PHILADELPHIA (ABP) — A new study by University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine says that abstinence-only sex-education programs are effective in getting pre-teens to put off having sex.
The study, which appeared in the Feb. 1 edition of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, divided 662 African-American students in grades 6 and 7 into classes held on Saturdays in four public schools.
Students were randomly assigned to classes using abstinence-only, safe-sex and comprehensive sex-education approaches. Another group received general education about health issues not related to sex.
After two years, researchers found that 33 percent of young teenagers in the abstinence-only group reported sexual activity. That compared to 52 percent of those taught condom use and 42 percent of those instructed in both approaches.
Researchers said they found no significant differences among the groups of the numbers of youth using condoms when they eventually did become sexually active. A common criticism of abstinence-only programs is that they discourage condom use and thereby actually may contribute to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in those who break purity vows.
The abstinence-only program used in the study did not suggest delaying sex until marriage, a feature of faith-based programs like the Southern Baptist Convention's popular True Love Waits used by an estimated 2.5 million teenagers and college students since 1994.
Previous studies have questioned the effectiveness of relying solely on sex-education programs in which teenagers pledge to remain virgins until they are married. Despite that, the Bush administration pumped millions of dollars into abstinence-only sex education.
After declining for more than a decade, teen pregnancy rose 3 percent in 2006, according to recent figures released by the Guttmacher Institute. At the same time teen births grew by 4 percent and teen abortion by 1 percent.
President Obama's proposed 2011 budget eliminates funding for abstinence-only programs and shifts funding to programs for "evidence-based" comprehensive sex-education programs shown to prevent teen pregnancy.
Observers expect the new study, the first to compare various approaches in a controlled setting, to reignite policy debate over funding of sex education in public schools.
"In light of this study and others showing the positive health benefits of abstinence education, it is unfortunate that this Congress and administration has zeroed out abstinence education in favor of sex-ed programs that advocate high-risk sexual behavior when it is children and young teens who suffer the consequences," Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said in a statement.
Doctors involved in the study warned that public policy should not be based on the findings of a single study and lawmakers should not selectively use scientific literature to formulate policy to conform policy to their preconceived views.
"Policy should not be based on just one study, but an accumulation of empirical findings from several well-designed, well-executed studies," the study's lead author, psychologist John B. Jemmott III, said in a statement.
The study did not use a moralistic tone or portray sex in a negative light, but encouraged abstinence as a way to eliminate the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Jemmott said the study indicated that such programs can be effective in persuading youth to delay their first sexual encounter until they are older, when they are more mature and better equipped to resist peer pressure and understand the negative consequences of having sex.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.