New Report: Abstinence Only Education Works!

From CNN.

Researches recruited African-American young people from the northeastern United States and gave them an eight-hour abstinence-only sexuality course. The average age of the participants was 12.2 years. One third of the participants reported having sexual intercourse within two years. Two thirds did not. A control group of young people were given a sexuality course that included contraceptive use and other issues. Of those 40% reported having sex within two years. Therefore, the study concludes that abstinence-only education has an effect in delaying sexual intercourse among these young people.

What do you think?

My first thought is that maybe more people had sex at a young age, but perhaps they were better equipped with information. The kids with the abstinence-only course may have delayed sex, but when they did have sex, it was more risky regarding pregnancy and disease. Therefore, the effect of delaying sex may be true, but the long-term effect is unsatisfactory in that the delayed sex group may be having unsafe sex while the earlier sex group is having safer sex.

My second thought is that twelve years old is a bit young. I would be more interested in the effects of various sex-ed programs on teens in the fifteen to sixteen year-old area. In my experience (in the southern United States in a mostly white and Hispanic area), most of the twelve to fourteen year-olds are not having sex. That is based on my perception, however, not any real data. My perception of the older kids is that they f**k like rabbits. Teen pregnancy, while not epidemic, is an issue at our high school. We have an abstinence-only program that, until this year, was taught by a Baptist youth minister. (The preacher moved away.)

My overall impression is that abstinence-only education does not work. If the message to kids is “Have sex and die,” they will recognize that as a lie and disregard everything else you say, including any good information. Our program also goes to great length to overblow (ha!) the failure rate of condoms and other forms of contraception. Sadly, they don’t go into the fact that these failures are almost always user error, not a failure in the product itself. So, teens think, “If it doesn’t work, why bother?” In fact, I seem to remember some recent TV report that talked about risky sexual behavior among college students, particularly women. Contraception was rarely or improperly used; these women seemed perfectly fine with casting their fates to the wind. Is this an effect of abstinence-only or is there some other factor causing it?

I’d need to know a lot more before I was convinced that abstinence-only education works. After all, if fewer kids have sex, but more kids get STDs or get pregnant, to me this is a wasted effort. I really don’t care if teenagers are boinking; I care that they are protected.

Also, tracking kids from 12-14 is nice, but what about 14-18? I imagine younger students are more easily threatened by the risks.

Here’s the description of the “abstinence-only” class in the NYT

So, this is not your typical abstinence-only educational class that people usually object to.

I think this would be along my line of thinking. The question is what is the desired outcome of the sex education? Is it to reduce the rates of sexual activity amongst teenagers, or to reduce the rates of pregnancy amongst teenagers? This study seems to have measured the first, but not the second.

I would also add that it is probably reasonable to conclude that younger children respond better to “just don’t have sex” than older ones will, so perhaps abstinence education is more heavily indicated at younger ages and contraception should be phased in as the children get older and (likely) more sexually active.

Definitely fertile (heh) ground for more research.

Any idea why the study only focused on poor black students?

So the numbers are:

Abstinent till 14 when “educated” at about 12:
66% for abstinence only
60% for abstinence and safe sex ed.
54% for no sex ed at all

I’m not that shocked. [cynical]it’s easy to scare kids that young, but they won’t stay that way[/cynical].

I note that there are no numbers at all about the actual pregnancy rates following from these sexual experiences, and I like the question at the end:

“If you’ve got 24 percent of your class that’s sexually active, what about them?” Wagoner asked. In addition, he said, “OK, you’re 12. You’ve abstained until 14. What about the next five years?”

ETA: Anyway, it’s interesting to note that the type of education doesn’t really seem to influence sexual behavior much; only 12 percentage points between no info at all and the “best” education. We’re still seeing over 50% of the kids having sex. With that in mind, I would consider any education that teaches kids to have sex in a “safe” way to be more useful than one that just tries to dissuade them from having sex at all.

Most abstinence only people I know don’t think that way. They think “safe sex” is a misnomer. I think you’d have a better argument if you used actual disease and pregnancy rates.

