Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Researchers: Now abstinence education works?

posted by Rod Dreher

Big new federal study finds that abstinence education can work. Excerpt:

In the first carefully designed study to evaluate the controversial approach to sex ed, researchers found that only about a third of 6th and 7th graders who went through sessions focused on abstinence started having sex in the next two years. In contrast, nearly half of students who got other classes, including those that included information about contraception, became sexually active.
“I think we’ve written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence,” said John B. Jemmott III, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who led the federally funded study. “Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used.”
The research, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, comes amid intense debate over how to reduce sexual activity, pregnancies, births and sexually transmitted diseases among children and teenagers. After declining for more than a decade, births, pregnancies and STDs among U.S. teens have begun increasing again.

But wait, I was just reading in Ross’s column today that:

The evidence suggests that many abstinence-only programs have little impact on teenage sexual behavior, just as their critics long insisted. But most sex education programs of any kind have an ambiguous effect, at best, on whether and how teens have sex. The abstinence-based courses that social conservatives champion produce unimpressive results — but so do the contraceptive-oriented programs that liberals tend to favor.

As of this afternoon, though, there’s more evidence to suggest that abstinence programs can, in fact, help delay teen sexual activity. I doubt very much that there’s one approach to abstinence education that fits everyone. Which approaches work with which kinds of students?
It’s so frustrating sometimes dealing with social science. It seems that if you wait long enough, some scientists somewhere are going to come up with results that fit your own biases.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(28)
post a comment
Fake Fan Base

posted February 1, 2010 at 6:05 pm


Social science evidence is often quite suspect. I know that’s a bit negative, but in the case of those seeking evidence for abstinence or non abstinence, you would have to suspect some kind of bias/ulterior political or religious motive.
Simply from the point of method: How would you possibly create a random sample? How would you control for all the variables, such as classroom composition or teaching approaches.
The problem is less likely to be the fact of having sex, but of being irresponsible with it. The issue is risk to self over the life cycle and not simply the handing out of condoms. Again the article appears to set up a false dichotomy between abstinence, and non abstinence/do as you please.



report abuse
 

Hector

posted February 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm


Well, we should start by congratulating the designers of this abstinence program. They seem to have developed a program that really works, and that’s a good thing. I’m glad that more high school students are abstaining from sex.
However, if you read the linked story, it becomes clear that this isn’t your typical abstinence education program. It encouraged students to delay sex until they were older, but it didn’t specifically mention marriage, nor did it suggest that sex was only ever OK within marriage. And it didn’t disparage the effectiveness of condoms.
That strikes me as a very moderate and common-sense approach, that avoids the extremes on both sides. I’m not surprised that it seemed to work better than most other programs. Unfortunately, it probably isn’t going to please many conservatives any more than it is going to please the free-love liberals.



report abuse
 

Jon

posted February 1, 2010 at 6:13 pm


Re: Which approaches work with which kinds of students?
A good question to ask. My guess woul be that abstinence-based sex ed works best in upper middle class areas with lots of intact families where religious belief is fairly high. These typs of kids hear the same message outside school, and they also have significant ambitions for their lives and thus good reason to delay gratification and above all to avoid STDs and teen pregnancy.
In poor neighborhoods, or even in working class areas, I would bet that the abstinence message falls flat.



report abuse
 

Turmarion

posted February 1, 2010 at 7:06 pm


Rod: It’s so frustrating sometimes dealing with social science.
That’s why I studied math and physics…. ;)



report abuse
 

me

posted February 1, 2010 at 8:44 pm


I know I’ll get blasted for this, but it is my considered opinion that people who expect schools to provide sex education should be forcibly sterilized before they can inflict themselves on some poor child. And any parent who allows their kids to learn about sex and human sexuality from a school deserves to have their child come home thinking that babies are made by standing naked in a vegetable patch singing show tunes under a full moon. There is no excuse for leaving sex ed up to schools. If you don’t like your local school’s sex ed program, then if you are a remotely decent parent who doesn’t deserve to have your children forcibly removed from their care, you should be able to happily refuse permission for him/her to participate because you know that you’ve already taught them all they need to know and more about sex and sexuality. Being pissy about school sex ed programs is like being pissy that the mortuary did a crappy job putting up the wall paper in your guest bathroom.



