Effectiveness of Abstinence-Based Sex Education Curricula: A Review

Article excerpt

Teenage premarital sexual activity has become an important concern for parents and educators in recent years. Many attempts have been made to address this problem in order to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The authors review some of those efforts and attempt to identify the approaches that seem to be effective. Implications for research are also presented.


The number of teenagers engaging in premarital sex has become an area of concern for both educators and parents for reasons that include health and pregnancy risks that accompany teenage sexual activity. A school's adoption of an abstinence-based sex education curriculum may have an impact on reducing these numbers. The discussion of the effectiveness of abstinence-based sex education programs, however, has been one of controversy. In recent years, studies have been conducted to discover just how effective these programs are in deterring teenage sexual activity. We review the findings of some of those studies.

The safe sex approach, which advocates contraceptive use, has led teenagers to believe that using contraceptives makes engaging in sexual intercourse a safe behavior ("Sexual Health Update," 1999). Medical evidence indicates that abstinence is the only reliable choice for avoiding pregnancy. In an article that compared the effectiveness of school-based health clinics that distributed birth control and schools that have abstinence programs, evidence showed that abstinence programs were the most effective technique for preventing adolescent sexual activity and pregnancies (Khouzem, 1995). Khouzem cited one study, in particular, that was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and conducted by the Institute for Research and Evaluation. The study included 7,000 Utah teenagers in grades 7 through 10 who were taught a values-based curriculum. Three Title XX programs were implemented in three school districts and later evaluated. These three curricula, Teen-Aid, Sex Respect, and Values and Choices, were written to follow the legislative parameters of abstinence as the preventative measure for teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Pre- and posttest data were collected. Participants in each of the programs were administered two scales: the Affirmation of Abstinence and the Rejection of Permissiveness scales. On the Affirmation of Abstinence scale for both junior and senior high students, each of these programs produced a change that was statistically significant at the .000 level for Sex Respect and Teen-Aid and at the .002 level for Values and Choices. Researchers found significant differences for the Values and Choices curriculum and for the Sex Respect and Teen-Aid curricula in positively affecting students' choices regarding abstinence (Khouzem, 1995; DeGaston, Olsen, Prigmore, & Weed, 1992).

The Teen-Aid abstinence education curriculum has been used in Edinburg, Washington, for 5 years. Each year, a report is published concerning the effectiveness of this curriculum in reducing "risky behavior and attitudes." This program had a statistically significant impact (p = .000) on the likelihood that participants would not have sexual intercourse before marriage and that the nonvirgin teenage participants would cease their sexual activity (p = .001). There was also a statistically significant change (p = .019) in the teenagers' views that waiting until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse was the best way to avoid unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (Tanas, 1998).

School officials in San Marcos, California, also implemented an abstinence-based program, Sexuality, Commitment, and Family (Teen-Aid; Richard, 1989) for their junior high school students. This district had one of the highest pregnancy rates in the United States: One in five teenage girls became pregnant during the 19&3-1984 school year (Richard, 1989). …