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Teens Have Less Sex After Middle-School Program

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A new program that urges middle-school students to figure out their values regarding sex appears to reduce the likelihood that they will engage in early sexual activity, a study finds.

Students who took part in the “It’s Your Game: Keep It Real” program — which attempts to encourage abstinence but includes information about contraceptives — were less likely to have sex by ninth grade than those who did not.

The computer-based sex-education program, which will be free to schools, could become an alternative to the handful of programs that also are effective, said Susan Tortolero, lead study author.

The new program, whose development the federal government funded, allows students to play animated computer games and engage in classroom activities in 24 lessons, each 45-minutes long.

The program encourages school children to choose their values — or “rules” — about sex and then “protect their rules” when they’re challenged, said Tortolero, director of the Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center.

“Teaching kids decision-making skills and having them practice them and role play — that’s part of what makes this program successful,” Tortolero said.

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In 2004, the researchers assigned seventh-grade students randomly in a southeastern Texas school district to take part in the "It’s Your Game" program or the standard health education program.

The researchers then surveyed 907 of the children about sexual issues when they reached ninth grade.

The study findings appear online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Nearly 30 percent of those who did not take part in the program had sex by ninth grade, but the number was 23 percent among those who did take part.

After researchers adjusted their figures to account for the effects of factors like gender and ethnicity, they found that those who did not take part in the program were 1.29 times more likely to have sex by ninth grade.

Janet Rosenbaum, a postdoctoral fellow who studies teen sexuality at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the program sounds promising. Its tenets, she said, fit with previous research suggesting that teens are more likely to stick with abstinence pledges when they make the decisions themselves and do not feel pressured to do so.

"It’s Your Game: Keep It Real" will be available free to the public later this fall.