report abuse
 

Jon

posted February 1, 2010 at 8:55 pm


Sexual reproduction is a legitinmate, indeed rather central, topic of biology. Leaving it out would be akin to leaving the verb conjugations out of Spanish class, or neglecting to mention atomic theory in chemistry.



report abuse
 

me

posted February 1, 2010 at 9:17 pm


Jon, obviously, sex as part of biology should be included. However, any child older than 10 who needs to be taught what sex is in order to understand biology class ought to be able to sue his/her parents for malfeasance and the counseling they will require to recover from being raised by complete dolts.



report abuse
 

z

posted February 1, 2010 at 9:23 pm


Rod, you’re constantly conflating abstinence-promoting programs with abstinence-only programs. There’s a big difference in terms of the factual information provided, especially about safety and diseases. No wonder you’re frustrated trying to make sense of it.



report abuse
 

MWorrell

posted February 1, 2010 at 9:40 pm


Can’t speak for other parents, but in our family the two most important words in sex education are “love” and “God”, two things educators generally don’t want to tie to the topic of sex in a public school setting. Consequently, I do not believe schools even have the vocabulary to talk to kids about sex in a meaningful way. I wish they’d just provide elective classes that require parental permission and leave it at that.



report abuse
 

E.B.

posted February 1, 2010 at 9:48 pm


I teach 10 year olds in a neighborhood that includes trailers and million dollar homes. As much as I dread the day to have these conversations with my own kids, I have to agree with above that it’s the parents’ responsibility to have these conversations. Unfortunately for some, these “conversations” look like hearing parent + friend of the moment in the next bedroom or sister and boyfriend after school. This is where the schools step in (it’s not obligatory… but in many ways helpful). I come from a Christian background and will continue to hope and pray daily that my own children choose an abstinent lifestyle until marriage, but some of these kids get no other guidance other than what cool older sister is doing or what friends are doing at school. Giving them unbiased education with all the options (AND CONSEQUENCES OF THOSE CHOICES) leaves the choice of whether or not to have sex in their hands.



report abuse
 

Barbara C.

posted February 1, 2010 at 10:10 pm


Miriam Grossman has a great book called “You’re Teaching My Child What”. She goes into a lot of the information that is left out or just misrepresented in most sex education classes, like the true efficacy of condoms. She also shows how many sex ed. programs not only treat abstinence as “unnatural” but promote dangerous sexual behaviors. The book comes from a scientific viewpoint, and while advocates abstinence until marriage would settle for programs that promote abstinence until adulthood and in a monogamous relationship.



report abuse
 

Gerard Nadal

posted February 1, 2010 at 10:22 pm


Rod,
Haven’t had a chance to tell you, but I’m using my Ph.D. in Microbiology to do some pro-life advocacy, including presentations of all CDC, NIH data. The blog is called Coming Home:
http://gerardnadal.com/
This article ad the two linked within it are a trilogy that answers comprehensive sex ed, from my perspective as a father of three small children.
http://gerardnadal.com/2010/01/18/our-sons-and-daughters/
We know that abstinence woks every time it’s tried. We also know the following from CDC:
1/4 of all American girls will contract at least one STD by age 19.
For African American girls, that number rises to 48%!!!
The chance of contracting HPV on a single exposure, even with a condom is 60%.
See this article that I wrote using only CDC data and tell me that it isn’t frightening:
http://gerardnadal.com/2010/01/06/of-cardinals-cathedrals-condoms-and-cretins-part-iii/



