Friday, December 02, 2011

Study: Abstinence-Only Education Does Not Work

Interesting new study that TTF readers should be aware of. From e! Science News:
States that prescribe abstinence-only sex education programs in public schools have significantly higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates than states with more comprehensive sex education programs, researchers from the University of Georgia have determined. The researchers looked at teen pregnancy and birth data from 48 U.S. states to evaluate the effectiveness of those states' approaches to sex education, as prescribed by local laws and policies.

"Our analysis adds to the overwhelming evidence indicating that abstinence-only education does not reduce teen pregnancy rates," said Kathrin Stanger-Hall, assistant professor of plant biology and biological sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Hall is first author on the resulting paper, which has been published online in the journal PLoS ONE.

The study is the first large-scale evidence that the type of sex education provided in public schools has a significant effect on teen pregnancy rates, Hall said. Abstinence-only education does not lead to abstinent behavior, UGA researchers find

Honestly, my first thought when I read this was that the author had overstepped the findings in that last sentence. The very idea of abstinence-only eduction is a crazy one that arises in a certain weird cultural milieu found in some parts of the country more than others. I would be pretty sure that abstinence-only education correlates with a lot of other variables, for instance, religion, conservative-versus-liberal political tendencies, etc.

One of the authors does interpret the findings correctly here:
"This clearly shows that prescribed abstinence-only education in public schools does not lead to abstinent behavior," said David Hall, second author and assistant professor of genetics in the Franklin College. "It may even contribute to the high teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. compared to other industrialized countries."

The study looked at socioeconomic factors, education level, and ethnicity, and found that, even controlling for those factors, states where abstinence-only education was required had significantly higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates.
"Because correlation does not imply causation, our analysis cannot demonstrate that emphasizing abstinence causes increased teen pregnancy. However, if abstinence education reduced teen pregnancy as proponents claim, the correlation would be in the opposite direction," said Stanger-Hall.

One reason that correlation does not imply causation is that there may be a third variable that is affecting both variables, some ideological propensities, for instance.
The paper indicates that states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates were those that prescribed comprehensive sex and/or HIV education, covering abstinence alongside proper contraception and condom use. States whose laws stressed the teaching of abstinence until marriage were significantly less successful in preventing teen pregnancies.

These results come at an important time for legislators. A new evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative was signed into federal law in December 2009 and awarded $114 million for implementation. However, federal abstinence-only funding was renewed for 2010 and beyond by including $250 million of mandatory abstinence-only funding as part of an amendment to the Senate Finance Committee's health-reform legislation.

And you wonder why Congress's approval ratings are in the single digits. Pizza is a vegetable and ignorance-only sex education gets two hundred fifty million dollars of taxpayers' money.

States can choose:
With two types of federal funding programs available, legislators of individual states now have the opportunity to decide which type of sex education -- and which funding option -- to choose for their state and possibly reconsider their state's sex education policies for public schools, while pursuing the ultimate goal of reducing teen pregnancy rates.

Here the researchers are eliciting a knee-jerk reaction from conservatives which everyone knows is wrong:
Stanger-Hall and Hall conducted this large-scale analysis to provide scientific evidence to inform this decision.

"Advocates for continued abstinence-only education need to ask themselves: If teens don't learn about human reproduction, including safe sexual health practices to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as how to plan their reproductive adult life in school, then when should they learn it and from whom?" said Stanger-Hall.

The answer to the question, who should teach young people about sex, is obviously: "parents." But obviously in states where the schools don't teach teens how to be responsible for their sexuality, the parents don't either. It is a cliche that has no meat on its bones, parents simply fail at teaching the facts of life to their kids. Tell me, mom and dad, what does the epididymus do again? This is a case where the obvious answer is the wrong one.

Everybody loves babies, and just about everyone agrees that it is best to try to minimize the number of them that are born to mothers who are not ready to be parents. Speaking of obvious answers, the obvious approach is to tell young people not to have sex until they are married; this has the additional effect, for certain groups of people, of encouraging young women to be chaste and giving permission to shame them if they are not. Urging young people to abstain from sex is, however, not likely to result in actual abstinence -- it makes a certain kind of obvious sense on paper, but in reality teenagers around the world seem to have difficulty remaining abstinent.

