Two research studies presented findings today at the National Press Club indicating that abstinence programs produce positive outcomes. One evaluation shows that abstinence programs cut the rate of sexual activity among students roughly in half. Another study, a comprehensive review of 21 abstinence effectiveness studies (two thirds of them in peer-reviewed publications) indicates remarkable effectiveness – 16 out of the 21 studies found that abstinence programs produce lower rates of sexual activity.
These findings soundly refute the accusations of backers of comprehensive sexual education programs who claim that abstinence programs are unproven and ineffective. Further, the research studies are backed by the social trends that indicate declines in teen sexual activity, teen births and teen abortions. These positive outcomes are good news in a culture where there are over 15 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) every year.
The first study was published in the American Journal of Health Behavior (January/February 2008) by Dr. Stan Weed, Institute of Research and Evaluation. Dr. Weed’s study focused on students in Virginia middle schools, and his results were presented today at a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The second study, authored by Christine Kim and Robert Rector, was produced by The Heritage Foundation. Kim and Rector reviewed 21 studies that evaluated the effectiveness of abstinence education and virginity pledge programs. Sixteen of the 21 studies appeared in peer-reviewed journals.
Students need to know the basic “birds and bees” information, but, more importantly, they need to have a values-based foundation on which to base the physiological information. And they need to have a clear understanding about the building blocks for a solid and successful future filled with hope and the ability to reach their goals. In short, abstinence programs focus on developing character traits and building relationship skills, including how to effectively say “no” to short-term pleasure in favor of long-term well-being and happiness. Abstinence programs provide valuable life and decision-making skills that lay the foundation for personal responsibility and the development of healthy relationships and marriages later in life. Numerous studies show clear evidence that abstinent teens have, on average, higher academic achievement and better psychological well-being than those who are sexually active.
Currently, our federal government spends $1 billion annually to promote contraception and condom-based, so-called “safe-sex education;” that figure is at least 12 times what we as a nation spend on abstinence education. Obviously, that spending ratio ends up producing results similar to the amount of money devoted to the “cause.” Thus, during all the years of condom-based sex education, we have had escalating rates of teen sexual activity, teen pregnancies and teen abortions. This, in spite of the fact that over 80 percent of parents want schools to teach youths to abstain from sexual activity until they are in a committed adult romantic relationship nearing marriage. As we have seen, parental preferences have little impact because the abstinence until marriage message is rarely communicated in classrooms where condom-based sex education is the curriculum. Thus, we have teens engaged in sexual activity where they risk STD infection, emotional and psychological harm and out-of-wedlock childbearing. In fact, every year some 2.6 million teenagers become sexually active – a rate of 7,000 teens per day. Abstinence teaches a different message with an expected standard: students should refrain from sexual activity outside of marriage.
Opponents of abstinence education contend that abstinence-based programs fail to influence teen sexual behavior. Thankfully, the new studies revealed this week report different results: 21 studies of abstinence education were reviewed; 15 were primarily intended to teach abstinence. Of those, 11 reported positive findings. In the six studies that analyzed virginity pledges, five reported positive findings. What were those positive findings? Positive findings included delayed sexual initiation and reduced levels of early sexual activity. The vast majority of parents concur that these goals are what they want for their adolescents. Experts agree that these goals are best for an adolescent’s well-being and bright future.
As the research field of abstinence program evaluation is developing, relatively few programs have been evaluated so far. Programs vary substantially, and the few evaluated programs inadequately represent the spectrum of abstinence programs. The evaluations reported on this week are quasi-experiments (that is, they incorporate certain elements of experimental design and they use statistical methods to account for pre-intervention differences between youths who received abstinence education and those who did not). Further, the report this week includes discussions of the five studies that report no significant impact from abstinence programs — a point of honesty and objectivity that should be noted.
Abstinence teaches not only lessons for the here and now, but for the future too. It’s like math: first you learn to add and subtract, then you learn to multiply and divide, and then you continue learning to solve the more complex and intricate problems. As noted earlier, abstinence teaches the biological basics and then moves on to the more intricate nature of relationships, whereas comprehensive sex education teaches only the mechanics of sex for the here and now with the assumption that teens will succumb to peer pressure and their hormones. Granted, nearly one half of all high school students report that they have engaged in sexual activity. Sadly, for most of them, it is a one-incident affair that leaves them feeling “used,” and the negative emotional and physical fallout of such experiences is well-documented. Our teens deserve better; it is unconscionable that adults would be enablers of that type of sexual initiation.