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'Abstinence-Only' Delays Sex in Young Teens

Abstinence-Only Program as Effective as Safe-Sex Education at Getting Teens to Delay Sexual Activity, Study Says
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Feds Abandon Abstinence-Only continued...

A total of 622 mostly low-income African-American sixth and seventh graders attending four inner city middle schools took part in the study. Their average age was 12 and there were slightly more girls than boys. The oldest were 15 years old. About one in four of the participants reported ever having sexual intercourse at the start of the study.

The students were assigned to an eight-hour abstinence-only group session, an eight-hour sex education session emphasizing safer sex, an eight- or 12-hour combined abstinence and safer-sex session, or an eight-hour health program, which did not include sex as a topic.

In the abstinence-only group sessions, facilitators stressed the benefits of abstinence and taught the preteens and teens ways to resist pressure to have sex. The program focused on delaying sex until later in life when the adolescent was better able to handle its consequences, rather than abstaining from sex until marriage.

The safer-sex sessions encouraged condom use to reduce the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, and the comprehensive session included abstinence and safer-sex instruction.

Everyone who took part was also eligible to attend two, three-hour booster sessions three and six months after the initial session, followed by six 20-minute one-on-one counseling sessions over the next two years.

At the end of two years of follow-up, with 84% of the students still enrolled in the program:

  • The estimated probability of ever having sexual intercourse in students who participated in the abstinence-only intervention was 33.5% compared to 48.5% for students who took part in the program where neither abstinence nor safer sex was discussed. 
  • About 20% of the abstinence-only students and 29% of the students who participated in the general health program reported being sexually active during the previous three months. 
  • Self-reports of sexual activity did not differ significantly between the abstinence-only, safer sex, and combined instruction groups.

No Program Increased Condom Use

None of the interventions were found to have a significant impact on consistent condom use or unprotected sex.

The study appears in the February issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

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