There are also other ways to prevent pregnancy and childbirth, including numerous forms of contraception and abortion. I doubt that any school district in the US teaches about abortion as a viable option for controlling the teen birth rate -- it is, but we don't need to go there now. More realistically, young people should understand how pregnancy happens and should learn about methods that can prevent it altogether. We are much more likely to change our social customs so that slipping on a condom is the norm than trying to get young people to stop having sex.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The study is the first large-scale evidence that the type of sex education provided in public schools has a significant effect on teen pregnancy rates,"

don't believe it until it is replicated

the dirty little secret of science is that most peer-reviewed studies cannot be replicated

Science magazine is dedicating a special issue, published today, completely dedicated to considering this growing problem

December 02, 2011 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Donald Trump predicted on his Twitter feed that President Barack Obama would start a war in order to win the 2012 election.

After calling Iran's threats to Israel "unacceptable" Tuesday afternoon, Trump tweeted, "In order to get elected, @BarackObama will start a war with Iran."

December 02, 2011 6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Donald Trump, a 1%er with a ridiculous combover, is the perfect candidate for the GOP.

Oh that's right, he ended his fake campaign for President in 2012 right after he told us he had made history when Obama released his long form birth certificate. No, Donald, President Obama made history when later that week he commanded the troops who took out Osama bin Laden.

The GOP is a bad joke theses days.

Newt, who currently leads the pack, and the Donald, who will MC a GOP debate, are on their third marriages and Cain is on his only-God-knows which number lover.

So what does everybody think Herman Cain's announcement will be today, now that he's down to single digits in Iowa and home telling Mrs. Cain about his 13 year relationship with Ms. White? Will he be ending the campaign or the marriage or both?

December 03, 2011 8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama proved by winning the Presidency with a filibuster-proof Congress and enacting the entire Democrat agenda that the liberal socialist agenda doesn't work

we now have intractable unemployment problems that were previously unseen here since Reagan stopped the march toward the Great Society begun by LBJ

Western Europe, with their socialist governments, had these unemployment numbers for decades

to obscure thess FACTS, Dems can only attack the personal lives of the Republican candidates

this will probably just turn voters off but it's their only hope

unless Trump is right and Obama starts a war with Iran

we'll find out before long

December 03, 2011 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"don't believe it until it is replicated"
--Anonymous, 12/2/11

"like you, I'm not a scientist

all I know is that **a** peer-reviewed study found that homosexuals can change preferences"
--Anonymous 9/30/11

So a single study was enough for Anonymous to believe its findings in September, but not in December.

Far from being the only study to find abstinence-only education that stresses abstinence until marriage is ineffective at reducing teen pregnancy rates, the authors pointed out:

""Our analysis adds to the ***overwhelming evidence** indicating that abstinence-only education does not reduce teen pregnancy rates""

Some of that "overwhelming evidence" comes from other studies cited by the authors of this study that also found abstinence-only education is ineffective at reducing teen sexual pregnancy rates:

"Trenholm C, Devaney B, Fortson K, Quay L, Wheeler J, et al. “Impacts of four Title V, Section 510 abstinence education programs” (Mathematica Policy Research). 2007. Available: Accessed 2010, May 8.

Kirby D. Emerging Answers, Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Washington, DC). 2007. www.thenational Accessed 2010, Jun 18.

Goodson P, Pruitt BE, Buhi E, Wilson KL, Rasberry CN, et al. “Abstinence education evaluation phase 5 technical report”. College Station, , TX: Texas A&M University, Department of Health and Kinesiology; 2004.

These authors also cited one study that did show some promise in one form of abstinence instruction, but pointed out, as that study's authors had that their programs was not "abstinence-only in nature:

"The abstinence-only intervention in that study was unique in that it increased knowledge about HIV/STD, emphasized the delay of sexual activity, but not necessarily until marriage, did not put sex into a negative light or use a moralistic tone, included no inaccurate information, corrected incorrect views, and did not disparage the use of condoms. As a result, as pointed out by the authors, this successful version of abstinence education would not have met the criteria for federal abstinence-only funding."

December 03, 2011 10:46 AM  

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