Other forms of sex education also worked, however, reducing sexual activity by about 20 percent and reducing multiple sexual partners by about 40 percent, according to the study reported Monday in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
None of the classes appeared to influence the use of condoms or other birth control when the students did have sex. The children thus remained at risk of pregnancy and disease.
"This study, in our view, is game-changing science," said
The Bush administration poured tens of millions of dollars into federal funding for abstinence-only programs, most of them religious-oriented, with little or no evidence that they worked. And new data released just last week showed that sexual activity, pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are increasing among teens.
The Obama administration has sharply reduced funding for abstinence-only programs and has announced its intention to fund only interventions that have been found to work. The new study is expected to provide support for such interventions.
But Albert noted that this is only one study in one location. It "should not be interpreted as a signal that abstinence-only education works at all times and under all circumstances. That doesn't even pass the common-sense test."
In an editorial accompanying the report, journal editor Dr.
The study's lead author, psychologist
The study was conducted among 662 African-American sixth- and seventh-graders in four low-income schools in the northeastern
A second group received an 8-hour safe-sex class. The third group received a comprehensive 8- or 12-hour class emphasizing both aspects. The control group received only education about healthy living.
Over the two years following the classes, 48.5 percent of those in the control group reported sexual activity, compared to only 33.5 percent of those in the abstinence-only group. About 52 percent of those taught only safe sex reported sexual activity, while about 42 percent of those in comprehensive group made a similar report.
About 8.8 percent of participants in the comprehensive class reported activity with multiple partners, compared to 14.1 percent in the control group, indicating that the comprehensive class reduced the risk of sexually transmitted disease. Neither diseases nor pregnancies were monitored, however.
"A comprehensive approach that does include abstinence is the most effective program," she said. "We have never disagreed with that. But we would prefer to call it abstinence-plus."
(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.
Visit the Los Angeles Times on the Internet at http://www.latimes.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.