SchadenFriday Evening Edition: Abstinence-Only Programs

Looks like, once again, when somebody bothers to crunch the numbers those flimsy justifications for abstinence-only programs are found lacking.

"It is remarkable that teens are becoming better contraceptors even as there are efforts afoot to reduce the information and skill-building that they receive about contraception," said Freya L. Sonenstein, a professor and director of the Center for Adolescent Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Truer words have never been spoken.

Only 14 percent of the decline in pregnancy was attributed to reductions in teens' sexual activity, the researchers noted.

In addition, Santelli's group developed a "contraceptive risk index" to account for effectiveness of contraceptive use. They also developed an overall "pregnancy risk index" calculated by the contraceptive risk score and the percentage of teens reporting sexual activity.

These data revealed that, among teens 15 to 17 years old, 77 percent of the drop in pregnancy was due to more contraceptive use and 23 percent to reduced sexual activity.

Based on their findings, the researchers believe that contraception may be the best way to further reduce the number of teens getting pregnant.

Just a cursory look at the numbers will tell any thinking individual that if you want to cut teen pregnancy, the best way to do it is to provide teens with ALL the available information.

"Abstinence promotion is a worthwhile goal, particularly among younger teenagers; however, the scientific evidence shows that, in itself, it is insufficient to help adolescents prevent unintended pregnancies," the researchers wrote. "The current emphasis of U.S. domestic and global policies, which stress abstinence-only sex education to the exclusion of accurate information on contraception, is misguided," they concluded.

American boys and girls are delaying sexual activity, Sonenstein noted. "Indeed, one of the unanticipated trends is the decline in sexual activity among male teens who no longer show higher rates of sexual experience compared to female teens," she said.

Sonenstein believes that contraception use and delayed sexual activity work hand-in-hand to prevent unwanted pregnancy among teens.

"While it may be useful to think about the delay of sexual activity and increased contraceptive use as unrelated behaviors, research tells us that the older teens are at sexual initiation, the more likely they are to use contraception," Sonenstein said. "Thus, prevention efforts should emphasize both the need to reduce sexual activity and to use contraception when activity occurs."

When it comes to public health, we should no longer allow partisan politics and ideological dogma to factor into serious policy decisions. Knowledge is not to be feared, as even our youngest adults are now showing us by making responsible decisions based upon evidence. Too bad the pro-abstinence-only "adults" can't say the same thing.


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Contra Mike, the US has higher rates of unplanned pregnancies from less contraceptive use. Further, higher rates of unplanned pregnancies are strongly correlated with US regions (Mississippi and Missouri, for example) that tend to be more conservative in their mores, Wikipedia and teen pregnancy.

In a nutshell, the Guttmacher Institute states the US situation:

In fact, the study found that levels of sexual activity and the age at which teenagers initiate sex do not vary appreciably across the countries and are simply too small to account for the wide variations in teen pregnancy rates. Rather, teen pregnancy and childbearing levels are higher in the United States, they found, largely because of differences in contraceptive use.

As for Hispanic immigrants, they are as likely if not more likely to be law-abiding than native-born Americans. Sampson et all study on racial disparity and violence (PDF) But their children are tend to emulate the behavior of native-born Americans. So they tend to engage in sexual behavior like their peers but are less likely, per more conservative mores, to use contraception.

By Georgiana (not verified) on 04 Dec 2006 #permalink

All this time, all you really had to do was to look at the European countries with comprehensive sex education, factor out all the confounders, and the numbers have always shown that abstinence-only is bullshit, and contraceptives work. Education works. Ignorance doesn't.

By Aerik Knapp-Loomis (not verified) on 01 Dec 2006 #permalink

Kids are going to get the information one way or another. I suspect that the abstinence-only crowd knows that the information cannot be contained, but they choose to make an issue out of this for political reasons, or to be sanctimonious or self-aggrandizing. Or perhaps because they are addled about the science, but that probably is not the major reason.

All this time, all you really had to do was to look at the European countries with comprehensive sex education

Well, not actually. Europe is mostly composed of white people and what non-white minorities they have are mostly Muslims - a group with even more puritanical mores than fundamentalist Christians when it comes to out-of-wedlock sex, women's modesty, and the like. By contrast, American blacks and Hispanics have disproportionately high rates of teen pregnancy and illegitimacy. Any comparison must take that into account.

I really would like to see the numbers for entire teen pregnancy abstinence vs. education broken down by race. Otherwise, I fear any conclusion we draw may be misleading.

From what I can make from the new CDC report about showing a record number of out-of-wedlock births in the United States (we are now nearing 40%), one of the best things we can do for the problem is simply keep illegal immigrants from Hispanic countries out:

So much for "ignorance only" education.

By Pete Dunkelberg (not verified) on 05 Dec 2006 #permalink