Abstinence-Based Sex Education

Abstinence-based sex education teaches young people that they should have sex only within marriage. This is based on the principle that abstinence avoids sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and unintended pregnancy. Its premise is that sex outside marriage is not right. In the United States, programs such as Aspire and True Love Waits spread abstinence-based teaching among young people. Supporters stress that a mutually faithful, monogamous relationship within marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity, while sex out of wedlock may have a harmful psychological and physical impact. Abstinence-based sex education also teaches that having children out of wedlock is likely to have negative repercussions for the children, their parents and society.

Programs on sex abstinence provide advice on how to rebuff sexual advances and they teach that alcohol and drugs make young adults vulnerable to sexual advances. They also explain the significance of individuals being in steady, paid employment before having sexual intercourse for the first time. Other, more comprehensive approaches to sex education tend to advise young people not to rush into having sex, while also teaching alternative ways for prevention of unwanted pregnancy and diseases.

Some consider that the abstinence-based sex education and the comprehensive method can be combined and called "Abstinence plus." Programs based on this approach include Reducing the Risk in the United States and Added Power And Understanding in Sex Education (APAUSE) in the United Kingdom. Establishing a single sex education approach, however, is not as simple as it may seem. Despite the common goals, abstinence-based and comprehensive sex approaches are divided by moral values and beliefs.

Abstinence before marriage is often taught by people connected to Christian organizations, some of which have strict edicts on sexual intercourse, same-sex relationships and abortion. This has led to some more extreme programs which omit to mention any alternative methods of contraception and protection, focusing only on the rejection of sex activity. Supporters justify this approach by saying that it avoids sending "mixed messages." Opponents of this approach highlight the dangers of failing to inform young adults of how HIV is transmitted, including how people can get infected even if they abstain from sexual intercourse.

The comprehensive sex education approach treats sexuality related issues as matters of personal choice. Supporters of the comprehensive approach consider that religion and politics should be kept out of sex education. Comprehensive sex education is based on people's right to have access to any information that would help them make a decision. According to supporters of the approach, sex education should help young people avoid not only unintended pregnancy and health issues but also abuse and exploitation.

The debate on which approach to sex education brings better results and has led to various studies on sex education programs implemented in the Unites States, the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. The findings show that comprehensive sex education is effective in helping to reduce unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, among young people. The results also indicate that the comprehensive sex education does not necessarily encourage an early start of sexual activity.

Studies on abstinence-based sex education, however, have not provided such strong evidence for its effectiveness.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Family Values, Courts, and Culture War: The Case of Abstinence-Only Sex Education
Taylor, John E.
The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 18, No. 4, May 2010
Teen Pregnancy Prevention Focusing on Evidence: Ineffective Abstinence-Only Lessons Being Replaced with Science
The Nation's Health, Vol. 40, No. 3, April 2010
An Evaluation of an Abstinence-Only Sex Education Curriculum: An 18-Month Follow-Up
Denny, George; Young, Michael.
Journal of School Health, Vol. 76, No. 8, October 2006
Federally Requested Report Finds Abstinence Education Not Effective
The Nation's Health, Vol. 37, No. 5, June-July 2007
Abstinence Program Successes
The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 25, 2008
Abstinence-Only Study Could Alter Sex-Education Landscape
Paulson, Amanda.
The Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 2010
Kirby: Abstinence-Only Programs Don't Work
Contemporary Sexuality, Vol. 41, No. 12, December 2007
Evaluation of an Abstinence Based Intervention for Middle School Students
Rue, Lisa; Chandran, Raj; Pannu, Aman; Bruce, David; Singh, Rana; Traxler, Karen.
Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Vol. 104, No. 3, Summer 2012
A Review of 21 Curricula for Abstinence-Only-until-Marriage Programs
Wilson, Kelly L.; Goodson, Patricia; Pruitt, B. E.; Buhi, Eric; Davis-Gunnels, Emily.
Journal of School Health, Vol. 75, No. 3, March 2005
Effectiveness of Abstinence-Based Sex Education Curricula: A Review
Toups, Melanie L.; Holmes, William R.
Counseling and Values, Vol. 46, No. 3, April 2002
Q: Should Congress Be Giving More Financial Support to Abstinence-Only Sex Education? YES: Abstinence Is Working to Decrease Teen Pregnancy and Is Building Character among Our Nation's Youth
Insight on the News, November 10, 2003
Q: Should Congress Be Giving More Financial Support to Abstinence-Only Sex Education? NO: Withholding Information about Contraception and Teaching Only Abstinence Puts Sexually Active Teens at Risk
Insight on the News, November 10, 2003
The Practical Problems and Progress of Western Mainstream Sex Education Models
Lei, Yun; Huang, Lin; Liu, Demin.
Studies in Sociology of Science, Vol. 2, No. 1, June 1, 2011
The Public Clash of Private Values: The Politics of Morality Policy
Christopher Z. Mooney.
Chatham House Publishers, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Thirteen "Morality Politics and the Implementation of Abstinence-Only Sex Education: A Case of Policy Compromise"
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