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Last Updated: Oct 11, 2012 - 10:22:56 PM
Research Article
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Abstinence Education Does Not Impact Sexual Behavior

Apr 14, 2007 - 8:28:09 AM , Reviewed by: Dr. Himanshu Tyagi
“This is the first study of multi-year abstinence programs, and it is one of the few that has tracked its sample members for as long as six years,”

Level of Evidence
2b - Individual Cohort Study
Key Points of this article
Contrary to concerns raised by some critics of federal funding for abstinence education, however, youth in the abstinence education programs were no more likely to have engaged in unprotected sex than youth who did not participate in the programs.
The study findings highlight the challenges faced by programs aiming to reduce adolescent sexual activity.
Targeting youth at young ages may not be sufficient.
This is the first study of multi-year abstinence programs
 
Main results
The study found that youth in the four evaluated programs were no more likely than youth not in the programs to have abstained from sex in the four to six years after they began participating in the study. Youth in both groups who reported having had sex also had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same average age.
Mathematica
Mathematica, a nonpartisan research firm, conducts policy research and surveys for federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector clients. The employee-owned company, with offices in Princeton, N.J., Washington, D.C., and Cambridge, Mass., has conducted some of the most important studies of education, health care, welfare, employment, nutrition, and early childhood policies and programs in the U.S. Mathematica strives to improve public well-being by bringing the highest standards of quality, objectivity, and excellence to bear on the provision of information collection and analysis to its clients.
[RxPG] A recent study of four abstinence education programs finds that the programs had no effect on the sexual abstinence of youth. But it also finds that youth in these programs were no more likely to have unprotected sex, a concern that has been raised by some critics of these programs. The study found that youth in the four evaluated programs were no more likely than youth not in the programs to have abstained from sex in the four to six years after they began participating in the study. Youth in both groups who reported having had sex also had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same average age.

“This is the first study of multi-year abstinence programs, and it is one of the few that has tracked its sample members for as long as six years,” notes Christopher Trenholm, the project director and a senior researcher at Mathematica. “The study finds that the sexual abstinence of students in four programs selected for the study was much the same as that of students who did not participate in these programs.”

“Some policymakers and health educators have criticized the Title V, Section 510 abstinence education programs, questioning whether the focus on abstinence puts teens at risk of having unprotected sex,” says Barbara Devaney, one of the study's principal investigators and vice president and director of Human Services Research at Mathematica. “The evaluation findings suggest that this is not the case. Participants in the abstinence education programs and nonparticipating youth had similar rates of unprotected sex at first intercourse and over the past 12 months.”

The study findings highlight the challenges faced by programs aiming to reduce adolescent sexual activity. Two lessons are important for future programming in this area:

Targeting youth at young ages may not be sufficient. Most Title V, Section 510 abstinence education programs are implemented in upper elementary and middle schools and most are completed before youth enter high school. The findings from this study provide no evidence that abstinence programs implemented at these grades reduce sexual activity of youth during their high school years. However, the findings provide no information on the effects programs might have if they were implemented in high school or began at earlier ages but continued through high school.

Peer support for abstinence erodes during adolescence. Peer support for abstinence is a significant predictor of later sexual activity. Although the four abstinence programs had at most a small impact on this measure in the short term and no impact in the long term, this finding suggests that promoting support for abstinence among peer networks should be an important feature of future abstinence programs.

The study used the most rigorous, scientifically based approach to measure the impacts of the programs. Much like a clinical trial in medicine, this approach compares outcomes for two statistically equivalent groups—a program group and a control group—created by random assignment (similar to a lottery). Youth in the program group were eligible to receive the abstinence education program services, while those in the control group were not, and received only the usual health, family life, and sex education services available in their schools and communities. When coupled with sufficiently large sample sizes, longitudinal surveys conducted by independent data collectors, and appropriate statistical methods, this design is able to produce highly credible estimates of the impacts of the programs being studied.

Youth were enrolled in the study sample over three consecutive school years, from fall 1999 through fall 2001, and randomly assigned within schools to either the program or the control group. The results in this report are based on a survey given to 2,057 youth in 2005 and 2006, roughly four to six years after they began participating in the study; 1,209 had participated in one of the Title V, Section 510 abstinence education programs and 848 had been assigned to the control group. By the time the last follow-up survey was completed, youth had entered their mid to late teens, permitting the researchers to reliably measure program impacts on teen sexual activity and other risk behaviors.


Original research article: http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/redirect_pubsdb.asp?strSite=PDFs/impactabstinence.pdf 
Publication: The report, “Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs,” by Christopher Trenholm, Barbara Devaney, Ken Forston, Lisa Quay, Justin Wheeler, and Melissa Clark is available online at www.mathematica-mpr.com
On the web: www.mathematica-mpr.com/welfare/abstinence.asp 

Funding information and declaration of competing interests: The study, conducted for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was authorized by Congress in 1997 to evaluate the effectiveness of programs funded under Title V, Section 510 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Nationwide, more than 700 Title V, Section 510 programs receive up to $50 million annually from the federal government in order to teach youth about abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage. Additional funding from state matching block grants brings annual spending for Title V, Section 510 sexual abstinence education programs to $87.5 million.

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 About Dr. Himanshu Tyagi
This news story has been reviewed by Dr. Himanshu Tyagi before its publication on RxPG News website. Dr. Himanshu Tyagi, MBBS is the founder editor and manager for RxPG News. In this position he is responsible for content development and overall website and editorial management functions. His areas of special interest are psychological therapies and evidence based journalism.
RxPG News is committed to promotion and implementation of Evidence Based Medical Journalism in all channels of mass media including internet.
 Additional information about the news article
The four programs studied include My Choice, My Future! in Powhatan County, Virginia; ReCapturing the Vision in Miami, Florida; Teens in Control in Clarksdale, Mississippi; and Families United to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These four programs were chosen because they had well implemented and replicable programs and were willing and able to take part in a rigorous evaluation.
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For any corrections of factual information, to contact the editors or to send any medical news or health news press releases, use feedback form

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