Buried among the many changes to health programs in this year’s federal budget was an important one for young people. Congress added new funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, bringing the annual total to $90 million. And then in July, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would end funding for the Office of Adolescent Health’s evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention program next year.
That program’s mission is to test and evaluate new and old prevention programs based on the best available science. But there’s no testing needed before the office shuts down to evaluate abstinence-only education. Research about abstinence-only programs is already quite clear, as we document in two new scientific papers in the Journal of Adolescent Health. They don’t work, and they don’t prepare young people for life.
Abstinence-only now has a new name: “sexual risk avoidance.” A new name doesn’t fix the fundamental problem. Abstinence-only programs do not prepare young people for life — and they do a poor job of preparing them to avoid sex.
The government shouldn’t be in the business of promoting an unrealistic and ineffective solution to adolescent sexual and reproductive health — particularly one that has been so overwhelmingly repudiated by health professionals and parents.
The scientific evidence is clear. While abstinence is theoretically effective in preventing pregnancy, in actual practice, intentions to abstain from sexual activity often fail. Early abstinence-only programs often contained medically inaccurate information. The most recent authoritative review of the scientific evidence comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC examined scientific evaluations from 66 comprehensive risk reduction programs and 23 abstinence-only programs. The CDC found inconclusive evidence that abstinence-only programs helped young people delay sexual initiation; nor did they change other behaviors. In contrast, CDC found comprehensive programs had favorable effects on multiple adolescent behaviors, including sexual initiation, number of sex partners, frequency of sexual activity, use of protection (condoms, oral contraceptives, or both), frequency of unprotected sexual activity, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
In other words, comprehensive sexuality education helps young people remain abstinent, while abstinence-only education does not.
(Excerpted from Santelli, Washington Post 8/21/17)