Sex education starting too early might affect the results, I agree. I think this is the more instinctive reason why so many people want abstinence only education. They are actually worried that telling teens about sex might inspire them to actually try. I wonder how teaching abstinence first and then graduating to being able to use other stuff would work.

But it would probably work like drinking: setting an arbitrary age limit makes kids want to do to prove they are mature.

The other factor would be that young people, particularly young adults, are much less risk averse in general. There still seems to be this idea that they are immortal, and that nothing truly bad will happen. Quite a few seem to have to experience problems first hand before they will believe.

Which hits on another one: older teenagers and young adults often discount messages from older adults. I think sex education would work better if taught by younger people that the kids respect.

Actually, the figure is 33% in the “best” case. Is it acceptable to leave that 33% without practical information on how to have sex in a reasonably safe way?

I don’t think the ages of 12-14 are too young to mean anything. I’m also highly suspicious of the self-reporting of the kids about their own behavior (in either direction).

I too have always doubted surveys that involve self-reporting of controversial behavior. However, what other method would be effective in gathering this data? Also, any ideas why the researchers chose African-American kids?

Serious question. Haven’t you repeatedly asserted that studies have shown that abstinence only education DOESN’T work? Does this suspicion of yours only count for studies that don’t show what you want? Because I don’t recall you ever mentioning your suspicion in threads where you discuss how abstinence only doesn’t work. Npt that I’ve checked or anything.

Delaying first intercourse at least until 14 seems like a worthwhile result (although I’ll bet you-know-who is going to show up and disagree), but it does sound like they ought to switch to a different approach thereafter.

I can’t speak for Dio but many of the studies “proving” abstinence-only education is ineffective are measuring pregnancy and STD rates. Neither of these have the same self-reporting issues that measuring sexual activity have.

Verifying teen pregnancy does not require self-reporting. Self-reporting alone doesn’t mean much to me in any kind of study. Even when I WAS a 12 year old filling out those anonymous surveys at school, I knew a lot of kids were making things up. We laughed about it while we were doing it, trying to see who could put the most outrageous things. Other kids would deny anything at all, thinking the surveys would somehow be traced back to them. I knew for a fact even then that the results were going to be worthless.

There are ways to measure effectiveness besides self-report, such as pregnancy rates and STD rates. I suspect that some of the studies that showed that abstinence education doesn’t work used these indicators rather than self-report.

I understand the concerns with self-reporting; I share them too. I am not taking the position that abstinence only works either. What I am saying, however, is that I hadn’t heard you express these concerns for self reporting when you asserted that the studies show that abstinence only doesn’t work. Maybe you did, and I missed it, though.

All this study demonstrates is that an experimental Abstinence program (shorn of moralistic tones and so probably unlike actual Ab programs) aimed at an extremely specific sub-group managed to (self-reportedly) prevent 7% more 12 years olds from having sex by the time they are 14.

Woop de do.

But not everyone who self reports ends up with STD’s or pregnant. I would suspect that a great majority of the people who respond to the surveys that show abstinence only doesn’t work are not, in fact, pregnant or afflicted with an STD. I would suggest that a great majority of them are still only self-reporting. I’m more than willing to be corrected, if you have any, but I’m just not seeing it.

I think we’re forgetting a very significant factor in all this: coolness.

How did simply being in that 8 hour abstinence class change the students. The study found that 33% had sex within 2 years, but what about the other 66%? We’re they actually abstaining, or did they just have trouble getting laid because they were now part of an “abstinence only research study”? I’d probably steer clear of that group too.

I’m also not convinced that 33% is enough to say “success” when basically doing nothing means 40%, but tattooing “loser” on their forehead or getting them braces is closer to 90%.

Those conclusions were not based on self-reporting, but on teen pregnancy and STD rates.

No, the studies were, in part, based also on self-reporting of having sex. As I said: “But not everyone who self reports ends up with STD’s or pregnant. I would suspect that a great majority of the people who respond to the surveys that show abstinence only doesn’t work are not, in fact, pregnant or afflicted with an STD. I would suggest that a great majority of them are still only self-reporting. I’m more than willing to be corrected, if you have any, but I’m just not seeing it.”