How Effective is Abstinence-Only Education?

Like many controversial issues of modern society, the question of whether or not sex education for teens should be comprehensive or abstinence-only, is a very hot button topic. In the 1970's and 80's a lot of attention was directed towards the rising teenage pregnancies and evoked a strong necessity for sex education programs within schools. Opponents who attempted to block sex education in schools (and ultimately lost that battle) successfully allowed there to be only so called family centered programs that did not cover contraceptive counseling (source: This type of abstinence-only-until-marriage education continued throughout the Bush administration and more than $1 billion have been funded to it since 1996. But many wonder whether or not these types of programs are effective in preventing pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections among teens.

One of the most telling factors in answering this question are the statistics. According to Advocates for Youth, 70% of people under the age of 18 have had vaginal sex, despite purported success rates of abstinence-until-marriage programs. 88% of teens who pledged to abstain from sex until marriage engaged in sex prior to marriage. This group was at higher risk for pregnancies and STI's because analyses of government-approved abstinence programs showed that 80% of these taught false information pertaining to the efficacy of contraceptives and the risks of abortion, as well as presenting religious beliefs as scientific fact. In addition, surveys showed that during the era of abstinence-only education, very little statistical change occurred in the sexual activity among teenagers.(

In support of abstinence-only education, the Heritage Foundation reports that this type and this type only of sex-education is effective in reducing sexual activity among teens. They claim that abstinence is vital in protecting youth from emotional trauma and state that the majority of people who engage in sex before marriage regret their decision. What supporters fail to recognize, however, is that, as previously mentioned, 70% of teens become sexually active and remain that way before marriage. This is a constant fact that has been maintained throughout many decades. Teens will engage in sex before marriage and abstinence-only education fails to provide information that could protect teens from potentially life-threatening situations.

The state of Mississippi best represents the failures of abstinence programs. As a traditionally conservative state, it was natural that it would provide abstinence-only education as opposed to comprehensive education. As a result, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States reports that Mississippi has the second highest rates of teen pregnancies, the second highest rates of STI's, and seventh highest rates of HIV in the country (source: Again, teens are much more likely to have sex before marriage than not and having only had abstinence education, they are less likely to know how to use contraceptives, putting them at higher risk of unplanned pregnancies and STI's.

While abstinence-only education lacks in effectiveness to reduce teen pregnancies, it is important to research whether comprehensive education is more effective. Characteristics of effective sex-education programs are inclusive and participatory teaching methods, developed with realistic youth behaviors in mind, help teens develop communication and refusal skills, and provide medically accurate information on both contraceptives and abstinence.

Comprehensive programs include all of these traits. They recognize the fact that youth engage in sexual activity and therefore better prepare them with knowledge on how protect themselves and the potential consequences. These types of programs do not advocate early sexual activity and teach students how to use contraceptives while reminding them that abstinence is the only way that one can remain 100% STI and pregnancy-free. By providing comprehensive information, they reduce the negative stigma associated with sexual activity and help youth to take care of their bodies while being able to express natural desires. Since comprehensive education has become more common in modern classrooms, teen pregnancies have declined to 29 per 1000 girls 15-19 years of age, down 52% from 1991 ( Abstinence-only is a narrow-minded approach to sex-education and comprehensive programs are much more effective in preventing STI's and unplanned pregnancies among teens.

Written By: Kimeko Neil, United States

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

Disclaimer: The suggestions in the article(wherever applicable) are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as medical or any other type of advice