New Study: Abstinence-Based Sex Ed Works

Flickr/ <a href="http://search.creativecommons.org/">Phauly</a> (Creative Commons)


Abstinence-only education free of traditional, unrealistic, wait-until-marriage preaching can delay teens’ sexual debuts, researchers reported Monday. The landmark study, published in the February issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, is the first to show that an abstinence-only program can successfully reduce the number of teens losing their virginity, challenging the reams of research that show otherwise. Could it color the country’s approach to preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs among teens?

Possibly, but the program researchers studied differs from conventional ones in a major way. Instead of simply disparaging pre-marital sex or condom usage, the program’s teachers encouraged the (mostly 12-year-old) black students in the abstinence-only control group to analyze the benefits and drawbacks of having sex. Many students recorded more cons than pros. Two years later, a third of students in the abstinence-only group said they’d had sex, compared with nearly half of the students who learned about healthy behavior and safe sex in addition to abstinence.

Though proponents of abstinence-only sex ed are cheering the study’s results, it’s unlikely to revive enthusiasm for religious or morals-based abstinence programs. In four of the five states with the highest teen birth rates—Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, and Arizona—schools are not required to teach sex ed, but if they do, they must teach abstinence. The increasing numbers of pregnant high schoolers in these states, in addition to other factors, shows their model is not working. Even Bristol Palin, whose son recently turned one, told Fox last year that teaching young people abstinence is “not realistic at all.”

President Obama eliminated more than $150 million in federal funding for abstinence-based sex ed programs (which had not been scientifically proven effective), but funded a new $114 million pregnancy prevention initiative that would only suppoprt programs whose effectiveness is scientifically assured. When asked whether the new study’s results would alter the president’s sex education policies, White House spokesman Reid Cherlin told the Associated Press that “Our approach is to use science and evidence to fund what works, while leaving room for innovation and new thinking. We feel the policy we introduced at the beginning of the administration accomplishes that.” But Health and Human Services Department spokesman Nicholas Pappas told the Washington Post that the new study may signal a policy change: “No one study determines funding decisions, but the findings from the research paper suggest that this kind of project could be competitive for grants…”

MORE HARD-HITTING JOURNALISM

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.