report abuse
 

me

posted February 1, 2010 at 10:40 pm


Obviously, I have little use for parents who don’t take full responsibility for teaching their kids about sex. However, in all seriousness, one of the real problems with the way sex ed is often done is that the people who design it are often trying to reach the most at risk kids rather than the average kid. As at-risk kid’s behavior becomes more and more outrageous, so do sex ed classes trying to address it. In the meantime, the average kid who knows just about what they need to know and probably wasn’t at much risk of starting sex until age 19 or so gets dragged along for the ride. And then many parents who are tuned in enough to find out what’s going on get all in a tizzy. It would probably be much better if sex ed classes were targeted to the average kid who thinks they’re going to wait til marriage or who will wait until they were in their late teens and in something resembling a relationship to start having sex. Then train sex educators to recognize kids who are at risk and allow them to work more intensively to address the sort of dangers these kids are going to be dealing with and the activities they will try. The fact that there are 13 year olds who really do need to know if she can spread herpes from an infected partner to uninfected partners by performing oral sex on them at a party doesn’t justify having that conversation in front of a 13 year old who still kinda thinks girls have cooties.



report abuse
 

Cecelia

posted February 1, 2010 at 11:28 pm


how does this study prove abstinence ed works – the results say that after two years of abstinence ed among 6 and 7th graders – their best result was 1/3 of the kids refrained from sex til the 9th grade – sorry but good parental supervision could accomplish that – what is impressive about that result? It also means that some 66% of the kids were having sex by the 9th grade. That is appalling. This is supposed to prove abstinence ed works?



report abuse
 

Hector

posted February 2, 2010 at 12:08 am


Cecelia,
Well, to be fair, it’s supposed to prove abstinence education works _better_ than sex education that doesn’t emphasize abstinence. 66% of ninth graders having sex does seem absurdly high, but you take what you can get, I suppose.
Barbara C.,
Yeah, I would be very happy indeed with programs promoting abstinence until ‘adulthood and in a monogamous relationship’. This program like exactly the kind of common-sense program I would support. I hope that most Americans, on the left or right, could agree that ‘abstaining until adulthood and a monogamous relationship’ is what we should collectively be encouraging our kids to do. Unfortunately I think there are those- liberals as well as conservative- for whom this would be too much of a compromise.
I do think that this (successful) program should be distinguished from those abstinence _only_ programs which either don’t teach about contraception, or teach that it isn’t effective. I don’t support such programs at all.



report abuse
 

DeeAnn

posted February 2, 2010 at 3:00 am


I have attended an abstinence program that was intended for Jr High and high schoolers in my kids previous school district. (It was provided for all interested parents. About 5 of us showed up – for a district that has 40,000 students) But I have to say, I was very, very impressed. It was excellent. I wish I could remember the name of the group that was doing it. I think she was profiled in the Dallas Morning News about the same time a few years ago. It was authentic, she was a 20-something who was abstaining and could show that it can be done, and she gave good, solid information not only about sex but about relationships, which I think is important to include. So if all abstinence education were of this quality, then I’m not surprised that it’s more effective.



report abuse
 

Deekoo

posted February 2, 2010 at 5:57 am


Assuming that the newspaper report is accurate, this study was testing
a very different approach than the government-subsidized Title V abstinence
programs, and in a different target group.
Telling a bunch of twelve year olds to wait until they are ready is a
message that they are likely to receive well. It’s empowering – they like
the notion that THEY, and not their friends or teachers or parents or
churches or girlfriends or boyfriends, will decide whether or not they are
ready.
The discredited Title V programs are required to teach abstinence until
marriage, which is not a message likely to resonate with teenagers old
enough to be interested in sexual activity – the average age of marriage
in the US is 25.3 for women, 26.9 for men. How many sixteen year olds
are going to say ‘Yes’ when asked if waiting nine years before having sex
is appropriate? Additionally, they require that ideology be taught as fact
(the claim that sex without marriage is likely to cause psychological and
physical harm, the claim that bearing children out of wedlock is likely to
harm society). And every abstinence education program whose content I’ve
actually seen has included statements that are either dangerously unclear
or outright false – and that includes one document that was meant to be
a Federal curriculum outline.



