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Abstinence-only Sex Education

defining and assessing abstinence-only sexual health education

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Updated May 18, 2011

What is abstinence-only sex education?

Abstinence-only sex education usually refers to educational curriculum developed for use in schools and other organizations that work with youth and teens, which encourages youth to abstain from sex until they are married. Abstinence-only sex education offers a single message, that the only way to be sexually healthy is to not have sex until you are married.

Does abstinence-only sex education work?

There is no evidence to suggest that abstinence-only sex education works, and there is much evidence to cause for serious concern regarding abstinence-only sex education.

In 2006 the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their position on teen pregnancy, and in an interview with ABC news, Dr. Jonathan Klein, chairman of the academy committee that wrote the new recommendations, was quoted as saying:

"Even though there is great enthusiasm in some circles for abstinence-only interventions, the evidence does not support abstinence-only interventions as the best way to keep young people from unintended pregnancy."

A 2005 study of youth who were involved in an abstinence-only program that required them to sign a pledge of abstinence found that STD infection rates among youth who took the pledge were not different than those youth who did not take a pledge of abstinence. These programs may succeed in getting youth to slightly delay their first intercourse experience, but because they do not provide information about protection, youth in these programs may be less likely to use condoms or other forms of protection from unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

In 2004 Rep. Henry Waxman of California released a report that found that 11 of the 13 most commonly used abstinence-only programs contain significant factual errors. One example was a curriculum that told students you could get pregnant simply by touching another person’s genitals.

Read more:

Sources:

Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, Should we teach only abstinence in sexuality education?

Brückner, H. & Bearman, P. "After the Promise: The STD Consequences of Adolescent Virginity Pledges" Journal of Adolescent Health Vol. 36 (2005).

Kirby D. No Easy Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy; 1997.

New Report Finds that Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain False and Misleading Information. Congressman Henry A. Waxman.

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