes like Fisting. and how honest do we want to be with our kids? Do we leave no stone unturned? And what is wrong with seeking a middle ground between abstinence and information?. Should we only mention the beauty and fulffillment of a gay relationship? Or should we include realities like Lesbian on lesbian violence and the role San Franscisco bathouses played in the spread of aids?

    Posted by John Diamond February 3, 10 01:56 PM
  1. Your last few questions cleared that up nicely. There is domestic violence in every single type of relationship out there. No group has a monopoly on it.

    You seem mightily upset about a practice that isn't all that abnormal for a lot of people. And it probably isn't a bad idea to teach kids about it, since those who don't want to experiment with intercourse may try other options. Like oral or sodomy which are completely normal even in heterosexual relationships.

    Of course there should be a middle ground. You're just not in it.

    Posted by liz February 3, 10 02:47 PM
  1. Is that more tollerance Liz? You miss the point completely. Then you ask for clarification and then you pretend I meant something else so you can feel good about you pettiness and your pathetic ad hominem attacks. I don't find your kind of nasty insulting nature worth debating. Think what you will Lizzy. And you did a lousy job proving your mind was open and somehow mine is closed for wanting to debate how we define the middle ground. I specifically reference that "practice" because it is not that normal to most people, despite your airy claim. I also reference that because kids have been taught that through the efforts oglesn. Grow up.

    Posted by John Diamond February 3, 10 03:57 PM
  1. I have taught an abstinence-only message to middle and high schoolers for several years now.  It is a three day program with a pre-test and a post-test.  We have been well- received with an increase in the number of students who say they plan to wait, after hearing the information.  Many thank me and say they now plan to wait until marriage.  I try to stress that girls are the "big losers" in a sexually active lifestyle...girls are the ones who get pregnant, most likely will be raising without the father, acquire diseases more easily and are more likely to be depressed when the relationship breaks up,(which usually happens).

    Posted by Sarah February 3, 10 05:26 PM
  1. WHat about the teens who are already having sex? And what is the abstinence - only program really consisting of?

    Posted by MoMo February 8, 10 05:38 PM
  1. I'm 29 years old, oh wait, I'm 30 now. And I am a virgin in every single sense of the word, and yes, I will wait until I'm married. But then that woman, whomever, she is, if she exists, is very important to me and it's not my right to steal that away from her. I just hope she hasn't already stolen it away from me.

    I know where I could and what I could have done if I wanted to have sex. Everyone, if they look for it, will eventually find it. I merely did not allow myself to get into any situation where sex was feesible. Oh wait there was that one time, but I was not interested in her even a little, so Ididn't do anything with her either. You see, there are hot girls for any guy if they are willing to find them.

    Bars, clubs are full of hot women that would get with a guy that doesn't have to look like Brad Pitt. So I know where to go to find them, and I have had friends that would have been willing if I had been willing, but I refuse because I will remain abstinate until that day I find the right one, and for me, I'll wait until I'm married, regardless of what she wants because I am human and as a human. I can make my own decisions, and I am not dictated by instinct or feelings.
    And when have kids, yes, I will expect them all to wait until they are adults. It' not that difficult because we are not animals. We are people with a mind and the abiltiy to deny our very own logic and feelings if we so choose to. We do it all of the time already when we get into bad relationships , yet we decide to stay in them. We do it when we are hungry and refuse to eat. When we don't spend money, when we pretend like we actually care about someone we don't. When we lie we deny our own feelings and logic.

    Just because liberal America wants to believe that we are animals that can't fight billions of years of evolution doesn't make it true. People are just using that as a psychological scape goat to pacify their own guilt that they feel due to their own short commings. I have very little sympathy for people who have sex so easily as teens because I was a teen and it's very selfish they are putting their own momentary pleasure above child that may come out of their "necessary" pleasure. Human life is not a joke, nor it cheap, and sexual pleasure is very cheap, even more so today because there are so many willing to have sex.

    Posted by Jacob April 23, 10 11:39 AM
  1. One other thing. I think it's silly that they separate it. Any sex ed should include both, equally important messages. Abstinance really is the only 100% effective protection and is really the only moral choice because like I said in my previous comment, life is not a joke, and a child may come out of it. However, for those that insist on doing it, there are other protections available that are usually in the high 90's effective. I know they like us to believe they are 99.9999.....% effective, but come on, let's be honest, even medical grade BSI is not that effective, because then hand washing wouldn't be of such paramount importance. But these liberal programs get tons of money to promise such effectiveness so that's what they promise, true or not. The label on the box and teachers that are told what to teach keep them from being held accountable in court anyway.

    Posted by Jacob April 23, 10 11:56 AM
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