Roundup: Abstinence Study Fall Out


Well, I suppose it’s inevitable.  The day I make a roundup about how abstinence only plans just don’t work, someone has to release a study saying "Hey, maybe they aren’t quite as bad as we thought."  Am I daunted?  Of course not! This study actually encourages everything we’ve believed about NOT providing abstinence only sex ed.

Confused?  Let me explain.

First, the Washington Post article about the study points out that the "abstinence group" had a few things different from the abstinence only education classes pushed by the anti-choice advocates:

Several critics of an abstinence-only approach said that the curriculum
tested did not represent most abstinence programs. It did not take a
moralistic tone, as many abstinence programs do. Most notably, the
sessions encouraged children to delay sex until they are ready, not
necessarily until married; did not portray sex outside marriage as
never appropriate; and did not disparage condoms.

"There is no data in this study to support the ‘abstain until
marriage’ programs, which research proved ineffective during the Bush
administration," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth.

A class that says you should wait to have sex, and that a condom might be a good thing to use?  Call me crazy, but that sounds like a sex ed class to me.

The L.A. Times makes it even more clear:

The study was conducted among 662 African American sixth- and
seventh-graders in four low-income schools in the northeastern United
States. The students were randomized into four groups.

One
received an eight-hour abstinence-only class focusing on the risks of
pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It was based on principles
shown to be effective in reducing transmission of sexually transmitted
diseases and did not use a moralistic tone or portray sex in a negative
light.

A second group received an eight-hour safe-sex class. The third group
received a comprehensive eight- or 12-hour class emphasizing both
aspects. The control group received education only about healthy living.
….


Catherine Camacho,
deputy director for the California Department of Public Health’s Center
for Family Health, said previous research had shown that it made sense
to include abstinence education as part of a comprehensive program.

"A
comprehensive approach that does include abstinence is the most
effective program," she said. "We have never disagreed with that. But
we would prefer to call it abstinence-plus."

The argument has never been about only teaching safe sex practices versus only teaching abstinence only education.  Reasonable parties have always wanted to teach a comprehensive approach that tells teens that you should wait to have sex, but if you don’t, you need to protect yourself and your partner from pregnancy and disease, especially via the use of condoms.  

This latest study totally supports those findings.

Of course, that isn’t stopping the usual suspects from trying to use it as a cudgel to end any program that doesn’t stick just to a "no sex before marriage" curriculum.  Pro-Life Wisconsin, reacting to the movement of the Healthy Youth Act through legislature, released this statement yesterday:

Matt Sande, director of legislation for Pro-Life Wisconsin, told
LifeSiteNews that in addition to disrespecting the opinions of parents,
pastors, and other local community leaders, the bill "contradicts sound
science."

A study in
the Journal of the American Medical Association released today details
how abstinence-only sexual education is linked to a lower rate of
sexual activity among high-risk teens.  

"This clinical study
demonstrates that abstinence-only education programs can be very
effective in curbing teen sexual activity,” said Sande.  "Regrettably,
the ideological and political agenda of Planned Parenthood dictates
public policy in our state – and it is our kids who will suffer the
consequences."

Luckily, in Utah, where a contentious plan to add information on contraception to sex ed classrooms, people are taking a much more reasonable approach to the new study:

Liz Zentner, Utah PTA health commissioner, said she believes
abstinence has gotten a bad rap. "This study seems to validate an
approach that many feel has the best chance of helping kids make the
healthiest choice both physically and emotionally."

Zentner
added she would be interested in seeing the curriculum the students in
the study used. "We want to use an approach that has demonstrated it
has a solid track record of making a difference," she said.

In short, no, the people advocating sex ed that isn’t simply a "don’t do it ever!" approach didn’t get caught with their pants down with the release of this new abstinence study.  It simply proves what we already knew: teach kids to wait, but also to be responsible.  And to spend more time figuring out how to address the real problems that add to risk of teenage pregnancy.

Mini Roundup: Tired of Super Bowl controversy?  How about some real reality tv?

 

February 2, 2010

Utah
Legislature: Abstinence findings fuel sex-ed debate
Deseret News

Wisc.
Legislature Approves Bill Requiring Schools To Teach About
Contraception
Medical News Today

A
Verdict Against Vigilantism
New York Times

Is
the Ban on Federally Funded
Abortions Constitutional?
Huffington Post

Planned
Parenthood
Abortion Biz
President Becomes Ford Foundation Trustee
LifeNews.com

 

February 1, 2010

Tebow’s
Super Bowl ad isn’t intolerant; its critics are
Washington Post

An
Untold Story:Reproduction Coercion

NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Blog

The
Streisand Effect
Opposing
Views

Study
finds focus on abstinence in sex-ed classes can delay sexual activity
Washington Post

CBS
And Its Homophobic Superbowl Double-Standard
Huffington Post

Potential
2012 GOP Presidential Candidates Raise Big Money, Back Pro-Lifers
LifeNews.com

Ohio
Pro-Life
Group Backs Portman, Kasich and Other Candidates for State Office
LifeNews.com