report abuse
 

Hector

posted February 2, 2010 at 6:45 am


DeeKoo,
Good points. Personally, I’m in favor of _this_ abstinence program, not in favor of the various other ones that have been justly criticized for placing ideology above information. This one seems to work well however.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted February 2, 2010 at 10:44 am


Cecilia,
I think you need to read the article more closely. The abstinence-only group had 33% started having sex, compared to 42% in the comprehensive program and over 50% in the “safe sex”-only program. That’s a significant improvement. All the percentages seemed high to me, but they were in urban middle schools in the Northeast, where rates are already higher than the US average. I hope they do follow up with the students in another 2 years to find out their behavior then, and it maty indicate that the differences disappear, but this is pretty substantial.



report abuse
 

Marian

posted February 2, 2010 at 11:37 am


Congratulations on suggesting that one-size-fits-all sex education doesn’t work. I suspect (though we will probably never get the chance to prove it) that the first set of alternatives should be by gender. Boys should learn about romance and sensitivity and the emotional side of love. Girls should learn to BEWARE of romance, to develop their own abilities and goals, and even–gasp!–to seek their own pleasure. Then maybe they can meet somewhere in the middle.



report abuse
 

Kristen Walker

posted February 2, 2010 at 12:08 pm


Call me crazy, but I think there is a lot in our culture to suggest that premarital sex CAN be psychologically damaging, and that the breakdown of the family IS hurting society.
It’s a good thing to teach empowerment and sound decision-making, but what in the world is wrong with teaching morals to children? Why are we so afraid of it? Because we’ll seem intolerant or *gasp* religious?



report abuse
 

Franklin Evans

posted February 2, 2010 at 12:27 pm


Kristen, I don’t see that as crazy, but there is an important point missing from your brief post: Psychological damage occurs as much from the setup as from the actual event.
One can suggest, for example, that a child raised to see pre-marital sex as evil will be more damaged by engaging in it than a child raised to see pre-marital sex as a serious choice requiring more thought outside of the gonads. Please, I do not mean to imply anything about morality per se, let alone to label it as “evil”.
But I do mean to suggest that children lack the reasoning ability of adults, and it disserves them (tends to set them up for damage) to teach them morals as a “finished deal” instead of something they must learn, assimilate and take personal responsibility for. That, in my view, is the egregious flaw in the more prominent abstinence-only “programs” which use fear as the primary motivation for abstaining.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted February 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm


“That, in my view, is the egregious flaw in the more prominent abstinence-only “programs” which use fear as the primary motivation for abstaining.”
Oh, that’s not ONLY applicable to abstinence only sex ed. I had to take some BS 1hr course called “Healthy Choices” when I went back to get an RN. I had loads of fun listening to my instructor berate me, insisting that my health and well-being would be much more secure if I began using condoms. He went on and on and on about the statistics surrounding condom use, and about the horrible diseases that could afflict me personally for my refusal to use condoms.
But I still don’t see how using condoms is going to help a chaste celibate (as I was at the time) avoid disease.



report abuse
 

Arabesque

posted February 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm


Your Name said:
“But I still don’t see how using condoms is going to help a chaste celibate (as I was at the time) avoid disease.”
See that little parenthetical? That is the issue. If we teach people how to be safe when they’re celibate then when they feel ready to engage, they can still be safe. Seems very reasonable to me.
I would also note that the program studied was not an “abstinence till marriage” message, rather it was “abstinence till you’re ready, then use a condom.” Seems a good middle ground for all us to agree on.



