New Report: Abstinence Only Education Works!

The self-reporting on those studies is not presented as anything more than self-reporting. The self-reporting is the datum, not the veracity of the self-reporting. Those who recieve AO self-report the same as those who don’t. The significance of that data point is debatable, but the studies don’t conclude anything about the veracity of the self-reporting, only that AO education doesn’t affect it.

Pregnancy is independently verifiable, and the pregnancy rates are the same (perhaps marginally higer) for girls who receive AO education as those who don’t.

Not to keep banging on the same drum, but there’s one aspect of AOE that almost always seems to divide the people in favor and against and in my experience it makes it almost impossible to come to any agreement in these matters:

Many people - me included - who don’t think AOE is a good idea do not really think that because it promotes abstinence. To me, the very definition of “AOE Works” as used in the title of the OP is wrong. Lack of abstinence isn’t a problem to be solved, and neither are pregnancies out of wedlock. Problems that should be “solved” are unwanted pregnancies (which in the case of young children we can probably reduce to “pregnancies”), STDs and non-consensual sex. This study simply does not report on the effectiveness of AOE in that regard.

On the “other side” are people who think the main problem is the amount of sex young kids are having, which may not be a silly position to hold for kids of the age in this study but gets sillier with every year they get older, and as we can see in this case AOE it isn’t even all that effective at just reducing the amount of sex.

do you not find it strange to make arguments about national policy based on a few studies of “African Americans in the north east”? How do you know that what works (or doesn’t work) for them will also likewise work for all sorts of other ethnic and cultural groups amongst the 300M population of America?

That, by the way, is the underlying rationale of much of the local opposition to centrally mandated educational programs like sex ed. The people of Podunk don’t argue that a particular program does or does not work for “African Americans in the north east”. Instead, they argue that their kids are different and should be educated in the manner that is better known to them than to the northeastern sex ed researchers.

I had not heard you draw these lines or express these concerns when you cite studies that show that AO doesn’t work.

Again, I had not heard you rely on the studies only as to pregnancy rates or STDs, but rather as a whole, including the time of onset of first sexual activity, the amount of sexual activity, and other factors not “verifiable”. Now, I don’t want to go back over all your posts on AOE, but are you sure you drew these differences then?

Why would I? I don’t care what’s self-reported about their sexual activity. The success or failure of sex education to me is whether it prevents STD’s and pregnancy, not whether it prevents sexual activity. AOE does not reduce pregnancy and STDs, therefore it doesn’t work. Sexual activity per se is a non-issue to me, and an irrelevant one with regards to whether AOE works. If I haven’t unpacked this before in this way, it’s because it never occurred to me that people would contend that the pregnancy and STD rates alone were not the entire criteria for whether a program was effective.

This is exactly what Superfluous Parentheses has pointed out. To most comprehensive sex-ed supporters the harmful outcome to be avoided is pregnancy, STDs, and non-consensual sexual behavior. To abstinence-only supporters the harmful outcome is generally viewed as sexual activity in and of itself.

Also, Dio’s more subtle point, if I’m understanding it correctly, is that inaccuracy in self-reporting is irrelevent for disproving AOE-effectiveness because any self-reporting bias is present in both the control and the test sample, so if those groups self-report the same you have disproved something. But self-reporting is less effective in proving AOE-effectiveness because any measured difference in self-reporting could be because the course itself has modified the self-reporting rates of the participants rather than their actual behavior. This is even more likely on subjects like sexual activity, where a young student has likely just been trained that all sexual activity is bad - and thus are less likely to accurately admit if they didn’t abstain.

The age range of 12-14 is too early and too short to mean anything either. especially for boys. Any boy getting laid before the age of 15 is overachieving already. They’re not typically abstaining because they have any choice about it.

I find myself wondering a couple of things: the story says the study subjects were recruited. I’d be interested in learning some more details about the scope of the recruitment efforts (including whether any filters were in place that might tend to screen out certain candidates). Also, among the two groups of kids who reported having sex within two years, was there any breakdown obtained about how many escaped/suffered the worst consequences of sexual activity (particularly STDs and unwanted pregnancy)?

Well, it’s too early to tell if this kind of AOE works in the sense you mean yet. This is a new kind of AOE, from what I understand – no religion, no moralizing, just straight medical information.

Or, they think that the discouragement of sexual activity is the best way to prevent the harmful outcomes noted above.

Obviously, but that’s a strategy, not a metric for success.

Yes, I didn’t want to claim that all people who favor AOE do so just to reduce the amount of sex. I do think that many of them actually do think that; some kind of fundamental objection to premarital sex.

I have a fundamental objection to 13 year-olds having sex.

And if this works, if STD & pregnancy rates aren’t higher (because I have an even more fundamental objection to 13 year-olds having kids or 13 year-olds with STDs), then I’m all for it. My objections to abstinence only education are based in its efficacy or more precisely its lack thereof, and if this curriculum results in 7% fewer middle schoolers having sex (which is a lot. that’s 1 in 15 or two kids in every homeroom) then copy it, distribute it, and teach it.

Just to add, I would not be surprised to learn that what works for 12 year olds for the two years between 12 & 14 is ineffective for older children.

Could a better statistician than I comment on the sample size? A difference of six percentage points out of a sample of 662 (or rather, a fraction of that, since they were divided up further into three groups) doesn’t look all that significant to me.


Those with institutional access can take a look at the original article:

The numbers are even smaller since they excluded from the final analysis kids who had previously had sex (about 23% overall).

23% of 12 years old had sex? Now I’m really curious how they “recruited” their sample.

ETA: I’m also interested in what exactly constitutes “sex” for the exclusion of that 23% and what exactly is considered “intercourse” in the actual test.

It doesn’t say specifically how they asked the kids whether they had sex or not, I’m guessing it was part of the pre-randomization questionnaire that included questions about their age, grade, etc.

As for how they were recruited:

A potential problem with that is that some of those kids who said “yes” to the question of having had “sex” could have said “no” to the question of whether they had “intercourse”, and while the results of the test seem to be based on the latter question, the exclusion seems to be based on the former. I can’t access the formal report, so I can’t tell if that’s right, but it seems to me the study is potentially excluding a subset of kids that may not be involved in especially risky behavior at the start but might possibly be more sexually adventurous than their peers. And that’s without considering the kids who were actually having intercourse by then.

Well there may be some faults with their methods, but I’m pretty sure they would have been consistant and appropriate when asking them questions about their sexual experiences, both pre and post intervention.