Sunday, January 08, 2006

Abstinence-Only Education Does Not Work

According to a report at, "The Society of Adolescent Medicine, in one of the most exhaustive reviews to date of government-funded abstinence-only programs, has rejected current [U.S.] administration policy that promotes abstinence as the only sexual health prevention strategy for young people in the United States and abroad."

The review article was written by the Society for Adolescent Medicine and published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Journal of Adolescent Health.

Here is the full citation of the article:

Santelli, John; Ott, Mary A.; Lyon, Maureen; Rogers, Jennifer; Summers, Daniele; Schleifer, Rebecca. Abstinence and abstinence-only education: A review of U.S. policies and programs. Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol: 38, Issue: 1, January 2006.

And here is the abstract:

Abstinence from sexual intercourse is an important behavioral strategy for preventing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and pregnancy among adolescents. Many adolescents, including most younger adolescents, have not initiated sexual intercourse and many sexually experienced adolescents and young adults are abstinent for varying periods of time. There is broad support for abstinence as a necessary and appropriate part of sexuality education. Controversy arises when abstinence is provided to adolescents as a sole choice and where health information on other choices is restricted or misrepresented. Although abstinence is theoretically fully effective, in actual practice abstinence often fails to protect against pregnancy and STIs. Few Americans remain abstinent until marriage; many do not or cannot marry, and most initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual behaviors as adolescents. Although abstinence is a healthy behavioral option for teens, abstinence as a sole option for adolescents is scientifically and ethically problematic. A recent emphasis on abstinence-only programs and policies appears to be undermining more comprehensive sexuality education and other government-sponsored programs. We believe that abstinence-only education programs, as defined by federal funding requirements, are morally problematic, by withholding information and promoting questionable and inaccurate opinions. Abstinence-only programs threaten fundamental human rights to health, information, and life.

For those readers not familiar with conventions of writing in medical research literature, this is definitely strong language.

Here's the rest of the article:

"We believe that current federal abstinence-only-until- marriage policy is ethically problematic, as it excludes accurate information about contraception, misinforms by overemphasizing or misstating the risks of contraception, and fails to require the use of scientifically accurate information while promoting approaches of questionable value," the report concludes.

"Based on our review of the evaluations of specific abstinence-only curricula and research on virginity pledges, user failure with abstinence appears to be very high. Thus, although theoretically completely effective in preventing pregnancy, in actual practice the efficacy of abstinence-only interventions may approach zero."

When the report's authors looked specifically and LGBT teens they found that abstinence-only education was "unlikely to meet the health needs" of the group because abstinence-only programs focus heavily on no sex until marriage and ignore homosexuality. This could lead to increased risk of infection among these youngsters, the investigators said.

The report, published in the peer review Journal of Adolescent Health, also says that abstinence-only programs negatively impact other federal policies

Citing the Administration's requirement that U.S. AIDS relief programs abroad spend at least 33 percent of prevention dollars on abstinence-only programs, the report states: "Human rights groups find that U.S. government policy has become a source for misinformation and censorship in these countries. U.S. emphasis on abstinence may also have reduced condom availability and access to accurate information on HIV/AIDS in some countries."

"The report reads like an indictment," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth.

"Enough is enough. The time has come for Congress to declare an immediate moratorium on federal funding for these programs. It is a national scandal that we have already spent over $1.1 billion of taxpayers' dollars on programs that don't work and that censor vital public health information for young people."

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