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Health & Sex

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Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Loses Steam

Lawmakers, Health Groups Question Value of Federal Abstinence-Only Program

Teen Pregnancy Down continued...

But most of that drop occurred before 1998, when two separate federal abstinence-only programs were started, said John Santelli, a professor of population studies at Columbia University.

Margaret Blythe, MD, chairwoman of the committee on adolescents at the American Academy of Pediatrics, said programs encouraging abstinence "should obviously be encouraged."

"But abstinence should not be the only strategy discussed," she said.

Abstinence is the only foolproof way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Conservatives maintain that abstinence-only education provides an unambiguous message in the face of media and social pressures to have sex.

Stanley Weed, PhD, director of the Institute for Research and Evaluation, pointed to evidence that he said shows abstinence education can be effective. In one Virginia program, called "Reasons of the Heart," 9.2% of students had sex for the first time within a year of participating in the program. That's compared to 16.4% in a comparison group of teens who did not participate, Weed said.

"Even though the figures will show that it does not work all the time, it doesn't mean we should not be doing it," said Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican.

Democrats on the committee suggested that the $1.3 billion Washington has spent on abstinence-only programs over the last decade has been money wasted.

But Feinberg warned that studies looking at sex education programs of any kind are riddled with uncertainty and ambiguity, including cultural surroundings, how long students participate, and where students go when their education is done.

"There's no dominant, clearly victorious magical strategy that will solve all these problems," he said.

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