Abstinence Messages Not Enough for HIV Prevention

Armen Hareyan's picture

HIV Transmission and Prevention

Teaching young women to delay sex until marriage is a good start but is not enough to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, says Tulane international health researcher Sohail Agha. In fact, Agha's research showed that years of education was a stronger predictor of both delaying sex and using condoms.


The research team analyzed data from 5,534 unmarried Zambian women between 13 and 20 years old. Data included questions about their religious affiliation, income level, educational level, age of first sex and condom use during the first sexual act. According to Agha, this is one of the first studies to look at both behaviors. Overall, nearly 50 percent of the women surveyed had not initiated sex. Of those who had, only one in four reported using a condom the first time they had sex.

Overall, religious affiliation did not affect either the age of first sex or use of a condom during the first sexual event. However, women belonging to the more conservative denominations abstained longer, with 59 percent of Jehovah's Witnesses and 54 percent of Seventh Day Adventists reporting that they had never had sex. The survey also showed that only one in five women in these denominations used a condom the first time they had sex, compared to one in four overall.

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