Abstinence education reduces teen sex rates, study shows
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 4, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – As states from Utah to Illinois debate the content of their public school’s sex education courses, a new study finds an abstinence course reduces teen sexual activity and reinforces healthy attitudes.
Researchers observed more than 1,100 ninth graders in Georgia who used the Choosing the Best (CTB) curriculum in 2009-10.
“Data demonstrated significant impact of CTB at the end of 9th grade on commitment to abstinence, pro-abstinence beliefs and attitudes, intentions to maintain abstinence, and lower onset of sexual intercourse, and at the beginning of 10th grade on pro-abstinence attitudes,” the study‘s authors found.
Drs. Lisa Lieberman and Haiyan Su of Montclair State University said CTB uses “medically accurate” information to emphasize that “abstinence from sexual activity until marriage is the best way to avoid teen pregnancy, disease, and possible negative emotional consequences, and is the best way to help students focus on academic and other future-oriented goals.”
The abstinence-only program delayed first sexual behavior and improved attitudes in only one year, although it is designed as a multi-year program beginning in the sixth grade.
Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, told LifeSiteNews.com that expression can be misleading. “When a study reports their findings delayed the onset of sexual activity, that’s how they describe the overall finding as averaged across the entire population they are studying,” he said. “What that may mean is that there are some students who are abstaining until adulthood or perhaps even until marriage. When you average that across a population, the ones who are abstaining and the ones who don’t, it comes across as a later onset, a delayed average.”
“Some kids really do take these messages to heart and do abstain,” he said.
The authors noted girls tended to hold more strongly pro-abstinence views than boys. There was no racial or ethnic difference in onset of sexual intercourse.
“The negative outcomes associated with early sexual activity are much greater at the younger ages and then decline the older a person is when they begin sexual activity. So, there is definite value in encouraging someone who is 13 to wait until they are 16 or 18 or 21 to have sex, even if they don’t abstain all the way to marriage.”
Prior sexual activity most affected the program’s effectiveness. “Among pretest virgins, there was a lower onset of sexual intercourse by the end of ninth grade,” according to the conclusion published last month in the SAGE Open journal. “Among students already sexually active, there was a short-term treatment effect on intentions, but not sexual behavior.”
Lieberman and Su surveyed participants at the beginning and end of ninth grade and again at the beginning of tenth grade. More than one-quarter of the ninth graders who participated were already sexually active.
They recommended the program be observed after being offered over several years, beginning in the sixth grade, when 95 percent of students have not yet had sexual intercourse.
Sprigg said while “advocates of so-called comprehensive education advocate teaching very explicit information about sexuality at very young ages – younger than most kids would even be thinking about sex, I would think by 7th or 8th grade it’s a time when the issue should be addressed, because unfortunately kids that young are becoming sexually active in some cases.”
The study’s success reassured Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA). “This new study adds to 22 other peer reviewed studies showing SRA [Sexual Risk Avoidance] education has a positive impact on student sexual behavior,” she said. “This rigorous research design adds an important exclamation point to the efficacy of abstinence-centered education.”
Meanwhile, researchers say the Obama administration stonewalled releasing another report that showed abstinence attitudes positively impact teens. In 2009, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), funded a study of more than 1,000 young people aged 12-18 but refused to release the results until 2011, even following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It found that parental and peer attitudes do more to shape teens’ views of sex and abstinence than “adolescent exposure to sex and abstinence topics in a class or program.”
“Their anti-abstinence position is just as political, if not more so, than the pro-abstinence position of conservatives,” Sprigg told LifeSiteNews. “The liberals often claim it is conservatives who are anti-science, but when the research and the science goes against their ideological position, they are very eager to suppress the findings.”
“Anyone who opposes SRA abstinence-centered education must be honest in their antagonism,” Huber stated. “They can no longer say that the approach ‘doesn’t work,’ but must admit that their opposition is simply an ideological distaste for programs that encourage teens to wait for sex.”
CTB has been used by more than three million middle and high school students in 48 states since 1993.