Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Now It Makes Sense

Something bothered me in the Post article I talked about this morning. It was a paragraph I did not quote here. The Post said:
"One of the things that's exciting about this study is that it says we have a new tool to add to our repertoire," said Monica Rodriguez, vice president for education and training at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. Abstinence-only programs might work, study says

It just didn't make sense. SIECUS has fought harder than anybody to get rid of the stupid abstinence programs that the previous administration funded. Further, this isn't "one more tool," at least as The Post presented it. There might be something new in the way these abstinence classes were taught, but The Post did what it could to make it appear like a typical abstinence-only class. And nobody at SIECUS would think that abstinence-only sex-ed was "a new tool," or "exciting" in any positive way, it just didn't make sense.

I fully expected SIECUS to come out today with a correction or retraction of that statement, but did not see anything. Did they really mean it? I wondered.

Interestingly, The AP had a longer quote from this same person. Here's what she really thinks:
Monica Rodriguez of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, an advocacy group favoring comprehensive sex education, said the study doesn't mean other abstinence-only programs would work.

"It's unfair to compare this abstinence-only intervention to the typical abstinence-only-until-marriage program that young people in this country have been put through," she said. These typically portray sex and condom use in a more negative light, she said.

Rodriguez said the program studied might be one approach to try with younger children, but that it probably would be less successful with older, more sexually experienced teens.

Almost one-fourth of the teens studied said they'd already had sex at least once, similar to other studies of urban, mostly black middle school-aged kids. Success seen with experimental abstinence program

Follow that link and you will see that this is a very different kind of abstinence program, in a number of ways.

The Post badly misrepresented Rodriguez' position on this, making it looked like she was excited by abstinence-only education and looking forward to adding that tool to the sex-ed toolbox. In fact, she is doubtful that it would work with older teens, and did not believe that results of this study would generalize to the kinds of abstinence-only programs funded by the Bush administration.


Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

Salon confirms that the abstinence program offered here is not the same sort of abstinence program funded by the Bush Administration. There is no misinformation about or disparaging of condoms and there's no moralizing about remaining abstinent until marriage. Salon also points out two important caveats the study's authors pointed out:

The study does make a crucial concession, though: The "relatively small number of sexually active adolescents limited the statistical power to test the effects of the safer sex and comprehensive interventions on condom use. Therefore, effects of these interventions on condom use were likely underestimated in this trial." It's also possible that the participant age-range might be a significant factor. The researchers say a similar abstinence-only program might not be very effective with older kids, who might benefit more from "other approaches that emphasize limiting the number of sexual partners and using condoms."

Having slogged through the entire study, I found one especially fascinating detail that escaped many news reports: This particular abstinence-only program made a point of eliminating all moralizing and religious rhetoric. Instead of being instructed to abstain until marriage, the students were encouraged to wait until they felt ready. According to the report, the class didn't feed kids "inaccurate information" or "portray sex in a negative light," as so many Bush-era classes did. So, while this landmark study may be a boon to abstinence-only courses, let's keep in mind that we're talking about a very special breed.

Studies using larger and older samples than these 662 middle school students need to be conducted so that we might answer the questions this study's authors posed. What will an adequately sized pool of subjects show the effects of safe-sex and comprehensive sex education classes to be on condom usage? Will the success for these middle school students be replicated with older students? Does the lack of moralizing in this program make the abstinence message more effective?

February 03, 2010 8:03 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

NYTimes weighed in on this study in a recent editorial:

Abstinence Education Done Right

The ongoing debate over sex education has been rekindled by a provocative new study suggesting that teaching abstinence can delay the start of sexual activity among inner-city youngsters — if it is freed from the moralistic overtones and ideological restrictions that were the hallmark of abstinence-only programs under the Bush administration.

It would be a mistake to place too much importance on a single study of black middle-school students in Philadelphia, but the study appears to be sound and its findings are worth further exploration.

The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association, was led by a husband-wife team at the University of Pennsylvania. They randomly assigned 662 African-American students in grades six and seven to one of four different programs — an eight-hour abstinence-only program stressing the benefits of delaying intercourse; an eight-hour safer-sex program stressing condom use; a comprehensive intervention that covered both abstinence and condoms; and a control group that offered health information unrelated to sexual behavior.

The only program that successfully delayed the start of sexual activity was the abstinence-only instruction. By the end of two years, only a third of the abstinence-only group had engaged in sexual intercourse compared with almost half of the control group.

Advocates of abstinence-only education have seized on the new findings as evidence that their approach works best. Some are urging the Obama administration to reverse course and restore federal support for abstinence-only education. That is a willful misreading of the implications of this study.

Under current federal law, supported by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress, abstinence-only programs that seek federal support must meet several rigid requirements that essentially make them abstinence-until-marriage programs.

They must teach, for example, that abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the “expected standard” for all school-age children. This new study would have failed that test. It did not advocate abstinence until marriage but urged students to wait until they were more mature. It encouraged abstinence as a way to eliminate the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, had youngsters draw up lists of the pros and cons of sexual activity, and taught strategies for resisting pressure to have intercourse.

The Obama administration, with Congressional acquiescence, has wisely eliminated funding for abstinence-only programs that meet the old ideological criteria and is supporting a range of programs to prevent teenage pregnancy, provided they are based on rigorous science. This study fits the new rubric, not the old.

The new study will need to be replicated in older teenagers and other ethnic groups to see if the findings are broadly relevant, and teenagers will need to be followed long enough to measure the effects in avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. No single approach will suffice to reduce sexual activity in all teenagers, but the new study suggests that there is a sensible, effective way to teach abstinence.

February 08, 2010 10:46 AM  

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