Major Study: Sex-ed Programs Aren’t Working

teen coupleA major study of multiple “sexual and reproductive health” educational programs in several countries has found no evidence that the programs reduce sexually transmitted infections, teen pregnancy, or HIV rates. is reporting on a rigorous Cochrane review of the effects of school-based intervention programs for reducing HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy in adolescents. The review considered relevant trials up to April 7 of 2016 and included eight trials that enrolled more than 55,000 adolescents in Africa, Latin America and Europe.

Their findings were not encouraging:

“As they are currently configured, educational programs alone probably have no effect on the number of young people infected with HIV during adolescence (low certainty evidence). They also probably have no effect on the number of young people infected with other STIs (herpes simplex virus: moderate certainty evidence; syphilis: low certainty evidence), or the number of adolescent pregnancies (moderate certainy evidence).”

The study, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, concludes that “There is little evidence that educational curriculum-based programs alone are effective in improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes for adolescents.”

Why is the outcome of this study so different from other reviews that found positive results?

Because previous studies have been based on self-reported behaviors of young people, which are prone to bias, writes Philippa Taylor, head of Public Policy for the UK’s Christian Medical Fellowship.

“Sex and sexuality are sensitive topics, and relying on self-reporting is notoriously unreliable,” she reports.

In contrast, the Cochrane review only included studies featuring objective measurable biological outcomes from records or tests of pregnancy and STIs. This is the first review and meta-analysis to look only at measurable biological outcomes. And when the authors excluded studies from their review that were at high risk of bias, they found “no effect” on long-term pregnancy prevalence in the remaining studies, Taylor writes.

So what should be done about this finding?

“For a start, we should be relying instead on much better quality evidence when developing public health policy on sex education, with measurable tracking of effectiveness to ensure that policies are working as expected,” Taylor suggests.

Second, because continuing education is known to improve adolescent sexual and reproductive outcomes, especially for girls, keeping youth in school is a “healthy contraceptive. ”

Third, those who are campaigning for compulsory sex and relationship education need to consider this new evidence and re-evaluate their approach accordingly.

“I have previously warned that current sexual health strategies for tackling teenage pregnancies are primarily based on three false presuppositions: that contraception is safe, that youngsters will actually use it and that abstinence is impossible. The liberal, value-free norms promoted in most sex education programs (there is no right or wrong in teenage sexual activity, just choice) are not in the best interests of youngsters.”

She adds: “There are other alternative approaches . . . that would help, but ultimately, unpalatable as it is for those who do not hold to Christian truths, nothing will work as effectively as the Biblical model for sex: save it for marriage.”

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