Why do people continue citing the Rosenbaum study as proof that abstinence education doesn't work?

It happened again on Daily Kos today, in a post about the funding for abstinence-only education that some Senators from both parties put into the health care bill. I have no clue about what’s in the bill and I’m not debating that. Instead, I’m wondering why people continue citing the study published by Dr. Janet Rosenbaum in the journal Pediatrics as the final proof on the issue. It’s happened everywhere from Kos to this message board, where a thread was devoted to it about a year ago.

Dr. Rosenbaum’s study supposedly proved that teenagers who take a virginity pledge are just as likely as those who don’t to engage in risky sexual behavior. The problem is that the study actually says the exact opposite of what everyone claims it says. It says that teenagers who take a virginity pledge are a lot less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior than teens on average. (Unfortunately it costs 25 bucks to read the article unless you belong to an institution that subscribes.)

The study functions by a matched pair design, a statistics trick whereby you match up individuals from two different sets who are most similar–in this case, individual teens who took a virginity pledge were matched up with similar teens who didn’t take the pledge. Because those who took the pledge were sexually conservative, they were matched up with sexually conservative teens who didn’t take the pledge. And it was found that sexually conservative teens had the same rate of nearly all kinds of behavior, regardless of whether they took a virginity pledge or not. However, when the two groups of sexually conservative teenagers were compared to the entire population of teenagers, it was found that the sexually conservative teens had less risky behavior by all measurements. Lest this get too abstract, the specific trais in question were:

So the Rosenbaum study doesn’t say what most of its fans want it say, and to her credit, Rosenbaum herself never claimed to have shown that abstinence-only education didn’t work. That interpretation was grafted on by others, apparently hoping that nobody would bother looking at the actual source of the study. In any case, the crusade against abstinence-only education should probably look for a source that actually supports their claims, since this study obviously doesn’t.

It seems a reasonable conclusion to me, based upon your summation, though i’d very much prefer someone with access to have a look over themselves.

The claim is that abstinence education makes no difference. Now, that teens who take abstinence pledges are more likely to be abstinent than an average of all teens doesn’t mean that abstinence pledges work if that group who take the pledge are already more likely to be abstinent.

Put another way, it is not a cause-effect situation - an abstinent pledge makes one more likely to be abstinent - but rather two effects caused by the overall cause of (seemingly) social conservatism - social conservatism makes one more likely both to take an abstinence pledge and to be abstinent. The pledge itself is not the cause, it’s just another effect. A group which took the pledge, and a group which was as identical as possible aside from the pledge, showed similar abstinence levels; ergo, the conclusion is that the pledge itself isn’t doing much. Then going on to comparing both those groups to an average of all teens still doesn’t mean the pledge does something, because as has been shown it had little effect. It’s the social conservatism, as per your summation, that would appear to be the “cause”, the effective point.

So people continue citing Rosenbaum as evidence that abstinence education doesn’t work probably because that’s what it shows, going by your summation of it. It shows that something may well be having an effect - but it shows that (in this case) the pledge is *not *what it is.

So, it appears that the pledge has no effect (presumably because teens who are willing to take it are not likely to have sex anyway). I am not sure to what extent having taken a virginity pledge correlates with having been through an abstinence only education program, but you seem to be linking or equating them, so, so far, your own account of the research is indeed consistent with the conclusion that abstinence only education has no effect.

Well, duh! Sexually conservative teens are more sexually conservative than teens who are not sexually conservative. Hold the presses!

Rosenbaum’s study may not prove that abstinence only education does not work (I am not sure that it does not, as I am going entirely by your account of it), but, from your own account, it found no hint of any evidence that it does work. In saying that it says “exact opposite of what everyone claims it says” you seem to be distorting things far more than the “everyone” you are criticizing.

I see this is not your first rodeo. :wink:
One might almost think that this was a thread devoted to the meme “Religion and religious people awesome! Secular, not so much.”

But we can be assured that you read it, and know what you’re talking about?
Please then quote a fair use allowable portion that proves your claim.

Here, I’ll provide a cite from the ultra left-wing source, Fox News:






No, it’s just another nail in the coffin. The fact is that your position is bull and the research has shown quite clearly that abstinence only education simply does not work.





Le hahah.

Missed this the first time around, i’m afraid. I’d be interested to know what makes you think that it is apparent that those who consider that interpretation to be valid are liars, engaged in active deception, rather than simply holding an alternative interpretation, or perhaps are mistaken on some point of the study or fact?

