Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

The Impact of Middle School Principals on Adoption of Abstinence-Only-until-Marriage Programs in Their School's Curriculum

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

The Impact of Middle School Principals on Adoption of Abstinence-Only-until-Marriage Programs in Their School's Curriculum

Article excerpt


Background: Diffusion of Innovations theory has been used to predict rates of adoption for a variety of programs. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to assess indicators that influence adoption of abstinence-only-until-marriage education as an innovation by middle school principals in Texas (N=433) as well as their likelihood of adopting such programs. Methods: This study utilized a paper survey that was mailed to principals. Results: Findings regarding characteristics of abstinence-only-until-marriage education: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability are analyzed and discussed. In addition, a series of multiple regression models to predict the likelihood of adoption are presented. Discussion: Findings indicated that middle school principals most willing to adopt abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs strongly believed that abstinence education provided important advantages, and perceived abstinence-only-until-marriage education to be consistent with his or her beliefs and values. Controlling for demographics, religious preferences and behavior, and the perceptions of the attributes of abstinence-only-until-marriage education, the principals' religious beliefs/practices, complexity and trialability remained significantly associated with the likelihood to adopt. Translation to Health Education Practice: Rates of adoption by school administrators should be considered when implementing a new health curriculum or health-related educational program, especially when it is a sensitive subject such as sexuality.


The most recent controversy surrounding sexuality education is not concerned with whether to teach sexuality education, but what kind of sexuality education to teach. (1-2) Abstinence-only-until-marriage, abstinence-based education, comprehensive sexuality education, and youth development programs offer a variety of educational approaches. (3-4) Controversy is compounded by school administrators refraining from expressing their opinions related to beliefs and practices about sexuality education. (5)

Principals have identified that some form of sexuality education is taught in a vast majority of public secondary schools, which is also reflected in curricula and teaching strategies. (3,6) Thirty-four percent of the principals surveyed by the Kaiser Foundation indicated support for abstinence-only education and 58% indicated that their sexuality education programs were comprehensive. (6)

Teachers provide students with a broad range of content crucial to their personal development and sexual health. (7-8) Curricula also may cover contraceptive methods, adolescent pregnancy, HIV infection, and other STIs. (9-10) Educators may focus on effective communication, coping and decisionmaking skills to prevent risky behaviors. (8,11) However, due to the lack of carefully designed evaluation studies, the impact of sexuality education programs, (12) and more specifically abstinence education programs, is unclear. (13)

Abstinence-only-until-marriage education became popular with Social Services Block Grant, Title V monies from the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. (2,14) The provisions also required states to spend funds on services for children or families whose income was at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. (15) Additionally, services are expected to adhere to the (a)-(h) definition of abstinence education (Table 1). (16) Specifically, in Texas, Title V monies have been distributed through the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Health educators tend not to support exclusive abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs, without providing appropriate prevention information and skills, and identify a variety of reasons for non-support, including few rigorous evaluations of abstinence education programs. (17) Some professionals also discredit abstinence education because they feel it withholds appropriate and life-saving information from school-aged youth. …

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