A “non-moralistic” abstinence-only sex education for pre-teens may be effective in delaying sexual activity and reducing pregnancy and venereal disease, a new study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine says. Defenders of abstinence education said the study vindicates their efforts.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, is the first to demonstrate that an abstinence-only education reduced the percentage of adolescents who reported sexual activity over a long period, two years after the education, Science Daily reports.
The controlled study involved 662 African American students in grades 6 and 7. Students were randomly assigned to an eight-hour abstinence-only intervention, an eight-hour safe-sex-only intervention, an 8- or 12-hour combined abstinence and “safer-sex” intervention, or an 8-hour health-promotion control group.
There was a 33 percent reduction in self-reported sexual intercourse from the abstinence-only group, compared to the control group. Of those sexually active in the study, there were fewer reports of recent sexual activity compared to the control participants.
The abstinence intervention was based on principles shown to be effective in reducing the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It did not use a “moralistic tone” and did not portray sex in “a negative light,” Science Daily says. The intervention encouraged abstinence as a way to eliminate the risk of pregnancy and STIs.
Study facilitators used brief and interactive small group activities to teach the pre-teens about HIV and STIs, to bolster beliefs supporting the practice of abstinence, and to improve skills and confidence to resist pressure to have sexual relations.
Researchers found that none of the interventions had significant effects on consistent condom use or unprotected sex. For those who lost their virginity during the two year study, there was no difference in consistent condom use between the abstinence-only intervention and the control group.
"It is extremely important to find an effective intervention that delays sexual activity; the younger someone is when they have sex for the first time, the less likely they are to use condoms," said the study’s lead author, John B. Jemmott III of the University of Pennsylvania. He said abstinence-only interventions may have an important role in delaying sexual activity in later in life and may help reduce pregnancy and STIs.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC) said in a statement that the study shows abstinence education is needed, not “the promotion of high-risk sexual behavior among teens.”
He said it was “unfortunate” that Congress and the presidential administration have eliminated abstinence education in favor of other sex ed programs. He claimed that despite the “enormous” amount of funding for “comprehensive” sex ed programs, recent Center for Disease Control data show that 40 percent of sexually active teen girls are infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
“The government does not promote drug use or underage drinking, and it should not promote high-risk sexual behavior either,” Perkins continued. “The evidence shows clearly that sexual abstinence is the healthiest behavior for youth.
Leslee Unruh, president and founder of the National Abstinence Clearing House, said the study shows what abstinence teachers have known “for years.”
“These programs help develop self-control and self-esteem, teaching kids they do not need to fall prey to the game of Russian Roulette with condoms,” she commented. “Abstinence programs show kids there are too many great things riding on their future to risk it to STDs, pregnancy and broken hearts. Abstinence is a message our kids want to hear - this study shows youth are making healthier choices and changing their behavior in response to this refreshing message.”