'Abstinence-Only' Sex Ed May Change Attitudes
Unclear If Programs Also Change Teen Sexual Behavior
WebMD News Archive
Changes in Attitudes continued...
Abstinence-only programs also appeared to convince more students that
premarital sex carries potential consequences. But the study found that the
classes had little or no additional impact on students' self-esteem or on their
ability to talk about sex with their parents.
Forty-seven percent of high school students reported having had sex at least
once in 2003, down from 54% in 1991, according to the CDC. About 425,500
teenage girls gave birth in 2002, though teenage birth rates dropped sharply
from 62 to 43 per 1,000 births since 1991, according to the agency.
"Abstinence education has contributed to this decline," says Bridgit
Maher, family and marriage policy analyst with the Family Research Council, a
Attitudes = Behavior?
Abstinence-only programs remain highly controversial among educators and
health experts, though such programs have been eligible for federal funding
since 1998. Some 900 abstinence-only programs are funded through a federal
program called Title V, which spends $50 million per year on them.
The programs are strongly backed by the Bush administration and conservative
groups, who argue that educating students about contraception encourages early
"Students in these programs are recognizing that abstinence is a
positive choice they are making," Michael O'Grady, the assistant secretary
for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services,
told reporters Tuesday.
O'Grady called the report "the most rigorous evaluation of its
The study's results suggest that abstinence-only programs "seem to be
moving in the direction that they want them to," Sarah Brown, president of
the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, tells WebMD.
The report also found "limited evidence" that abstinence-only
classes increased some students' expectations to actually avoid sex until
But Brown stressed that those attitudes may or may not translate to delaying
or avoiding sex later on. "What we've always known is that attitudes don't
necessarily match behavior. What people say and what they do is often at great
variance," she says.
Researchers say they are now evaluating the same group of students to see if
abstinence programs affect the likelihood of engaging in sex or using
contraception as children reach 16 years of age.