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Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges


CDC study shows decline in teen sex during abstinence education period

Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 5, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — “Fewer students are having sexual intercourse during the earlier years of high school,” according to a new study released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 41 percent of ninth to 12th grade students now admit to having had sexual intercourse, down from 47 percent in 2005 and a steep decline from 53 percent in 1995. The downward trend is especially prevalent among ninth and 10th graders, the CDC study found. Significantly less sexual experience was even greater among both black and hispanic minorities.

“Nationwide, the proportion of high school students who had ever had sexual intercourse decreased significantly overall and among ninth and 10th grade students, non-Hispanic black (black) students in all grades, and Hispanic students in three grades,” the report concluded.

Rates dropped among boys in general (down 48 percent to 43 percent), girls in general (46 percent to 39 percent), blacks students (down 68 percent to 48.5 percent), and hispanic high schoolers (51 percent to 42.5 percent). Much greater decreases in sexual intercourse were reported among black and hispanic students than among white students. Also, decreases were greater among freshmen and sophomores than among juniors and seniors.

The government called the drop a “positive change,” but only for secular reasons. “Early initiation of sexual activity is associated with having more sexual partners, not using condoms, sexually transmitted infection (STI), and pregnancy during adolescence,” the report explained.

The report also did not state the reason for the decline in sexual activity among teens. The government simply concluded, “More work is needed to understand the reasons for these decreases,” and “more research is necessary to understand the contributing factors” in order “to ensure that they continue.”

Despite the survey period showing dramatic decline in sexual intercourse when the U.S. was supporting and increasing funding for abstinence-based education, the CDC said, “These findings cannot be connected directly to any specific intervention.” As a result, both sides of the sex-ed debate are drawing their own conclusions.  

Two different presidential administrations served during this period of dramatic decline in teen sex. The George W. Bush administration was supportive of abstinence-only programs, and the Obama administration worked against abstinence ed to specifically defund such programs.

Planned Parenthood attributes the drop to Obama cutting abstinence-based sex-ed. Pro-life and pro-family organizations note the decade surveyed — and the not insignificant previous decade — prove government-supported abstinence-ed works.

Dr. Rebecca Oas of the Center for Family and Human Rights says CDC figures show “abstinence education is a reason why teen pregnancy has fallen to historically low rates.” She cited last year’s National Bureau of Economic Research findings on the impact of condom-distribution programs finding higher pregnancy rates when students were given condoms in the absence of counseling.

The Planned Parenthood-founded Guttmacher Institute at first questioned the CDC report’s veracity. Guttmacher researcher Laura Lindberg noted the steepest drop occurred in the last two years of the surveys, from 2013 to 2015, and the most significant decline happened in 2015. “That raises questions of survey value,” she said.

Nevertheless, Lindberg attributed the “welcome development” to Obama defunding abstinence-based programs. She added that condom-based education is “medically accurate.”

Noting that despite the drop in teen sex that still more than half of high school graduates do have intercourse, Lindberg told The Washington Post the government needs to “support healthy choices,” meaning condom-based sex-ed in schools.

The CDC report itself merely speculated that “changes in technology,” “the use of social media,” “funding for education,” and “teen pregnancy prevention” may have contributed to the drop. However, under “teen pregnancy prevention,” the government cited Office of Adolescent Health programs that included several Planned Parenthood grantees.

The teen pregnancy prevention programs noted by the new CDC report were “evidence-based,” meaning it showed the program had a positive impact on pregnancy prevention. But at least one government review protocol acknowledged among studies that “measure program impacts,” most of them “use self reported measures.”

Of 44 programs, only three were abstinence-based, and 25 featured “condom demonstrations.”

No explanation was given why the government officially considers “the consequences of adolescent sexual activity remain a troubling issue in the U.S.” yet funds school programs by organizations that encourage teen sexual activity.

What is undeniable is that more students are remaining abstinent. The CDC acknowledges that “abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to prevent HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pregnancy,” and “the longer you wait to start having oral, vaginal, or anal sex, the fewer sexual partners you are likely to have in your lifetime. Having fewer partners lowers your (STI) chances.”

The new CDC report acknowledged two limitations: that its surveys only included school-attending students, and “the extent of underreporting or overreporting of behaviors cannot be determined.” But there may be other limitations to the sexual experience study.

  • In some places, the surveys went to public and private schools, such as Catholic and Evangelical-based schools, but in other areas only public schools students were surveyed.  

  • Participation was voluntary, so the surveys had to rely on statistical predictions of universal application.  

  • In some areas, as few as 60 percent of students surveyed submitted answers.

  • Since “local parental permission procedures were followed before survey administration,” surveys from states where parents are informed of such personal sexual inquiries included only those whose parents gave written permission for their children to share personal sexual information.

  • The CDC report said results were “weighted to yield nationally representative estimates,” but didn’t explain how the answers were curved.

  • Most state surveys were large (10,000-plus), but some were as low as 1,313 students in an entire state.

National Youth Risk Behavior Surveys cited in the CDC report differ from another major survey conducted through homes rather than schools, which found no significant drop in sexual intercourse among teens.

The CDC has also found fewer teen are becoming pregnant, drinking alcohol, using marijuana and smoking cigarettes.

The study is available here.

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