Abstinence Education Doesn't Deter Youths; Sexual Activity Same, Report Says

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Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

More than 2,000 children and young teens who participated in federally funded abstinence-education programs were no more likely to abstain from sex than schoolmates who didn't receive the information, according to a government report released yesterday.

In all four test sites, youths in the abstinence-education program and youths who received regular school services were not different in their sexual behavior four to six years later.

Fifty-five percent had been abstinent in the past year and 49 percent were still virgins, said the final report on the Title V abstinence-education grant program, which was conducted by researchers with Mathematica Policy Research Inc. and issued by Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

The program youth and control group youth also didn't differ on the average age - 14 years, 9 months - at which they had sex for the first time, or in the number of sexual partners they had once they became sexually active - about 16 percent had one partner, 11 percent had two partners and 25 percent had three or more sex partners.

The research offers important lessons for future abstinence programming, said Harry Wilson, commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at HHS Administration for Children and Families. "This report confirms what those of us who have experience working with youth already know: Interventions are not like vaccines; you can't expect a little dose in middle school to be protective through high school if abstinence education ends before the most important years."

The long-awaited evaluation touched off a flurry of reactions.

"The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has long cautioned that the jury is out on the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs," said Sarah Brown, executive director of the campaign. "The jury has now returned with the verdict on the effectiveness of four carefully selected, well-evaluated abstinence-only programs and the news is not good. …