Skip to content

Health & Sex

Font Size

Where Do Kids Learn About Sex?

Birds, Bees, and Teens

Abstinence vs. Contraception

As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush repeatedly expressed his support for abstinence-only school-based programs, saying a top administration priority would be to "elevate abstinence education from an afterthought to an urgent goal." In a speech delivered in July 1999, candidate Bush said, "It seems like to me the contraceptive message sends a contradictory message. It tends to undermine the message of abstinence."


The comments appear to contradict the findings of the nation's top public and private health organizations. A National Institutes of Health report, published in 1997, called sexual abstinence a desirable objective, but added that, "programs must include instruction in safer sex behavior, including condom use." The American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in on the issue in a report published early in 2001, noting that "all adolescents should be counseled about the correct and consistent use of latex condoms to reduce the risk of infection."


And a newly released NCPTP study evaluating sex education programs found that education efforts that discuss contraception use do not hasten the onset of sex, increase the frequency of sex, nor increase the number of sexual partners among teens. Likewise, making condoms and other contraceptives available in schools does not hasten or increase sexual activity, the report concluded.


A survey of parents, conducted last year by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, found that four out of five agreed that information about contraceptives should be included in school-based sex education programs. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy survey found that more than 90% of adults and teens said a strong abstinence message is important, but 69% of adults and 67% of teens said it was also important to teach contraception.


"Only a handful of conservative politicians are pushing the more stringent abstinence education, but they are very powerful," Dailard says. "And parents and teachers aren't willing to be real vocal about this issue."


Sanden calls the debate over abstinence vs. contraceptive use counterproductive and irrelevant, and high school junior Reid agrees.


"The fact is, teens need to choose either abstinence or contraception, and many aren't motivated to make that choice." Sanden says. "Kids who don't think about this ahead of time are the ones who have a huge risk of getting pregnant."


"I think you can get into a war of words with the abstinence vs. contraception debate, and you probably won't go anywhere with that," Reid adds. "Abstinence is the best and most desired method of preventing pregnancy, but it is also not very realistic for many teens."

Today on WebMD

couple not communicating
How to tell when you're in one.
couple face to face
Get your love life back on track.
couple having an argument
Turn spats into solutions
couple in argument
When to call it quits.
Life Cycle of a Penis
HIV Myth Facts
How Healthy is Your Sex Life
Couple in bed
6 Tips For Teens
Close-up of young man
screening tests for men
HPV Vaccine Future