One study has shown that an abstinence-only sex education curriculum can be effective for young teens, according to the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
That finding has been called a “game changer” by Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group based in Washington.
No matter where you fall on the sex-ed spectrum, this should be seen as good news. Why? Because we can look at the specifics of this program and that can help figure out what works when teaching kids how to remain healthy. Considering that teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases have increased, according to recently released data, all information about sex ed efficacy should get our attention.
What’s the big deal? Well, under the Bush administration, the funding floodgates were opened to programs that were what’s called “abstinence only” rather than programs called “abstinence based” and/or “comprehensive sex ed.” The traditional abstinence only programs, which often took a moral tilt on the topic and were religion-oriented, were consistently found lacking in results by myriad studies. Now, we have one program that has shown some success. The Obama administration has said it would only fund sex-ed programs that could show effectiveness, which left most abstinence-only programs in the cold. The game changes again.
This abstinence-only program was different than many, in that it discussed delaying sexual activity, but didn’t specify that sex was only for marriage. Also, the curriculum was devoid of religion. The reasons for abstinence focused on avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, rather than a moral message.
The study showed that the program could reduce sexual activity by nearly a third in 12- and 13-year-olds compared with students who received no sex education. But the window wasn’t so wide when compared to children who took part in safe-sex classes and comprehensive sex ed (which states abstinence is the most effective way to avoid pregnancy and STDs but includes safe sex lessons). In those programs, for this particular study, sexual activity was reduced by about 20 percent and a 40 percent reduction in multiple partners.
The study, though, didn’t demonstrate any increased use of condoms or other birth control when the students did have sex, no matter which curriculum was used. That puts kids who are sexually active at risk of pregnancy and disease.
There’s been lots of hard questions about this study. For example, will such education work for older children, or kids from other demographic backgrounds? That is why the examinations need to continue. But this is interesting data that needs to grab our attention. Kids need facts, and it’s a fact that abstinence is a 100 percent proven form of birth control. It’s also a fact that many teens will not remain abstinent—putting them at risk for STDs and pregnancy, especially if they lack information on how to prevent both. That’s where the need for education beyond abstinence (and the controversy) comes in. (Often called abstinence-based or abstinence-plus sex ed.)
The point is to keep kids healthy. This study provides another avenue. Let’s keep studying, and keep talking to our kids. Because, a study of common sense shows, for healthy kids with healthy attitudes, children need to hear about “the big stuff” like sex ed from their parents, not just a classroom talk.
To read about the study, check out this L.A. Times article.