Ron
Paul: "
Pro-Life
Action Must Originate From Principle"
CCN News Online

Is Pro-Life
Religion-Neutral?
Stanford
Review

Protesting
Pope Benedict’s Visit To Britain
Irish Central

Watson
signs deal for emergency
contraceptive

BusinessWeek

How
to Get a Teenager Pregnant
Psychology Today

Should
CBS Have Allowed the Tebow Ad?
New York Times

Hospital
worker ‘told family of teenager’s
abortion
BBC News

Letter
from Religious Organizations Supports "
Abortion Neutral" Health Care
Reform
Ethiopian
Review

What
Would Jesus Do?
Huffington
Post

Show
Lets Viewers Decide If ‘Reality Stars’ Get
Abortions
FOXNews

OPINION
SHAPER: ‘Just Say No’ to Planned Parenthood
Mansfield News Journal

Abstinence-only
classes may be effective for young teens
Los Angeles Times

Haiti
‘orphan’ rescue mission:
Adoption or child trafficking?
Christian Science Monitor

 

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  • heather-corinna

    Great piece, but…

     

    Reasonable parties have always wanted to teach a comprehensive approach
    that tells teens that you should wait to have sex, but if you don’t,
    you need to protect yourself and your partner from pregnancy and
    disease, especially via the use of condoms.   

     

     …should wait for….what?  Or wait until when? 

     

    I think we can still be reasonable without sending exactly the message you suggest, especially one that’s about "waiting" in a very obtuse way — that isn’t defined at all, or is about nothing but age-in-years — or until marriage, rather than about holding off of all or some kinds of sex until all parties feel ready, really want to both be sexual with a partner, until sexual situations really feel right for  particular individuals, and all are prepared to do so in a healthy, responsible way, including safer sex and (when needed) contraception.

     

    If not…well, color me unreasonable. :)

  • crowepps

    Over the next two years, about 33 percent of the students who went through the abstinence program started having sex, compared with about 52 percent who were taught only safe sex. About 42 percent of the students who went through the comprehensive program started having sex, and about 47 percent of those who learned about other ways to be healthy did.

    The percentages: non-moralistic abstinence 33%, comprehensive 42%, ways to be healthy 47% and safe sex 52%. This program made a difference of 9% from the next most effective in persuading 12 and 13 years old to delay sex until after they were 14 or 15. One-third of the students started having sex anyway and the program did not track pregnancies or STDs.

    The abstinence-only portion involved a series of sessions in which instructors talked to students in small groups about their views about abstinence and their knowledge of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. They also conducted role-playing exercises and brainstorming sessions designed to correct misconceptions about sex and sexually transmitted diseases, encourage abstinence and offer ways to resist pressure to have sex.

    Scientific studies try to eliminate as many variables as possible. Which portions of this description were also part of the ‘comprehensive’ part of the study? Did the comprehensive also use “role-playing exercises and brainstorming sessions designed to correct misconceptions about sex and sexually transmitted diseases, encourage abstinence and offer ways to resist pressure to have sex”?

    The primary outcome was self-report of ever having sexual intercourse by the 24-month follow-up.
    http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/164/2/152?home

    A possible problem – the outcomes were measured by self-report. Would students who took a course in which the instructor made it clear that the goal was ‘abstinence’ or ‘delaying sex’ be honest when they were asked whether they had ‘failed to come up to expectations’? It’s possible they would, but I wonder if the study adjusted for the known effect of ‘the obviously correct answer’.

    A further quibble — if this is really truly a vital public health issue that’s very important, I am less than thrilled with an effort to ‘save the children’ which reduces the number of children who ‘jump off the cliff’ from 50% to ‘only’ one-third, particularly when they didn’t even measure the actual negative outcomes – unwanted pregnancies and STD infections. The only way this program can be considered ‘effective’ is if the public health ‘problem’ is the actual sex itself.

  • heather-corinna

    The only way this program can be considered ‘effective’ is if the public health ‘problem’ is the actual sex itself.

     

    Yes, yes, YES, world of big yes to this. It’s crowepps for the win yet again. This sentence speaks volumes about the flaws in the cultural view of teen and young adult sexuality, and is part of what I meant above with the way people so often frame the "waiting is always best, but if you don’t…" stuff.

  • robin-marty

    my big issue with the study is that it totally moves the goalpost. I mean sure, I don’t want 14 year olds having sex, either. But if 90% of the 33% having sex from the abstain group are getting pregnant, I think that’s way worse than having 5% of the 42% group getting pregnant.

    The goal should be to stop teens from having unsafe sex that impregnates them or makes them sick. But if an abstinence based class that encourages condom use if you don’t wait does it, I’m all for it. However, that’s NOT what this study is proving now. I just want to make sure that the wrong groups aren’t framing it as “look — sex til marriage with nothing else as an option keeps kids safe!”

  • crowepps

    I just want to make sure that the wrong groups aren’t framing it as "look — sex til marriage with nothing else as an option keeps kids safe!"

