Education: New evidence showing that abstinence instruction works better than sex education should be no surprise. Of course the facts of life beat the tools of self-destruction.
Last month, Planned Parenthood’s Guttmacher Institute reported that “for the first time since the early 1990s, overall rates of pregnancy and birth and, to a lesser extent, rates of abortion among teenagers and young women increased from 2005 to 2006,” the latest period for which figures are available.
The increase in the pregnancy rate was small from 69.5 per 1,000 to 71.5 for girls aged 15-to-19 and comes after a consistent long-term decline from 116.9 in 1990. But that didn’t stop the Planned Parenthood adjunct from shouting that the sky was falling and placing the blame.
“After more than a decade of progress, this reversal is deeply troubling,” remarked Heather Boonstra, senior public policy associate for the Institute.
“It coincides with an increase in rigid abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which received major funding boosts under the Bush administration.”
The Obama administration has scrapped more than $170 million in annual funding for abstinence instruction.
According to Boonstra, “A strong body of research shows that these programs do not work.”
But now a study financed by the federal government and conducted by a team of University of Pennsylvania researchers, led by Dr. John Jemmott, has found that an abstinence-only approach can be superior to the kinds of sexual education programs that presume early sexual activity to be inevitable.
The study’s findings, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, were based on an experiment involving 662 black grade-school students who were mostly 12 years old. They were divided into three groups, one of which took a program discouraging sexual activity, another that took one teaching safe sex, and a third longer-instruction program that used both approaches.
During the following two years, only 33% of those in the abstinence-only program had become sexually active. About 42% of those attending the mixed or “comprehensive” instruction became active. And most 52% of those who took the safe-sex-only course had engaged in sexual activity.
While Jemmott said that abstinence should be just one of “a variety of interventions” used against the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and to prevent teen pregnancy, the evidence has been mounting in favor of basing instruction on abstinence.
A 2008 Heritage Foundation report found that of 21 different studies on abstinence-based education programs, 16 found a delay in early sexual activity and initiation.
And at a time when the economy leaves behind unwed mothers and their children more than ever, it’s worth appreciating the research conducted several years ago by Heritage’s Robert Rector and Kirk A. Johnson indicating that teens who practice abstinence perform better academically and are nearly twice as likely to graduate from college.
Along those lines, one important component of the Jemmott study’s abstinence program was its emphasis on the stupidity of early sex. Pupils were told to write down the pros and cons of sexual activity at their age. Naturally, they found that the cons they thought of outnumbered the pros.
While Planned Parenthood contends that sex education can be thanked for the decline in the teen pregnancy rate over the last 20 years, the American Life League points out that before 1990, teen pregnancy was going up nearly every year as sex-ed programs dominated public and private school instruction and that it was during the early 1990s that abstinence programs were becoming popular.
The findings of this new study should shock no one. No one would disagree that adolescents must learn that discipline and diligence are prerequisites to success in school, and in the workplace where they will be spending their adulthood.
By the same token, making it clear to early teens that a lack of self-control in the sexual sphere can and will wreck their lives is a smarter starting point than teaching them how to use a condom.
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