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Teaching abstinence in schools does not lead to abstinence

Heather Rudow November 30, 2011

(Photo:Flickr/soundlessfall)

States that offer abstinence-only education in public schools do not yield more abstinent students or less pregnancies, according to a newly released study from the University of Georgia.

The researchers analyzed pregnancy and birth data from 48 U.S. states in order to evaluate the effectiveness of their approaches to sex education based on the laws and policies found in each state. Through their research they found that 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.

“Our analysis adds to the overwhelming evidence indicating that abstinence-only education does not reduce teen pregnancy rates,” said author Kathrin Stanger-Hall. “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?”

The study found that the states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates were the ones with a comprehensive sex and/or HIV education class that touched on abstinence as a method of birth control as well as other forms of contraception and condom use. The states with laws focusing on abstinence until marriage were also less successful in preventing teen pregnancies.

“This clearly shows that prescribed abstinence-only education in public schools does not lead to abstinent behavior,” said co-author David Hall. “It may even contribute to the high teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. compared to other industrialized countries.”

Added Stanger-Hall, “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.”

Source: University of Georgia

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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