I mean, this is a rather serious accusation - that those who hold the interpretation in question don’t do so because of their reading of the study, but seek to deliberately obfuscate matters to their benefit. And a serious accusation requires serious proof.

What does Richard Dawkins think about this? :wink:

I’ve downloaded and read the actual article from Pediatrics. Given that you seem to have some sort of point to make about the way that this debate shapes, or might shape, policy decisions regarding sex education, you might be interested in reading the author’s own conclusions, which appear in the article under the sub-heading Policy Implications:

You’re right that the author never claimed to show that AOSE doesn’t work, although your emphasis is a little misleading. While she doesn’t claim that AOSE will never work, her study leaves little doubt that AOSE as actually performed under federally-funded programs in the United States is pretty fucking ineffective. For example:

Also, her recommendation that AOSE participants be given information about birth control at least implies that she believes that AOSE won’t work, even under the best of circumstances. After all, if it really worked like its proponents claim, you would never need to give the participants birth control information. Hell, she actually says that AOSE participants are more in need to birth control education:

Admittedly, her advice here is aimed at clinicians.

Hey, maybe that’s the best model of abstinence-only sex education: let the teachers and schools pander to the idiots who think AOSE is the best solution, but make sure that clinicians and others actually provide the information young people need to minimize risks.

I “seem to be linking or equating them”? When? It is Kos and other, similar sources who are equation the virginity pledges with abstinence-only education. I am criticizing them for doing so when they have no basis for doing so.

How do you figure? Do you think sexually conservative teens just get delivered by storks with their sexual conservatism already fully built? Sexually conservative teens are sexually conservative because they are taught to be sexual conservative, which means (among other things) being taught to practice abstinence while in the teenage years (in most cases). So therefore the study does, indeed, say that teaching teens to practice abstinence correlates with less risky sexual behavior.

I have already linked to and quoted to the article by Dr. Healy, which summarizes the research by Rosenbaum. Do you have any reason to doubt that Dr. Healy summarizes the article correctly? If so, what exactly is that reason? If not, then why are you complaining that I haven’t backed up my claim?

Fox News is not ultra left-wing, but rather right-wing. More to the point, it’s a notoriously unreliable source, so quoting from it hardly proves it to be true.

Where exactly are the rest of the nails? Certainly not in either of the articles you quote. The first, for instance, says,

The second says,

Why do teenagers have to be protected from sex, as opposed to educated about it?

Good question. Frankly, I’m much more worried about the apparent reduction in contraception use by “abstinent” kids than anything else. If only for that reason, I would think the emphasis on abstinence is misguided and dangerous.

Let them have sex, who cares? As long as they’re not stupid about it, I don’t see a problem.

I used what I learned in Sex Ed as an adult, out of high school, as well as during high school. What I learned made a big difference in my birth control choices. And I think that too many of the AOSE proponents lose sight of that fact…that the kids they are teaching today will grow up in a couple of years, and they WILL almost certainly find someone they want to have sex with. People who don’t want AOSE don’t, for the most part, want the kids who are being taught how to properly use a condom to go out this Friday night and get it on with someone. But if they’re in a situation where they are very emotional, and just have room in their heads for a couple of thoughts, one of those thoughts should be “no glove, no love” and another thought should be how to put the damn thing on right.

Birth control methods have changed drastically since I was in high school, and I was not really current on BC options when my daughter became a teenager. I imagine that this is true of many parents, and many parents and their kids don’t talk about sex because it’s awkward for one or both parties. But teens need to learn this stuff, and, like just about every other subject, religion should not determine what gets taught and what doesn’t.

Here is the ‘Reasons of Heart’ heart study if anyone was looking to read it. http://instituteresearch.co/docs/Reasons_of_the_Heart_Eval_(Weed_et_al,_2008).pdf

I skimmed through it but could not find how they sample groups were chosen. Did the first sample group volunteer to be the abstinence group?

The study is of 1 year in the life of 7th graders.


One of the biggest problems about the whole AOSE crowd is the default assumption that sex itself is a Bad Thing. Yes, there are good reasons to avoid getting pregnant at 16, or to avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease, but in the absence of those things, there is nothing necessarily bad or harmful about sex itself.

The fact that this question is often ignored altogether is indicative of how completely the whole debate, and government policy along with it, was hijacked by religious fundamentalists whose only real rationale for preventing teenage sex was a religious one.

In “most” cases? I certainly hear a lot about how AOE tends to emphasize abstinence until marriage.

