Abstinence Education Works

duhIf you asked 100 people at random if they believed abstinence education is effective, most of them would probably say no. Most would probably say that teaching abstinence is “unrealistic”, that it doesn’t work, and that schools should instead be teaching so-called “comprehensive” sex education. A big part of the reason why so many people believe abstinence education is ineffective is because its opponents — which include Planned Parenthood, NARAL, NOW, and other major pro-abortion groups — have relentlessly tub-thumping for years trying to convince people that it is so, such that it’s now one of those things that “everybody knows”. And most mainstream media outlets have gone along with getting this message out there. So ingrained in popular consciousness is this idea that when the Washington Post reported on a “landmark” study released Monday that demonstrated remarkable comparative effectiveness of abstinence education vs. so-called “comprehensive” sex education, they couldn’t bring themselves to fully admit what the research showed. The study, led by Dr. John Jemmott of the University of Pennsylvania, involved 662 black students in four urban public middle schools. It revealed that about 33% of students who went through an abstinence program had sex within 2 years, as opposed to 52% who were only taught only “safe sex”. “Abstinence-only programs might work, study says,” read the headline. “The findings are the first clear evidence that an abstinence program could work,” read one sentence. “Might work”? “Could work”? This study shows abstinence education does work. And—again, contrary to what the Washington Post article says—this is not “the first clear evidence”. Still, it’s very encouraging that this particular study is receiving so much attention, and it certainly calls into question the Obama administration’s decision to cut more than $170 in federal funding for abstinence education programs. It’s also interesting to note the reaction of the so-called “Comprehensive” Sex Education establishment to the study. The WaPo article quotes James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, whose response was essentially a shrug: “There is no data in this study to support the ‘abstain until marriage’ programs, which research proved ineffective during the Bush administration.” What “research” is Wagoner referring to? I had a suspicion it was the April 2007 study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research [PDF], which, since its release, has often been cited by opponents of abstinence education programs as the definitive evidence of their ineffectiveness. And a check of the Advocates for Youth website confirmed my hunch. Attempting to distinguish between the program studied in the Jemmott research and Bush-era abstinence programs, AfY notes:

The program goal was to help early teens avoid sex until they are ready—a totally different objective than the federally funded abstinence programs already proven ineffective by the long-term Mathematica study “which showed no impact on teen behavior”.

The Mathematica study contains some huge flaws that were pointed out within days of its release. Among other things, it studied children as young as 3rd grade—not exactly the average age for abstinence programs and/or sexual activity—and researched only four (4) programs—a ridiculously small sample of the several hundred federally funded abstinence education programs. Bearing this information in mind, Wagoner’s comments are nonsensical. With any luck, though, maybe the buzz surrounding the Jemmott study will prompt the mainstream media to take a new look at abstinence education—and maybe even start asking questions about the Mathematica study that they should have asked three years ago. If they did, they might discover that the groups that have been hiding behind it and other flawed studies are part of a movement that simply cannot be trusted to have children’s best interests at heart.

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