Abstinence Only Program May Reduce Extent of Sexual Activity in Middle School
Teens and Abstinence
A new study of an abstinence-only education program for middle schoolers in Ohio shows it did not reduce the number of students having sex for the first time but did reduce future sexual activity among those who already were experienced.
The study, done in Cleveland and its suburbs, also found that the abstinence-only program discouraged the sexually uninitiated from intending to use condoms in the future, possibly because of warnings that they are not 100 percent effective.
The Cuyahoga, Ohio, program did not reduce the number of students who had sex for the first time as measured five months later, nor did it reduce the likelihood that a sexually active student would have sex during the follow-up period, according to the article in the latest issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.
Instead, to the surprise of researchers, sexually active students reported having fewer partners and fewer episodes of intercourse than their sexually active peers who did not go through the program, say Elaine Borawski of Case Western Reserve University and colleagues.
"It is possible that it is because of their prior sexual experience that the abstinence message is appealing," she suggests. "Although certainly not all adolescents, some may have found that the experience of sexual intercourse was far less romantic, exciting or pleasurable than they had expected."
Nearly a quarter of the students said they were sexually experienced at the start of the study.
Borawski and colleagues examined the effects of an abstinence-only sex education program called For Keeps in 2,069 middle school students. The program promotes abstinence until marriage and stresses that early sexual activity and teen pregnancy can interfere with a student's life goals.
"The curriculum does emphasize that condoms are not 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy and disease, but more emphasis is placed on how condoms and other contraceptives do not protect adolescents from the emotional consequences of sexual activity like broken hearts," Borawski explains.
"Some find it surprising, but teachers continually tell us that teens who have already been sexually active are particularly receptive to the abstinence message," says Bruce Cook, head of Choosing the Best, an Atlanta-based nonprofit abstinence education and training organization.