— A new study shows for the first time that a sex education class
emphasizing abstinence only — ignoring moral implications of sexual
activity — can reduce sexual activity by nearly a third in 12- and
13-year-olds compared to students who received no sex education.
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
chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and
Unplanned Pregnancy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group based in
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
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.
argued that “no public policy should be based on the results of one
study, nor should policy makers selectively use scientific literature
to formulate a policy that meets preconceived ideologies.”
The study’s lead author, psychologist
agreed in a statement, noting that other types of students must be
studied as well: “Policy should not be based on just one study, but an
accumulation of empirical findings from several well-designed,
The study was conducted among 662 African-American sixth- and seventh-graders in four low-income schools in the northeastern
The students were randomized into four groups. One received an 8-hour
abstinence-only class focusing on the risks of pregnancy and sexually
transmitted diseases. It was based on principles shown to be effective
in reducing transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and did not
use a moralistic tone or portray sex in a negative light.
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
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.
Department of Public Health’s Center for Family Health, said that
previous research said it makes sense to include abstinence education
as part of a comprehensive program.
“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.”
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