Abstinence sex ed w/out morality lecture prove effective

The LA Times buried the lede in this story, putting it in the second to the last paragraph, which makes critical minds wonder, “Is it true what they say about the media having a bias?” But for those who stuck it out through the whole story, the news is this: In a two-year study among 662 black sixth-and seventh-graders in four low-income Northeastern schools, it was discovered that abstinence-only sex education taught without moral hectoring proved to be more successful in delaying the onset of first sexual activity than three other methods.

The students were divided randomly into four groups, according to the story, one receiving an eight-hour abstinence-only class “focusing on the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.” Researchers emphasized that that class did not use a “moralistic tone o portray sex in a negative light.” A second group of kids got eight-hours of “safe sex” education, a third received comprehensive eight to 12 hour class emphasizing both aspects of sex education – what some call “abstinence plus.” The fourth group – the control for the study – received only healthy living education.

And here are the stats: During the two-year period following those classes, only 33.5 percent of the kids who got the no-morals-but-all-abstinence message had sex, compared to 48.5 percent in the control group and, get this, 52 percent of those taught only the “safe sex” message. About 42 percent of those in the abstinence plus group reported having sex in those two years.

Unfortunately, none of the classes appeared to influence the use of condoms or other birth control when the students did have sex. This should be no surprise to anyone who has ever been a teenager, nor anyone who studies the influence of abject poverty on the decision-making ability of adolescents, but it seems to continue to surprise researchers and pro-sex-ed forces who moan, “We told them to use birth control! They had all the information, why didn’t they use it?”

They didn’t use it because they’re children! They may have the ability to have sex, and they’re bodies may be driving them toward it much like their mouths drive them to eat junk food, but they don’t have the ability to think further than tomorrow or, if you’re lucky, next week. What this study shows is that teaching kids that there is such a thing as “safe” (or, as some refer to it, “safer”)  sex appears to give them the idea that sometimes teenage sex is safe, and won’t harm them so they might as well.

On the other hand, focusing on the facts — sex as a teenager is playing with fire because of the high risk of disease and pregnancy – – seems to lead fewer teens to take that risk.

This isn’t a moral argument, it is an economic one. We can’t afford the economic toll that comes with teen motherhood and we can’t afford the economic tolls that comes with an increase in STDs among people who either lack health care or have their health care paid for by others’ taxes. So, maybe we should pay attention to this study (reported Monday in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine), and consider the facts: No matter how many condoms you offer for free, teens don’t seem to use them because most teens don’t think that far in advance, but apparently, if you offer them a clear picture of STDs and the risk of teen pregnancy – no moralizing allowed – fewer teens will step off that ledge.

So, any thoughts about why the numbers were so low in the story?

Along the same sex lines, we have this editorial from the NYTimes supporting the right of Focus on the family to air an ad during the Super Bowl, and a discussion of a disturbing new Web “reality” show where viewers get to vote on if a woman should have an abortion or not. And completely off the sex line, is this very interesting investigation out of Pocono Record explaining why public education costs have continued to rise in Pennsylvania even as enrollment has gone down. It would be revealing to see something similar done in regard to TUSD.


4 thoughts on “Abstinence sex ed w/out morality lecture prove effective

  1. 1) Abstinence education was most “successful” in creating abstinence.
    If your goal is anti-sex, then great – maybe it will increase recruitment for priests and nuns.
    Since unwanted pregnancies were not determined (the goal of the rest  of us), there is nothing in the study to show any “success” for any form of “education”.
    2) Focus on the Family has no “right” to air ads, nor does anyone else – it is not a “right” any more than I can demand that the Tucson Citizen run my ad.
    It is a policy question for CBS – which has the “right” to do whatever they wish. And the criticism is that CBS has a track record of rejecting ads which are pro-gay such as the United Church of Christ’s ads and yet is willing to run fundie Focus on the Family ads.
    Personally, considering the audience for football games, I thing CBS is just pandering to its audience of redneck morons, so I don’t care.

  2. “Catherine Camacho, deputy director for the California Department of Public Health’s Center for Family Health, said previous research had shown that it made sense to include abstinence education as part of a comprehensive program.”
    Hmmm… will be interesting to see if this study could be repeated and if the “Comprehensive” program can be limited to “just the facts”!
    What a novel idea… if you take the complications of moralizing and overwhelming with too much information, and just give the truth, they may actually listen.
    Although, I must say it is still appalling to me that 33-52% of 12-13 year-olds (which over the next 2 years became 14-15 year-olds) are having sex! Wow…

  3. “This isn’t a moral argument, it is an economic one. We can’t afford the economic toll that comes with teen motherhood and we can’t afford the economic tolls that comes with an increase in STDs among people who either lack health care or have their health care paid for by others’ taxes.”

    There you go again, Renee.  I have no problem with the idea of investigating various approaches to sex education as regards their effectiveness in minimizing unwanted pregnancy.  But this business of the impetus being that we have to control the sexuality and reproduction of the “lower classes” because of the potential harm done to the more desirable (tax-paying, contributing) classes is repugnant. 

    1. Leftfield: We should want to encourage self control for the sake of the planet and the economy, yes. Among everyone, not just the poor. This study looked at lower rung of socio-economic scale, but I’m betting many teens would fall into the same statistical pile re: actions with sex ed regardless of socioeconomic area. It isn’t harm done to the “more desirable” classes – it is harm done to the society as a whole. And studies show that the more we raise people out of poverty, the more they self-regulate births – why would you say that is? Education? Money? Have you seen Precious yet?

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