New UPenn Study Endorses Abstinence-only Ed

On February 2nd, a new study by UPenn found that abstinence-only education done well is highly effective, and it’s taken the media, educators, and legislators by storm. Ineffectiveness of specific abstinence-only education programs has been touted in the news repeatedly over the past couple years, as various research organizations grapple with research methods and the complexity of unilaterally opposing or endorsing abstinence education. While this new study is not revolutionary, it is beginning to change minds. Here are a few articles centering the abstinence education debate:

CBN News Video clip:

I think we’ve written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence,” John B. Jemmott III, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who led the federally funded study, told The Washington Post. “Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used.”

Washington Post:

Only about a third of sixth- and seventh-graders who completed an abstinence-focused program started having sex within the next two years, researchers found. Nearly half of the students who attended other classes, including ones that combined information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active.

The findings are the first clear evidence that an abstinence program could work….

The research, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, comes amid intense debate over how to reduce sexual activity, pregnancies, births and sexually transmitted diseases among children and teenagers. After falling for more than a decade, the numbers of births, pregnancies and STDs among U.S. teens have begun increasing.

The Obama administration eliminated more than $170 million in annual federal funding targeted at abstinence programs after a series of reports concluded that the approach was ineffective. Instead, the White House is launching a $114 million pregnancy prevention initiative that will fund only programs that have been shown scientifically to work — a program the administration on Monday proposed expanding to $183 million.

“This new study is game-changing,” said Sarah Brown, who leads the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “For the first time, there is strong evidence that an abstinence-only intervention can help very young teens delay sex.”

Washington Times:

While many in the policy and education world are shocked at the revelation that abstinence education works, Robert Rector and Christine Kim of the Heritage Foundation have known this truth for years. In 2008, Heritage analyzed 21 different studies done on abstinence-education programs. Researchers “found that in 16 of the 21 reports, there were significant positive results in delaying early sexual activity and initiation.”

In addition to eliminating all chances of becoming pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted disease, Mr. Rector also reports that the research reveals that teens who practice abstinence “will be happier and less depressed than their permissive peers.”

“Abstinent teens also do dramatically better in school. They are half as likely to drop out as their sexually active peers. And teens who abstain until at least age 18 are twice as likely to attend and graduate from college as those who become sexually active while in high school,” he reported.

NYTimes: Two years after the NYT published an editorial calling abstinence education a political “delusion,” the publication grudgingly concludes that there may be a reason to promote abstinence-only education.

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2 thoughts on “New UPenn Study Endorses Abstinence-only Ed

  1. JoPoFoSho says:

    The question in my mind is why people were so insistent on continuing to use abstinence-only sexual education before evidence like this came out.

  2. Erin Harrington says:

    The title of this post is misleading; the results of a study cannot endorse a policy standard, it can simply measure its effects. Furthermore, the researchers did not decide to endorse abstinence-only education based on a single study.

    It is also extremely important to recognize that not all abstinence-only curricula are the same. The UPenn study “did not use a moralistic tone or portray sex in a negative light” (Penn Medicine article on the study). However, like TLR, many abstinence-only programs portray certain sex (premarital, homosexual) as immoral. Emphasizing abstinence as a way to prevent teen pregnancy and STIs in very different from emphasizing abstinence to conform to Christian morality.

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