Report on abstinence-only sex education

There is much talk around the blogosphere these past few days about a new study which was commissioned by Congress on the efficacy of abstinence-only sex education. Mathematica Policy Research, Inc released the full study and a short web-based description of the findings late last week. Other people to report and comment on it include the American Civil Liberties Union, NPR, the Washington Post, the Voices of American Sexuality blog, and the Legal Momentum blog. I will add more links to the bottom of this post as I become aware of them.

The take away messages from this commissioned study are:

  1. Students were about as likely to have sex whether they took part in the abstinence only educational curriculum or not.
  2. Students were no more likely to use condoms whether they took part in the abstinence only educational curriculum or not.

The people who favor abstinence-only education are using these arguments to refute the evidence from this study (see the NPR and Washington Post stories linked above):

  1. The people who favor abstinence-only sex education are saying that the field has made major improvements in the curriculums since this study was started in 1999.
  2. They’re also pointing out that the students involved in abstinence-only education were no more likely to use condoms than those not involved, and so abstinence-only education does not decrease condom use, as it is sometimes accused of doing.

Here are the (obvious) counter-points:

  1. It was the abstinence-only advocates that demanded longitudinal research on this topic. First, it makes no sense for these advocates to refute a study that that asked for, and that was designed according to their specifications. Furthermore, I have yet to hear any in-depth discussion of what those improvements may actually be (other than extending the curriculum a couple of more years).
  2. The students who received abstinence-only sex education used condoms about as often as students who did not receive any sex education. However, nothing in the report even speaks to the efficacy of comprehensive sex education, which is what actually teaches teenagers to use condoms effectively!

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.

1 Comment

  1. I think it is obvious that the study, to be truly helpful to the constituency that is interested, needs to have a third option – keep the two given, a control group, an abstinence-only sex education group, and a third group receiving a comprehensive sex education, similar to the Unitarian-Universalist sex education program entitled “Our Whole Lives” – known as OWL. It would give a much more useful picture of abstinence-only sex education if it is compared both to NO sex education AND to a comprehensive sex education program. I’m a believer that appropriate (comprehensive) sex education programs are likely to delay the onset of sexual activity, but I’d be very interested in a rigorous study looking at if I’m right or not. I’ve been wrong before, I could be wrong.

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