New Study Confirms Abstinence Ed Works

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

A landmark new study found that sex education classes in which children are encouraged to remain abstinent significantly delayed their sexual activity compared to programs that focused on “safe sex.”

The Washington Post is reporting that the study, conducted by Drs. John and Loretta Jemmott from the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Geoffrey Fong from the University of Waterloo and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research in Waterloo, Ontario, found that only a third of sixth- and seventh- graders who completed an abstinence program started having sex within the next two years compared with nearly half of the students who attended other classes.

“I think we’ve written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence,” said John B. Jemmott III, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania who led the federally funded study. “Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used.”

In the study, 662 African American middle-school students were randomly assigned to attend either an eight-hour curriculum that encouraged them to delay having sex, one focused on teaching safe sex or a 12-hour program that did both. Another session involved teaching students other ways to stay healthy such as eating right and exercising.

Over the next two years, only 33 percent of the students who went through the abstinence program started having sex compared with nearly 52 percent who were taught only safe sex, 42 percent of the students who were taught comprehensive sex ed, and 47 percent of those who learned about other ways to be healthy .

The research, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, comes at a critical time in the debate over what kind of sex education programs should receive government funding. With teen pregnancy and STD rates on the rise, and the Obama administration eliminating more than $170 million in abstinence-ed funding in favor of comprehensive sex ed, this new study will cause many to rethink their strategy.

“No one study determines funding decisions, but the findings from the research paper suggest that this kind of project could be competitive for grants if there’s promise that it achieves the goal of teen pregnancy prevention,” said Nicholas Papas, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, to the Post.

“This study tells us clearly that abstinence education, not the promotion of high-risk sexual behavior among teens, is needed,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Center.

“In light of this study and others showing the positive health benefits of abstinence education, it is 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.

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

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