Mike the Mad Biologist

Abstinence-Only ‘Education’ Withering

“If the president’s [budget] proposal is enacted similar to what he recommended, it will have a chilling effect on abstinence education across the country…We’re in a race against time to keep these people in business”

So says Leslie Unruh, rightwing nutjob extraordinaire (and a driving force behind this). I’m not sure why anyone in the Coalition of the Sane should care, in light of these results of abstinence-only misinformation (italics mine):

In the beginning, the public-health community was open to the programs. The United States did, after all, have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. “There was open-mindedness then, that it might work” says John Santelli, of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Everyone is willing to give new ideas a trial period.” By 1999, one study estimated a third of American students were receiving an abstinence-only education. But as funding grew, so did a body of research showing that abstinence didn’t change the sexual behaviors of students; pregnancy and STD rates did not go down, the age of initial sexual activity did not go up. “Each evaluation came along … and each showed it didn’t work,” says Santelli. The articles appeared in peer-reviewed journals, many in the Journal of Adolescent Health, and in government-commissioned reviews. In 2007, a federally funded study of four abstinence programs found its students no more likely to abstain than those in a comprehensive program. At the same time, comprehensive programs that discuss contraceptives and their use received better, although by no means perfect, marks. Researcher Doug Kirby’s 2008 review of 48 studies of comprehensive curriculums found that two-thirds either reduced frequency of sex or number of sexual partners. By time Obama cut Title V abstinence-education funds from his budget, 25 states had already begun rejecting the money, 16 because they didn’t agree ideologically or weren’t seeing results, the others for administrative reasons.

There’s no single reason abstinence-only education proved largely ineffective, researchers say. A major factor, to be sure, was the incomplete information it provided about contraceptives and their use. “The programs that have by far the strongest evidence that they have a positive impact … are those that give the message that not having sex is safest, but if you have sex always use condom and contraception,” says Kirby. Message aside, the curriculums themselves were often found to be riddled with inaccuracies. Two major reviews of abstinence curriculums–one in 2004 from the House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Reform, another by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund earlier this year–found unsourced and incorrect information about STDs, contraceptives, and the consequences of sexual activity. The Texas report, which collected data from over 96 percent of the state’s school districts, found one curriculum teaching that condoms have “little to no benefit.” (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes condoms as “highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV infection and reduce the risk of other STDs” when used consistently and correctly.) Another incorrect abstinence-only lesson used in the Baird Independent School District: “a young person who becomes sexually active at or before age 14 will contract an STD before graduating from high school. This is no longer the exception, but the rule.”

One less instance of child abuse by the theopolitical right.

Good.

Comments

  1. #1 gruntled atheist
    October 31, 2009

    It is refreshing to see you call abstinence-only sex education child abuse because it is clearly child abuse.

  2. #2 Paul Murray
    November 2, 2009

    Abstinence-only sex ed was always motivated by spite: by the resentment by the old of the youth of the young. By the malicious glee of the dried-up evil old hypocrites every time they heard of a teen pregnancy. “That’ll larn ‘em!”.

  3. #3 Kaleberg
    November 4, 2009

    I’ve always been pushing for abstinence based drivers’ education. After all, the only safe way to drive a car is to leave it locked in the garage. Of course, this requires alternate modes of transportation, but that’s another kettle of fish.