Abstinence-Only Sex Education Report Should Be 'Bridge' Between Policy Extremes

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Sexual Health Education

Two newspapers recently published editorials responding to a report on sex education that found that abstinence-only sex education programs are not effective in preventing or delaying teenagers from having sexual intercourse. The report, commissioned by Congress and released on Friday by Mathematica Policy Research, followed 2,057 U.S. teenagers in late elementary and middle school who participated in four abstinence programs, as well as students in the same grades who did not participate in such programs.

About half of the students who received abstinence education and about half of those who did not reported that they abstained from sex.

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More than one-third of both groups had two or more sexual partners; 23% of both groups reported having had sex and always using a condom; 17% of both groups reported having had sex and only sometimes using a condom; and 4% of the students in both groups reported having had sex and never using a condom, according to the report (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 4/16). Summaries appear below.

Boston Globe: Abstinence "should be part of the message that young people hear about sex," but "as a protection against sexually transmitted [infections] and unplanned pregnancies, the abstinence message goes only so far," a Globe editorial says. "Congress should drop its abstinence-only programs and encourage communities to offer comprehensive sex education that includes information on diseases and the various methods of contraception" in light of the study, the editorial says. The Globe says that Congress also should require a "rigorous" study of the Bush administration's abstinence-based HIV prevention programs in Africa and the Caribbean (Boston Globe, 4/18).

Washington Post: The report should serve as "a bridge between the two extremes of the sex education debate," a Post editorial says. "What's needed" are programs that encourage teens "to delay having sex until they are ready to handle the risk and responsibility and that encourage sexually active youths to use contraception," according to the Post. "The Bush administration should consider using some of the $176 million it spends on abstinence education to foster more" programs that "deal with the real world" instead of "pooh-poohing the latest evidence that its efforts will not have the promised impact," the editorial concludes (Washington Post, 4/18).

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