Frisking abstinence effectiveness studies

Much has been made of a federally funded study spearheaded by the University of Pennsylvania which discovered some abstinence-only sex ed programs succeeded in some of their goals:

Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Only about a third of sixth- and seventh-graders who completed an abstinence-focused program started having sex within the next two years, researchers found. Nearly half of the students who attended other classes, including ones that combined information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active.

 Dan Savage responds:

[H]ere’s what the Jesus crowd—along with the headline writers and headline scanners—are glossing over: this study didn’t find the kind of Jesus-hates-premarital-sex abstinence-only sex education backed by groups like Abstinence Clearinghouse to be effective. The study focused [on] African American 6th and 7th graders and found that a secular “abstinence-only” sex ed approach that didn’t moralize but instead focused on empowering these very young children—12-14 year olds—could delay the onset of premarital sexual activity. Unlike the abstinence-only sex ed programs that the Bush administration poured hundreds of millions of dollars into over the last decade—again, the programs the Abstinence Clearinghouse backs—this study’s abstinence-only model didn’t discourage condom use or present kids with false information about the risks of sexual activity. NYT:

…the abstinence-only classes in the Jemmott study centered on people with an average age of 12 and that unlike the federally supported abstinence programs now in use, did not advocate abstinence until marriage. The classes also did not portray sex negatively or suggest that condoms are ineffective, and contained only medically accurate information. (Emphasis Savage’s.)

The model in the study, “was not truly abstinence only because the effect was to significantly delay the onset of nonmarital sex,” Kim Wallen, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroendocrinology at Emory University, wrote in an email. “This would be seen as a failure in relation to the discredited AO programs that the Bush administration promoted. Delaying the onset of sex was not the goal of these programs, instead it was ‘no sex till married,’ something that this program did not have as a goal.”


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