Thursday, February 11, 2010

This Ain't Your Mother's Abstinence-Only Sex Ed


In case you missed all the blog hollering last week on the topic of sex education, let me fill you in: Abstinence-only supporters have latched onto a new study that has shown a comprehensive abstinence-only sex-ed course to be effective. They’ve been waiting for the smallest shred of evidence that their abstinence-until-marriage programs are the best way to go, and finally they feel they’ve found their holy grail of data! The only trouble? They clearly didn’t spend a lot of time reading the actual gist of the study before writing articles with headlines such as “Abstinence-only study could alter sex-education landscape.”

"If we are truly interested in 'evidenced-based' approaches that work, then today's findings should challenge the wisdom of eliminating abstinence education among federally funded choices for sex education," wrote rep Dan Boren (D-OK) in a letter asking President Obama to reinstate funding for abstinence-only programs. A Heritage Foundation spokesperson claims that "This takes away the main pillar of opposition to abstinence education."

Beyond the fact that one solitary study should not inform a policy, this comprehensive course was nothing like the wait-until-marriage variety that enjoys such staunch support from the far-right. Marriage was not even mentioned in the study. Students were encouraged to wait “until they are ready.” These were 12 and 13-year-olds, and for some that could mean waiting only a couple of years. Additionally, 30% of students involved in the class still engaged in sexual activity within two years of the study (compared to 50% of those who were not), which is where the “comprehensive” part comes in. Since studies have shown that no variety of sex education will cause all students to abstain from sexual activity, there must be some focus on preventing pregnancy and the spread of disease for those that don’t.

This may be a great jumping-off point for more studies of this kind, but it’s hardly a cure-all answer, nor a sign that abstinence-until-marriage programs are an effective means of keeping our young people healthy and preventing teen pregnancy. As Monica Rodriguez from SEICUS said, what this study gives us is ”a new tool to add to our repertoire.” What it certainly does not do is give props to the abstinence-until-marriage programs that have been funded in the past.

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