By Kathleen Gilbert

Editor's note: a previous version of this story indicated that rates of sexual activity among teens attending “safer sex” education programs in the study did not differ significantly from rates among teens in the control group. The story has been modified to convey more accurately the data provided in the study.

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 1, 2010 ( – Theory-based, abstinence-only intervention has been linked a lower rate of sexual involvement among African American preteens, according to a study in the February issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a publication of the American Medical Association.

John B. Jemmott III, Ph.D, of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and colleagues conducted a randomized controlled trial to evaluate one intervention – an eight-hour abstinence-only program targeting reduced sexual intercourse. 

The study found that the probability of ever having sexual intercourse was approximately 15 percentage points lower among teens in the abstinence-only program than those in condom-promoting courses or those undergoing no sex education.

The study randomly assigned 662 African-American students (average age 12.2) to participate in one of four programs: abstinence-only intervention; safer-sex–only intervention targeting increased condom use; comprehensive interventions targeting both sexual intercourse and condom use; or a control intervention focusing on health issues unrelated to sexual behavior.

The researchers found that the probability of ever having sexual intercourse by the 24-month follow-up was 33.5 percent in the abstinence-only program and 48.5 percent in the control group attending health promotion courses. 52 percent of teens in the “safer sex” programs reported sexual activity, while 42 percent of those in mixed “safer sex”/abstinence program reported activity.

In addition, fewer students in the abstinence-only group (20.6 percent) vs. those in the control group (29 percent) reported having sex in the previous three months during the follow-up period. The abstinence-only intervention did not appear to affect rates of condom use. The eight-hour and 12-hour comprehensive programs appeared to be associated with reduced reports of having multiple partners when compared with the control group.

The authors of the study, which was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, concluded that theory-based abstinence-only interventions “can be part of [the] mix” of methods to reduce sexually-transmitted infections among teens.

Pro-life leaders hailed the study as reflecting a common sense approach to sex education initiatives.

“We have known for years that teaching abstinence changes lives,” Leslee Unruh, founder of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse, told (LSN).  “Abstinence education treats the whole being, teaching youth to respect themselves, set goals, avoid risky behavior to have a healthy future.”

Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America remarked: “Once again, science validate a moral truth – that promoting chastity leads to healthier lifestyles.”

Wright told LSN that, “the only people that will be disappointed by this good news – that encouraging abstinence results in kids abstaining from sex – are the people who profit from kids being sexually active.

“Too many adults make a living from, or seek validation for their own bad behavior by pushing kids to be sexually active,” she added.

Commenting on the study, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council called it unfortunate that “this Congress and administration has zeroed out abstinence education in favor of sex-ed programs that advocate high-risk sexual behavior when it is children and young teens who suffer the consequences.”

Following President Obama's budget recommendations last year, Congress voted to gut $99 billion in federal abstinence education funding, and increased funds for contraceptive-based education initiatives. 

“The government does not promote drug use or underage drinking, and it should not promote high-risk sexual behavior either,” said Perkins in a statement Monday.  “The evidence shows clearly that sexual abstinence is the healthiest behavior for youth.”

See related coverage:

House Follows Obama's Plan to Replace Abstinence Grant with Contraceptive Funding

Obama Calls for Condom Funding to Replace Abstinence Education

“Comprehensive” Sex Education is Ineffective: Abstinence Works, Major National Study Shows

Major Study Reveals Overwhelming Bias of “Comprehensive” Sex Education