What do AOE advocates have to say about the transition from teenage abstinence to normal patterns of young-adult sexuality?

Abstinence education does not stop teens from having sex. It just makes them feel guilty about it.

If that is your issue you should have said so, and you didn’t. You moved straight from talking about AOSE to talking about pledges, so it certainly appeared that you accepted them as being closely linked.

No doubt this is largely (though not necessarily entirely) true, but it is not to the point. Subjects were “delivered” to the studies and surveys in question as already formed sexual conservatives or otherwise. I do not think that anyone doubts that sexual attitudes of this sort are largely learned, but that is not the issue either. The issue is whether formal AOSE programs are effective in changing (in a desirable way) the sexual attitudes that kids have picked up from other sources (family, peers, media, etc.). This study, even on your account of it, strongly suggests (I agree it does not prove) that they are not effective.

Frankly, when I remember what it was like to be a teen myself, and even though I was not a particularly rebellious teen, I would be very surprised if such programs were effective. Most teens have a strong sex drive, a strong, even overactive, bullshit detector (at least as regards authority figures), and their basic value system is already largely formed. If you want to promote sexual abstinence, AOSE for teens is too little, way too late, and in the wrong format (formal education). Of course, many would argue that it is the wrong message anyway.

Exactly who doesn’t teach teens to be abstinent? The abstinent part is not the issue, it is the only part. The AOE proponents seem to think that even mentioning falling off the abstinence wagon encourages it, as if teens are not exposed to sex any other way. That is clueless.

Let me give a simple explanation about design of experiments. Say there were two groups, one of whose members had x% chance of teenage sex (the sexually conservative ones) and the other y > x%. If you gave the first set AOE, and the second set normal sex ed, and the second had more sex than the first, you are not validly able to claim that AOE had anything to do with it. Doing the experiment with people in the same population makes things much simpler, makes the results meaningful. This is really basic stuff.

Who knows where “sexually conservative teens” come from? Many parents teach their children to be sexually conservative–yet their kids turn out promiscuous. I know personally of a person whose parents taught her to be sexually sensible (as opposed to conservative) and she turned out sexually conservative.

You are assuming the very thing you’re trying to demonstrate. You’re arguing that the existence of sexually conservative teens must mean they were taught abstinence-only, by assuming that abstinence-only education begets (heh) sexually conservative teens.

You are a person who hates his Canadian heritage and wants the US to take it over, if needed, by the US’s expanding population. You are a snarky Sam Stone, using your rhetorical skills to both impregnate American girls and drive them to Canadian “abortionists,” who re-implant the embryos in proper Canadian girls.


To me, that’s the number that sinks the ship on AOSE: any number bigger than 0 means that teens who took the pledge or were told to not have sex will still have sex, but in this case, without any benefit of knowledge about proper protection. Which means that those teens who do give in to their urges for that one evening, are much more likely than their “normal sexually active” peers to either become pregnant, or contact an STD.

A study linked to during another sex discussion, done among college kids, showed that those who had been raised with conservative/ christian values had as much sex as those from more liberal homes, but had more sex of the anal or oral kind - probably because their traditional value group and the stress on avoiding pregnancy centered only on “normal” (“Missionary style”) intercourse, so anal/ oral sex “didn’t count” - but it still risks STDs.

I would agree with Lynn Bodoni, that the teens of today, even if they do manage to keep virgin till marriage, are then the adults of tommorrow and need to know about proper family planning, except that many religious evangelical fundies, along with the catholics, are also against methods of family planning like condoms, because any prevention of conception is interpreted as forbidden.

I also think that teaching teens that sex is dirty and for them not to have any experience before marriage sets up people as emotional wracks who feel guilty about sex, haven’t learned to be relaxed, don’t try to make the experience pleasant for each other and so on. I’m glad that in Europe the centuries-old teaching of the church/ Patriarchy for women to stay virgin until marriage (while the men at the same time got rid of their horns with prostitutes or the female servants), which meant that the wedding night was basically a rape for the young woman, and a disappointing experience for the man. I don’t know why that’s supposed to be attractive in any way.
I also think - though I don’t have personal experience - that a lot of the parents who teach their children abstinence only and sex is bad where themselves quite active when they were young, and now therefore make assumptions based on how bad they were.
Which reminds me of St. Augustines famous quote: “Lord make me chaste only not now”, who preached how bad sex was after he no longer could do it himself. (If Viagra had been available back then, a large part of the moral teachings of the Church might have gone a different route).