WASHINGTON (BP)–Abstinence education is effective at delaying sexual initiation and reducing the levels of early sexual activity, according to two studies presented April 22 at the National Press Club in Washington.
A study led by Stan Weed of the Institute of Research and Evaluation examined the impact of abstinence education in reducing the initiation of sexual activity by seventh-grade students in suburban Virginia. The second study, which reviewed 21 abstinence education programs and found that 16 of them reported positive results, was published by The Heritage Foundation.
Both studies were presented in conjunction with hearings April 23 by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which were to feature seven witnesses speaking in support of comprehensive sex education and two testifying in favor of abstinence education, with a goal of assessing the need for continued abstinence education funding.
Weed’s study, published in the January/February edition of the American Journal of Health Behavior, evaluated the Virginia Abstinence Education Initiative by tracking the behavior of seventh-graders in five different Virginia schools.
Students receiving abstinence education, the study concluded, were about one-half as likely to initiate sexual activity as students who did not receive abstinence education.
“The fundamental question here is, ‘Can you change or influence adolescent behavior?’ and the answer to that, as this and other studies in abstinence education demonstrate, is yes,” said Weed, who was scheduled to present his findings at the House hearing.
“Abstinence education has been a mainstream curriculum for less than a decade,” Weed added. “That is a very short time to measure the success of a program, but this study indicates that properly targeted, focused and implemented policies, programs and funding streams can turn the trends of negative behavioral consequences in a positive direction.”
The Heritage Foundation study, a background paper written by Christine Kim and Robert Rector, noted that each year about 2.6 million teenagers become sexually active — a rate of 7,000 teens per day. Among high school students, nearly half acknowledge having engaged in sexual activity and one-third are currently active, the authors reported.
“Abstinence education ‘teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school age children’ and stresses the social, psychological and health benefits of abstinence,” the paper said.
“… Opponents of abstinence education contend that these programs fail to influence teen sexual behavior. At this stage, the available evidence supports neither this assessment nor the wholesale dismissal of authentic abstinence education programs.”
Of the 21 studies of abstinence education included in the Heritage Foundation paper, 15 studies examined abstinence programs that were primarily intended to teach abstinence. Of those 15 studies, 11 reported positive findings. The other six studies analyzed virginity pledges, and of those six studies, five reported positive findings, the authors wrote.
“Overall, 16 of the 21 studies reported statistically significant positive results, such as delayed sexual initiation and reduced levels of early sexual activity, among youths who have received abstinence education,” the paper said. “Five studies did not report any significant positive results.”
Kim and Rector also mentioned the strong peer pressure toward sexual activity students face today as well as the lure of a popular culture that endorses and glamorizes permissiveness and casual sex.
“Alarmingly, the government implicitly supports these messages by spending over $1 billion each year to promote contraception and safe-sex education — at least 12 times what it spends on abstinence education,” the authors wrote.
The government funds comprehensive sex education programs that promote teenage sex even though a Zogby International poll last year found that 80 percent of parents want their children to abstain from sexual activity until they’re in a committed adult relationship.
“When considering federal funding for abstinence education programs and reauthorization of Title V abstinence education programs, including maintaining the current definition of ‘abstinence education,’ lawmakers should consider all of the available empirical evidence,” Kim and Rector concluded.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, applauded The Heritage Foundation for a careful review of 21 abstinence education programs.
“All of the evidence shows that sexual abstinence is the healthiest behavior for youth,” Perkins said April 22. “Teaching and equipping youth with the skills to practice this behavior is the goal of genuine abstinence education.
“Given the huge cost of sexually transmitted infections among teens in our society, the government should support effective abstinence education programs like those Heritage has reviewed, not promote programs that encourage young teens to engage in physically and emotionally risky sexual behavior,” Perkins added. “The government does not promote drug use or underage drinking, and it should not promote risky sexual behavior either.”
Janice Crouse, senior fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, said it makes no sense for the federal government to decrease funding for abstinence education when it is clearly working to reduce some of the chief problems among youth.
“It is amazing that some legislators would want to cut abstinence education funding when it is such a drop in the bucket to the amount of money that goes to comprehensive sex education programs,” Crouse said in an April 22 news release. “And, look at what happened when all that money was spent for all those years on comprehensive sex education — teen sexual activity went up, teen pregnancies went up and abortions went up.
“Now that we have more abstinence programs in more schools, all three trends are going down. Now, that is what ought to happen and the programs that make that happen are what we ought to support,” Crouse said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.