    It’s going to hard to convince kids that they should wait till they’re married to have sex when that’s not the belief of the majority of their parents:

    Women are more conservative about sex in other ways. …They’re less likely than men to condone sex before marriage, 54 to 68 percent.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/PollVault/story?id=156921&page=1

     

    Researchers found that Americans’ views on the topic depended on their age. Sixty-seven percent of young adults find premarital sex to be morally acceptable, 60 percent of those ages 30-49 agree, but only 46 percent of those aged 50-64 and 28 percent of those 65 and older say the practice is acceptable.

    http://www.beliefnet.com/News/2001/06/Poll-Majority-Of-Americans-Say-Premarital-Sex-Morally-Acceptable.aspx

    Minority moral views are really hard to push onto teenagers — it’s difficult enough to get them to conform to majority moral standards.

  • heather-corinna

    I mean sure, I don’t want 14 year olds having sex, either.

     

    Why?  I don’t mean to be cheeky: I’m earnestly curious.  All kinds of sex, or just some kinds?  What if a given 14-year-old is more prepared emotionally and per being responsible about sex, in a healthier realtionship and with more earnest desire, than someone who is 16, 18, 21 or 40? (Not as much with the 14’s, but we’ve had quite a few 15/16/17’s at Scarleteen over the years who clearly are MUCH more capable and ready than some people we hear from in their 20’s.  This stuff varies so much when it comes to age.)

     

    Mind, I’ll give you that it’s pretty safe to say — and I say this having worked with young people and sexuality for as long as I have — that your average 14-year-old is generally NOT likely emotionally or practically ready for some kinds of sex, certainly including the kinds that can create a pregnancy.  Many people that age also do not have the access/resources for contraception and sexual health, or good assertiveness/negotiation skills yet, and those things are hardly  nonissues. 

     

    But at the same time, for many, many years, people that age have been choosing to engage in sexual activities they do want and can handle, and many people far older than that have not been. Age-in-years just often tends to be a pretty poor mandate for who "should" be having sex, and I think it’s so important that we be cautious with the shoulds when we’re categorizing people by broad classifications like, gender, race or age.

  • prochoiceferret

    What if a given 14-year-old is more prepared emotionally and per being responsible about sex, in a healthier realtionship and with more earnest desire, than someone who is 16, 18, 21 or 40?

    Heather, I just wanted to say that I greatly appreciate this perspective, even though it’s easy to read uncharitably if facts are not a concern ("OMG Heather Corinna thinks it’s perfectly OK for 14-year-old children to have sex!!!" "Of course, obviously because she wants to have sex with a 14-year-old child!" "Did you know she works with kids all the time?" "WTF??? Call the police!!!"). Everything we’ve seen of child sexual abuse, child molestation, creepy pedophiles, etc. have conditioned most people to believe that any and all conflations of "children"/"young teens" and "sex" are bad, to the point that even merely suggesting otherwise can get you pegged as a NAMBLA sympathizer. Even Robin here appears to have internalized that framing (though I doubt she would disagree with you on the particulars), probably because to say any different would distract people from the rest of what she’s saying.

     

    I’m glad that you nevertheless hold that most 14-year-olds aren’t ready for peer sex (the more "advanced" forms of it, that is, as opposed to "playing doctor" and such) not because they’re fourteen years old, but because they don’t have the emotional/mental/negotiative/etc. skills necessary to handle it without concrete negative consequences (STDs and unwanted pregnancy and such) being likely. It’s the same kind of reasoning as why we wouldn’t put a typical 14-year-old behind the wheel of a race car, or in a board seat at a Fortune 500 company… that is to say, the rational kind :-)

  • heather-corinna

    Thanks, much appreciated.  And a big yes to your last sentence there.

     

    Of course, obviously because she wants to have sex with a 14-year-old child!" "Did you know she works with kids all the time?

     

    By all means, people can get freaky like this. (And I got the NAMBLA stuff years back because of my involvement with the ACLU, so that box is already checked. I also interviewed ephebephiles for a journalistic/sociological piece around a decade ago, to boot.) I have also had my organization be less supported because we/I don’t always say waiting is always best, and when I first started in this field — despite coming to it after years of doing ECE with nothing but stellar references — some groups very much did insinuate I had a vested interest in elementary schoolkids having sex, and even that the advice I was giving to teenagers was aimed at much younger children.  Seen it, done it, bored now.

     

    At the same time, I’d almost dare anyone to listen to as many teenagers and early twenty-somethings talk about sex and their sex lives in-depth as I do in a year to even TRY and have sexual feelings about them. Hell, at the end of some of my rougher days, I don’t want to have sex with people my own age who I’m usually delighted to be sexual with. :P

  • elizabeth10

    Heather and ProChoiceFerret, you both make great points about age vs. maturity level. For this study to be truly groundbreaking, they need to test it across all age levels, regions and ethnicities. You may be interested in this video that summarizes some varying opinions about the study: http://bit.ly/buqXns