Evaluation of an Abstinence Based Intervention for Middle School Students

Article excerpt

Outcomes associated with an abstinence education intervention were evaluated using a single group design with a 12-month longitudinal follow-up. The intervention group of adolescents ages 12-14 years (N = 427) were enrolled in an 11.5-hour abstinence education intervention offered during the school day. Significant differences were found in the expected direction on proximal variables for attitudes, intentions, and behaviors 1 year later. Youth who received the program were 3 ½ times less likely to initiate sexual activity during the year after they received the program as compared to average behaviors from a neighboring community without the program. Abstinence based education may support youth's ability to delay sexual activity.


Understanding cultural values is critical for effective implementation of sexuality education. According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Martinez, Copen & Abma, 2011), the most frequently stated reason for abstinence from any form of sexual activity was religious or moral. A nationally representative survey of adolescents and their parents found similar cultural values, with 70% of those parents opposed to pre-marital sex both in general and for their own adolescents (Olsho, Cohen, Walker, Johnson, & Locke, 2009) These cultural values are an important asset with regard to helping adolescents delay sex.

Parental influence on adolescent sexual behavior frequently is studied by looking at parentaladolescent communication and relationship quality as they relate to the likelihood of risky sexual behavior. Adolescents who report close relationships with their parents are more likely to have: (a) good self-control, (b) more confidence in their ability to resist pressure, and (c) less risk-taking behavior (Forehand, Miller, Dutra, & Chance, 1997; Huebner & Howell, 2003; Kotchick, Dorsey, Miller, & Forehand, 1999; Manlove, Romano-Papillo, & Ikramullah, 2004; Wills, Gibbons, Gerrard, Murry, & Brody, 2003). Culturally relevant sexuality education may provide a vehicle to encourage open parental communication about the benefits of delaying sexual activity for adolescents. However, little is known about the effectiveness of school-based abstinence education or how parental support of sexual abstinence influences outcomes for school-based programs.

Evaluations of Abstinence Education

Few published evaluations exist for programs that promote abstinence education. In 10 rigorous studies, program evaluations were mixed (Kirby, 2007). Most of these studies demonstrated changes in the expected direction on attitudes and knowledge, and two demonstrated a reduction of sexual risk behaviors.

A Virginia based study (Weed, Ericksen, Lewis, Grant, & Wibberly, 2008) of mostly Anglo American (74%) 7th graders who received 9 units (over 20 sessions) of a curriculum, Reasonable Reasons to Wait: Keys to Character, documented a reduction in risky sexual behaviors. The evaluation found the program delayed the onset of sexual activity by nearly half of the participants over 1 year as compared to students not receiving the program. The program was not as effective for African American students. The study did not measure other sexual risk behaviors such as reduction of multiple partners.

Another school-based study (Borawski, Trapl, Lovegreen, Colabianchi, & Block, 2005) found that a 5 -day curriculum, For Keeps, reduced the number of partners and sexual activity, but did not delay the onset of sexual activity. This study was conducted in the Midwest with 3,017 7th and 8th graders, mostly African American (73%) from five urban and two suburban schools. The followup was conducted 5 months after the intervention.

More recently, an after- school program evaluation for African American youth (N = 1,538) found a positive impact on attitudes, but mixed results in terms of behaviors (Clemons et al. …