Friday, February 12, 2010

Abstinence-only sex ed research

This story has been in the news for a few days:  researchers at Penn found that sixth and seventh grade students in an abstinence-only sex education were less likely to engage in sexual activity in two years, than students in the control group.  Other programs promoting condom use and a comprehensive program which included both abstinence and condoms did not return significant results.

Of course, abstinence-only advocates are running with these findings:
Advocates of abstinence-only education have seized on the new findings as evidence that their approach works best. Some are urging the Obama administration to reverse course and restore federal support for abstinence-only education.
Of course their wrong for several reasons.

First, this is a single study.  Many others have shown abstinence-only programs not to work.  No scientist in their right mind would take the result of a single study of this nature and assume that their results are conclusive.  The study also has only been over for two years, meaning the sixth and seventh graders are now around ninth grade.  What happens in the longer term is still not known.

Also, this abstinence-only program is nothing like the old abstinence-only programs promoted by the Bush administration:
Under current federal law, supported by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress, abstinence-only programs that seek federal support must meet several rigid requirements that essentially make them abstinence-until-marriage programs.
They must teach, for example, that abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the “expected standard” for all school-age children. This new study would have failed that test. It did not advocate abstinence until marriage but urged students to wait until they were more mature. It encouraged abstinence as a way to eliminate the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, had youngsters draw up lists of the pros and cons of sexual activity, and taught strategies for resisting pressure to have intercourse.
Studies have shown time and time again that Bush era abstinence-only programs were complete failures.

Finally, the goal of sex education should be to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs, and this study does not address this at all (at least what has been presented in the NYT article).  According to the report, one third of the students engaged in sexual behavior after two years of being administered the program, while nearly half the control group had sex.  But how many of those students used condoms?  While I know that teaching children about condoms doesn't guarantee they'll use them, I'd much prefer 50% of students having sex using condoms than 33% having sex without even basic knowledge about them any day. 

I'm not going to argue here whether children of a given age should or shouldn't be having sex.  Just like any other form of education, sex education should be about presenting facts and imparting the knowledge to allow students to make informed decisions themselves.  It certainly is a fact that abstinence is the only way to be 100% protected from STIs and pregnancy.  But it's also true that kids are going to have sex anyway, and they should have the knowledge to allow them to be as safe as possible, regardless of what they decide to do.

1 comment:

  1. I feel like it doesn't matter what they teach you at school, your parents should tell you about condoms and birth control and make an open relationship there instead of one where the kids are afraid to go to their parents about birth control and have sex anyways and get pregnant.

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