"Abstinence education does not work, study concludes. USA Today (4/16, Jayson) reports, "Supporters of sex-education programs that focus on teaching teens to abstain from sex until marriage and critics who want programs to include contraception and condom use are headed for a showdown as Congress ponders renewing an $87.5-million-a-year abstinence-only program set to expire June 30. The debate sharpened with a congressionally mandated, $7.7-million study released Friday that found abstinence-only programs don't stop -- or even delay -- teen sex. Over the past decade, the federal government has spent about $1.5 billion on such efforts."
The Washington Post (4/16, A2, Stepp) reports, "Authorized by Congress in 1997, the study followed 2000 children from elementary or middle school into high school. The children lived in four communities -- two urban, two rural. All of the children received the family life services available in their community, in addition, slightly more than half of them also received abstinence-only education. By the end of the study, when the average child was just shy of 17, half of both groups had remained abstinent. The sexually active teenagers had sex the first time at about age 15. Less than a quarter of them, in both groups, reported using a condom every time they had sex. More than a third of both groups had two or more partners."
The Boston Globe /AP (4/16) adds, "The federal government now spends about $176 million annually on abstinence-until-marriage education. Critics have repeatedly said they don't believe the programs are working, and the study gives them reinforcement. However, Bush administration officials cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions from the study." The study was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Notably, "Mathematica's study could have serious implications as Congress considers renewing this summer the block grant program for abstinence education known as Title V. The federal government has authorized up to $50-million annually for the program. Participating states then provide $3 for every $4 they get from the federal government." At present, "eight states decline to take part in the grant program."
HealthDay (4/16) also reports the study in its health highlights section."
--AMA medical newsletter report
Bush is indeed correct when he says abstinence is the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and STDs for our children. But he is confusing efficacy, the benefits of the course of action as studied / perfectly practiced, with effectiveness, its real world success. Hemofiltration is efficacious for dye induced kidney failure--but ineffective because its too expensive, invasive, and is in limited availability to help. And kids ignore abstinence education, we know now. We knew previously it succeeded at least--in reducing condom use at first sexual encounter. Why would an abstinent kid need to carry one, afterall?
For me, its time to consider effectiveness before another dollar of mine is wasted by the government. I was furious when clinton blocked needle exchange even when it was shown to reduce hiv ttransmission and save $ and NOT encourage drug use; now, I grow seriously tired of what are essentially fundamentalist forces corrupting government policy on plan B (safe effective post coital contraception, blocked from over the counter use despite FDA committee recommendation), abstinence education (as above) and HPV vaccine policy (Gardasil, the vaccine, could reduce HPV infection and stave off many a procedure, worry and cervical cancer if widely used, but some would rther leave the threat of cancer out there to deter people from having sex--probably neither efficacious or effective, since I would be shocked if any of those 15 year olds having sex thought about cervical cancer before they started!).
Otherwise, parents should pay close attention to some of these factoids as they think about the messages and education they sent to their little ones--and especially the timing.