Two new studies are showing the dangers of abstinence-only sex education. Both are reported here. Because abstinence-only programs are forbidden to even mention that condoms can help prevent pregnancy and STDs – it is literally illegal for them to mention anything about condoms other than failure rates – teens who take abstinence-only classes tend to use condoms far less when they become sexually active. Surprise, surprise. Here’s the result:
Teenagers’ risks of pregnancy and disease are also affected by what they think about sex, contraception and pregnancy, researchers reported. According to a study just published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, the more positive sexually experienced teens’ attitudes about birth control, the more likely they are to use it and the less likely to become pregnant. But sexually experienced teens’ attitudes toward pregnancy are not associated with whether they become pregnant. The authors–Yale University’s Hannah Bruckner, Ph.D., and Columbia University’s Peter Bearman, Ph.D.–conclude that programs promoting positive attitudes toward contraceptive use, rather than ones focusing solely on the negative consequences of becoming pregnant, may be most effective at reducing teen pregnancies.
Dr. Bearman also reported on an analysis of young adults who had pledged as teenagers to remain virgins until marriage, a type of program that is supported by federal policy. The researchers found that young adults who took virginity pledges as teenagers had the same rates of STDs as other young adults once they became sexually active–even though pledgers had shorter periods of sexual activity and fewer sexual partners. Virginity pledgers are also less likely to know their STD status–increasing the chances they will infect a partner or suffer long-term health consequences. This is of particular concern since nearly nine in 10 virginity pledgers have sexual intercourse before getting married.
Dr. Bearman noted that young people’s views are increasingly shaped by programs that teach them they must stay abstinent until marriage, while discussing contraceptives only in terms of failure rates. Federal law prohibits government-funded abstinence-only programs from providing information about the health benefits of using contraception, including condoms. “It’s truly shocking how little medically accurate information teens are getting about how to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease,” he said. “The scare tactics and negative messaging used by today’s abstinence-only sex education programs put young people in harm’s way.”
Abstinence-only education simply does not work. Studies show that while it delays the average age at which teens become sexually active a bit, it also makes them much less likely to use contraception when they do have sex. The result is more STDs and more teen pregnancy.