Abstinence classes do nothing

Federally funded abstinence programs for middle schoolers had no effect, a Mathematica study concluded. Abstinence ed grads started having sex at the same age as the control group and had similar numbers of sexual partners. By the age of 16 1/2 years, half the students in both groups were abstinent. Despite fears that abstinence ed decreases condom use, there was no effect on the rate of unprotected sex.

Congress is considering reauthorizing the $50 million a year now spent to subsidize abstinence programs in schools. Why not heed the research and save some money?

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  1. Miller Smith says:

    This is another story that misses the lead. We get the same result regardless of method of sex education. The very intrusive sex ed programs that deal with teaching how to have safe sex vs. abstinance which tells you not to. Same results. Guess which is cheaper and has less issues for admin to deal with?

    This is like the stories that tell us that charter schools do no better than regular public schools…but at a much much lower cost. Can’t belive the union waved that one around.

  2. No, Mr. Smith, the results are only the same for abstinence-only and NO sex education.  The results for real (comprehensive) sex education include later initiatio of sex and decreased frequency of sex, pregnancy and STD’s (pile of supporting cites here).

  3. Miller Smith says:

    No sex education was the control group! So there was no difference? Uh…that’s pretty much my point.

    Why not compare to real mean sex ed we have here in Maryland? Now that would be interesting.

  4. Let’s be clear on what the control group was:

    “Youth in the program group were eligible to receive the abstinence education program services, while those in the control group were not, and received only the usual health, family life, and sex education services available in their schools and communities.”

    The control group did get sex education through the schools. So, while you can argue that abstinence-only as an add on is a waste of money, it is also no worse in its effects than typical “safe sex” ed.

  5. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Just bring back saltpeter in the school lunches.

  6. Wade is correct on the control group: They received their school’s standard sex ed curriculum. It’s possible that if the best-regarded comprehensive sex ed curricula were compared to the best-regarded abstinence curricula we’d see different results. Update: The executive summary (via Just One Minute) says:

    Two of the programs — (ReCapturing the Vision and FUPTP) — operated in communities with a rich set of health, family life, and sex education services available through the public schools, while the remaining two programs operated in schools with limited services as part of their existing school curricula.

    So I think it is fair to ask: If minimal sex ed, comprehensive sex ed and abstinence ed have the same results, why fund more than the minimum?

    When I was writing on comprehensive sex ed about 10 years ago, I was told that students ended up knowing more after sex-ed classes but knowledge didn’t change their behavior in regard to sexual initiation or condom or birth-control use.

    What seems to work best in preventing teen pregnancy — especially for black girls — is a plan for the future. Girls who have realistic college ambitions are much less likely to get pregnant. Parents who closely monitor their daughters also are less likely to be young grandparents.

  7. Miller Smith says:

    Standard sex ed is as good as abstinence sex ed. Considering the budget for regular sex ed in my school (videos, models, certified teacher, etc), why, we can dump regular sex ed and save a bunch of money.

    This again is bad news for regular sex ed dressed up as bad news for abstinence sex ed. One would have hoped that regular sex ed would have been lots better…but nope. Just spinning our wheels.

  8. SuperSub says:

    Wow, how about we just dump both programs? Neither seems to work… and probably only exist to justify the jobs of some administrators and curriculum experts.

  9. Of course, studies also show that people in math classes are still ignorant of math.

    Maybe we should dump math.

  10. Like so many studies, the reaction to this one will depend on people’s previous prejudices. A large study also recently demonstrated that there is little or no advantage to putting thousands of computers in K-12 classrooms. I suspect that the people who applauded this “abstinence education doesn’t work” study will tie themselves in knots trying to discredit the “computers in classrooms don’t work” result, just as religious conservatives will point out every conceivable (and inconceivable) flaw in the abstinence study.

    Where, oh where, are the people who are willing to accept the facts wherever they lead? Isn’t that what we try to teach our students to do? And how can we do that if we don’t heed our own preaching?

  11. Parents who closely monitor their daughters also are less likely to be young grandparents.

    Or parents who happen to have daughters who can be closely monitored are less likely to be young grandparents, regardless of whether they bother monitoring them or not.


  1. Jon Swift says:

    Is Abstinence-Only Sex Education Too Explicit?…

    Once you tell kids to abstain from sex until marriage, you have already told them too much. We need more ignorance about sex, not less….