report abuse
 

Cecelia

posted February 2, 2010 at 5:16 pm


I appreciate that the abstinence program got better results thanthe other programs – but if you have 1,000 6/7th graders – with this program only 300 will refrain from sex until grade 9. That is not an impressive result. What number would have refrained from sex without any kind of school provided sex ed? How do we know the abstinence program accounted for this result? How much did it cost per sexless child?
If we must have school based sex ed then this program seems better than others – but what this really shows is that school sex ed of any sort doesn’t have much impact on a majority of teens sexual behavior. Instead of continuing to 1) waste money and 2) create social expectations that schools can in a meaningful way address this issue perhaps the effort and resources should be invested in promoting proper education and supervision within the family. For sure we know that kids who receive supervision, education and communication in their family will refrain from sexual behavior for longer periods of time. Part of what school sex ed (just like school drug/alcohol programs) does is to give parents a sense that they can pass on an issue that is often hard for them to deal with cause the child is getting it from the school.
Consider when a 14 – 16 year old is going to have sex. You want to keep kids in that age range sex free – 1) no individual dating only groups 2) drive them to the event and pick them up afterwards 3) only events where there is reliable adult supervision 4) kids do not come to your home unless an adult is present and said adult checks in on the kids periodically. If you aren’t willing to do that for your child – no amount of sex ed is going to stop them from having sex.



report abuse
 

Charles Cosimano

posted February 2, 2010 at 7:52 pm


I have yet to see a study that did not prove what the people doing the study wanted it to.



report abuse
 

Franklin Evans

posted February 3, 2010 at 9:08 am


During the long phase of society when industrialization was still working up to the ubiquitous mobility we have now, schools were as much a foundational institution of the community as churches (and the many local variants like fire stations, libraries, and even the “village square”). They were recognized as a key part of a child’s life, if only for the many hours spent there with other children.
It was quite reasonable to expect the school to reflect the community’s values, and I don’t mean just religious.
Today, those expectations continue, arguably as strongly as ever… but they stopped being reasonable quite a few decades ago.
So, I submit that the case must be made: If parents (rightly, arguably) are suspicious of socialization in the schools — of which sex education is a large part, but not the only one — then they must also explicitly change their expectations and take independent action to replace everything that was once taken for granted.
Teachers have long since seen the writing on the wall. Many of them are parents themselves, and have a clear perception of the reality and even agree with it. Couple that with their hands being tied, their mouths muzzled, their livelihoods threatened with each successive renegotiation of their contracts, and I ask you: Is it any wonder that they seem to “fail” so much?
It’s a classic catch-22, with salt rubbed into the wounds.



report abuse
 

TTT

posted February 3, 2010 at 11:07 am


This part just deserves to be repeated:
Several critics of an abstinence-only approach said that the curriculum tested did not represent most abstinence programs. It did not take a moralistic tone, as many abstinence programs do. Most notably, the sessions encouraged children to delay sex until they are ready, not necessarily until married; did not portray sex outside marriage as never appropriate; and did not disparage condoms.
“There is no data in this study to support the ‘abstain until marriage’ programs, which research proved ineffective during the Bush administration,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth.
I’m glad the study worked to support the conclusions it actually tested. “When you’re ready” (as in, not quasi-forced by peer pressure) is a lot more realistic than “when you’re married” (which for most people nowadays is well into their late 20s or beyond, and let’s be realistic here….)



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

Another blog to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Rod Dreher. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Most Recent Scientology Story on Beliefnet! Happy Reading!!!

posted 3:25:02pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Mommy explains her plastic surgery
In Dallas (naturally), a parenting magazine discusses how easy it is for mommies who don't like their post-child bodies to get surgery -- and to have it financed! -- to reverse the effects of time and childbirth. Don't like what nursing has done to your na-nas? Doc has just the solution: Doctors say

posted 10:00:56pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Why I became Orthodox
Wrapping up my four Beliefnet years, I was thinking about the posts that attracted the most attention and comment in that time. Without a doubt the most popular (in terms of attracting attention, not all of it admiring, to be sure) was the October 12, 2006, entry in which I revealed and explained wh

posted 9:46:58pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Modern Calvinists
Wow, they don't make Presbyterians like they used to!

posted 8:47:01pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

'Rape by deception'? Huh?
The BBC this morning reported on a bizarre case in Israel of an Arab man convicted of "rape by deception," because he'd led the Jewish woman with whom he'd had consensual sex to believe he was Jewish. Ha'aretz has the story here. Plainly it's a racist verdict, and a bizarre one -- but there's more t

posted 7:51:28pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.