Abstinence-only sex ed programs are failing American teens

Public health officials have slammed abstinence-only sexual education programs as new research shows they are doing nothing to prevent teens from risky sexual behavior.

Two major reports published Tuesday show that sexual education classes that teach abstinence-only are ineffective as they neither delay the average age of first sexual encounter, nor reduce risky sexual behaviors.

Additionally, they violate teenagers’ human rights by withholding medically accurate information and stigmatizing and excluding a number of youths, reinforcing  harmful gender stereotypes and undermining public health programs. 

These programs have for years been widely rejected by health professionals who care for young people, such as the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. 

In contrast, comprehensive programs have more favorable effects on teenage sexual behaviors including age of sexual initiation, number of partners, frequency of unprotected sexual activity, and the numbers of both pregnancies and STI’s. 

These comprehensive programs help young people abstain from sex and partake in sexually-intelligent behaviors, while abstinence-only programs do neither.  

Sexual education classes that teach abstinence-only in the United States are ineffective as they neither delay the average age of first sexual encounter, nor reduce risky sexual behaviors (stock image). Researchers also argue that they violate teenagers’ human rights

Two scientific review papers published simultaneously in the Journal of Adolescent Heath looked at current US policies on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. 

‘The weight of scientific evidence shows these programs do not help young people delay initiation of sexual intercourse,’ said co-author Dr John Santelli, professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health.

‘While abstinence is theoretically effective, in actual practice, intentions to abstain from sexual activity often fail. 

‘These programs simply do not prepare young people to avoid unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.’ 


study released in September found rising numbers of women getting the IUD coil has coincided with a dramatic drop in teen pregnancies across America. 

Between 2007 and 2012, the number of new mothers aged 15 to 19 years old dropped 5.6 percent.  

According to the authors of the study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the latest data unequivocally shows contraception is the root cause of today’s lower figures, rather than a drop in sexual activity.  

The data also show the efficacy of comprehensive sexual education classes that teach about different options for birth control. 

There was a notable climb in use of ‘effective’ contraception methods, like the IUD coil, the Pill and the injection, rather than condoms.

In 2012, three percent of teens were using the IUD coil or implant, up from one per cent in 2007.

Rates of teens getting the injection went up from six per cent in 2007 to seven per cent in 2012, and the Pill went from being used by 26 percent of sexually-active teens to 35 percent.

Condoms rates also went up. In 2007, 49 percent of teens used condoms. Now, more than half (55 percent) do. 

The rate of women getting and requesting IUDs has rocketed even further since Donald Trump was elected president as people fear his presidency will make it more difficult to access birth control. 

Planned Parenthood, one of the key targets in Trump’s campaign, is the leading provider of clinics for abortions, contraception, and sexually-transmitted disease tests across the US.  

The Affordable Care Act covers all FDA-approved birth control without cost to those who have insurance. 

Republicans have not said whether or not contraception provisions would be affected by any ACA reforms.

Investigators turned to sources including scientific research and other review articles that focus on the efficacy of these programs. They also consulted information from human rights organizations. 

Because the age of first marriage is rapidly rising across the globe, the number of people who wait until marriage to have sex has rapidly declined. 

In the US the average gap between the age someone has sex for the first time is 8.7 years in women and 11.7 years in men. Age of first sexual encounter and risk of unplanned pregnancy and STD’s are directly related. 

Abstinence-only programs set back sex education, family planning programs and HIV prevention efforts both domestically and globally. 

Between 2002 and 2014 the percentage of schools that require students to learn about human sexuality fell from 67 percent to 48 percent. Requirements for HIV prevention education also declined from 64 percent to 41 percent. 

In 1995, 81 percent of teenage males and 87 percent of teenage girls said they received formal instruction about methods of birth control. 

Not even 10 years later, between 2011 and 2013, only 55 percent of young men and 60 percent of young women received that same instruction. 

As a result of the lack of comprehensive sexual-education programs to teach about birth control and the rise in the number of people who have sex before marriage, there are more people at risk of unplanned pregnancy or contracting an STD. 

‘Young people have a right to sex education that gives them the information and skills they need to stay safe and healthy,’ said Dr Leslie Kantor, assistant professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health and vice president of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. 

‘Withholding critical health information from young people is a violation of their rights. 

‘Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs leave all young people unprepared and are particularly harmful to young people who are sexually active, who are LGBTQ, or have experienced sexual abuse.’

Congress spent more than $2 billion on domestic abstinence-only programs between 1982 and 2017, and currently the funding for those programs is $85 million per year.

The US has also spent $1.4 billion on abstinence-only-until-marriage in foreign aid for HIV prevention. 

Under current guidelines states can’t use funds to educate adolescents about contraceptive use or discuss contraceptive methods except to emphasize failure rates.

‘Adolescent sexual and reproductive health promotion should be based on scientific evidence and understanding, public health principles, and human rights,’ Dr Santelli explained.  

‘Abstinence-only-until marriage as a basis for health policy and programs should be abandoned.’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk