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Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Classes Have No Effect

Congress will decide this summer whether it wishes to renew the block grant program for abstinence-only sex education known as Title V. The federal government has spent about 6 million annually for the program. A study ordered by Congress and completed last month put some data into the public forum that will permit it to make its decision based on science rather than ideology.

Mathematica Policy Research Inc. conducted the study. Here’s what they found.

Students who took part in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have intercourse as those who did not. And, those who attended the classes reported having similar numbers of sexual partners to those who did not attend the classes. Mathematica also found out that the average age of having the first intercourse was the same for both groups – just a little less than 15 years old.

Four different abstinence-only programs were examined from around the USA. Students were about eleven when they participated in these programs in 1999. They were surveyed again in late 2005 and early 2006 when they were about 16.

They found that about half of the abstinence-only students had experienced intercourse and about half of the control group (having no program) had also. The 2,057 students were from Miami, Milwaukee, Powhatan, VA and Clarksdale, MS – with both urban and rural settings represented.

So far, eight states have declined to participate in the Congressional funding program in which they spend for every that they get from the federal government. These states have decided that, despite the loss of revenue, their constituents would be better served by other types of sex education. Some lawmakers believe that this money should be used for what is called comprehensive sex education in which abstinence is included as a significant piece of the curriculum – but not the only piece. I strongly favor this approach also.

Some defenders of the abstinence-only programs say that these programs were in their early days and, by implication, that they were not as powerful in their effect as their defenders hoped. Supporters of comprehensive programs say that these four programs were “supposed to be their all-star lineup” and that this is excuse-making to combat results that did not favor their ideological position.

For years, the people working “in the trenches” with teens (Planned Parenthood, for example) have known that virginity promises and chastity balls attended by young women and their fathers had little impact on sexual decision-making. “Just saying ‘no’” made some adults feel like they had adequately dealt with that pesky business called sex education. But, many have known that it was of little help. It’s my sincere hope that Congress will look at this study carefully and abandon a sex education funding program that is based on ideology.

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