Saturday, November 10, 2007

New Study Damns Abstinence Only Sex Education

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy:

Despite a one-third decline since the early 1990s, the United States still has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and birth among comparable countries. In 2004, the U.S. teen birth rate was 41.1 births per 1,000 teens aged 15-19. By way of comparison, the U.S. teen birth rate is one and a half times higher than the teen birth rate in the United Kingdom (26.8 per 1,000) which has the highest teen birth rate in Europe, more than twice as high as the teen birth rate in Canada (14.5 per 1,000), seven times higher than the teen birth rate in Japan (5.6 per 1,000), Denmark (5.7 per 1,000) and Sweden (5.9 per 1,000).
Why does America lead the industrialized world in teen pregnancies? Let me suggest the reason might have something to do with the willful stupidity of American policy makers.

The nonpartisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (NCPTUP) released on Wednesday a comprehensive review of research into teen sexual behavior. The review utterly damns America's cherished "abstinence only" sex education programs. Abstinence only sex education programs are programs that teach kids only one way to deal with their sexual feelings -- and that's by abstaining from sex.

The NCPTUP review failed to find even a single abstinence only program anywhere in the country that works -- despite that they looked at a total of 115 studies. They couldn't find one program that delays the initiation of sex. They couldn't find one program that hastens the return to abstinence. And they couldn't find one program that reduces the number of sexual partners. In any sane country, policy makers would study the NCPTUP report and abandon all support for abstinence only sex education.

This not a sane country.

Instead of abandoning abstinence only sex education, the Federal Government is about to increase the funding for it. Just a few days ago, the Democrat controlled Congress agreed to Bush's demand for an additional $28 million to fund abstinence only sex ed. That brings the annual funding for the Federal CBAE program to $141 million -- more than enough to wreck a few teens' lives. Can anything be more willfully stupid than that?

The CBAE program even requires those it funds to lie to kids about their sexuality. "For example, any program that receives CBAE funds has to teach [kids] that 'sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.'" Yet, if a kid is so young or fragile they are going to experience "harmful psychological and physical effects" from sex, marriage isn't going to make much difference.

In stark contrast to abstinence only sexuality education, the NCPTUP report found that, "Two-thirds of the 48 comprehensive programs that supported both abstinence and the use of condoms and contraceptives for sexually active teens had positive behavior effect." Comprehensive sex ed programs do not fail to teach abstinence. Instead, they teach abstinence as the preferred behavior and the use of condoms and contraceptives as the second, fall back behavior. The "positive behavior effect" of comprehensive programs included delaying the initiation of sex, reducing the frequency of sex, reducing the number of sexual partners and increasing condom or contraceptive use.

Opponents of comprehensive sex ed have often promoted myths about it. One thing that makes this NCPTUP report especially interesting is that it confronts the lies told about comprehensive sex ed by its opponents:

The study, conducted by Douglas Kirby, a senior research scientist at ETR Associates, also sought to debunk what the report called "myths propagated by abstinence-only advocates" including: that comprehensive sex education promotes promiscuity, hastens the initiative of sex or increases its frequency, and sends a confusing message to adolescents.

None of these was found to be accurate, Kirby wrote.

Instead, he wrote, such programs improved teens' knowledge about the risks and consequences of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and gave them greater "confidence in their ability to say 'no' to unwanted sex."

So, there you have it. Not only does abstinence only sex ed utterly fail, but comprehensive sex ed succeeds more times than not. Yet, abstinence only sex ed is Federally funded while comprehensive sex ed receives not a penny in Federal funds. Small wonder the US leads the industrial nations in teen pregnancies.


Emerging Answers 2007: Report of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

Report: Abstinence Programs Don't Work

One More Time: Abstinence Only Programs Don't Work, Comprehensive Programs Do

Just Say No To Increases In Abstinence Funds


Brendan said...

It's not about protecting kids and teaching them to make good choices. It's about abject fear of human sexuality, which, if expressed in an open and healthy manner cannot be bottled up and redirected toward intense religiosity.

Anything that is "moral" exclusively involves the control of sexual behavior. Safe sex doesn't control it - therefore safe sex isn't "moral" . Even though safe sex reduces abortions, poverty, overpopulation, etc. But then, those things don't have anything to do with "morality."

aos said...

I suppose its good to have another study showing the disconnect between federal policy and reality but it all gets so depressing. Its been documented for years that abstinence is not effective. One harm reduction conference I was at had the question raised about "what more can we do" and one panelist said" keep building the evidence base" and the moderator echoed my feelings of "the evidence is sufficient". The point has been proven; we need to get the policy makers to actually care more about results and about people than about some misguided morality.

Webs said...

These religious anti-sex nuts are beyond wacko. It makes no sense that God would create something as amazingly good as sex and then not want anyone to experience it. I mean really WTF.

Whatever... this is just another one to add to the list. Very good explanation of the study Paul!

Nita said...

I heard that in America teen mothers get state funding. I am not sure how much but if this is so then there is no fear at all. I am not saying that state funding is a bad thing, but I think this policy if it is really so (my news could be outdated) then it can be applied more stringently.
I mean, if there is no stigma from society and no financial problem why in the world should any woman avoid having a child? It's the most natural thing in the world. And so is sex so abstinence is a silly idea.

Paul said...

I completely agree, Brendan. The opposition to comprehensive sex ed is rational only if you look at from the standpoint of trying to control the sexuality of others -- if you want to call trying to control other's sexuality rational.

AOS, I think you're right that the case has been made and the issue now is what to actually do about it. Time for action.

Thank you, Webs! If I believed in a Creator God, I would certainly believe sex was overall a gift and not a curse.

Hi Nita! Did you have a good holiday? I confess I'm not up on the current programs for single mothers in the States, but you raise a very important point -- if we subsidize teen pregnancy we are likely to see a lot of teen pregnancies. I think some reform of those subsidies might have happened under Clinton, however, because he cut the welfare roles in half.