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.

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