Studies Reveal Failure Of Abstinence Only Programs For Teens


Two recent scientific review papers indicate that abstinence-only-until-marriage is an ineffective strategy for delaying sexual initiation, and reducing risky sexual behavior.

In contrast, comprehensive sex education does effectively influence adolescent sexual activity, including age of initiation, contraception use, frequency of activity, number of partners, and use of protection.

“The weight of scientific evidence shows [abstinence-only] programs do not help young people delay initiation of sexual intercourse,” said coauthor John Santelli, M.D., MPH, professor of Population and Family Health, Mailman School of Public Health. “These programs simply do not prepare young people to avoid unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.”

Because people are getting married later in life, the percentage of young people abstaining until marriage is quickly declining. Currently in the U.S., there is an 8.7 year gap for young women between their first sexual encounter and their first marriage. For young men, the gap is 11.7 years.

The number of schools requiring sex education is also on the decline, falling from 67 percent to 48 percent between 2002 and 2014. Barely two-thirds of young people, from 2011 to 2013, reported getting formal instruction regarding birth control methods.

“Withholding critical health information from young people is a violation of their rights,” says Leslie Kantor, Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor at Mailman School of Public Health, and vice-president of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs leave all young people unprepared and are particularly harmful to young people who are sexually active, who are LGBTQ, or have experienced sexual abuse.”

The current funding for abstinence-only programs in the U.S. is $85 million per year, and totaled over $2 billion between 1982 and 2017. States are not allowed to use these funds to teach teens about contraception. Congress has also given $1.4 billion for abstinence-only-until-marriage foreign aid programs to prevent HIV.

“Adolescent sexual and reproductive health promotion should be based on scientific evidence and understanding, public health principles, and human rights,” says Santelli. “Abstinence-only-until-marriage as a basis for health policy and programs should be abandoned.”

Source: Columbia University
Photo credit: Jeffrey


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