An Evaluation of an Abstinence-Only Sex Education Curriculum: An 18-Month Follow-Up

By Denny, George; Young, Michael | Journal of School Health, October 2006 | Go to article overview

An Evaluation of an Abstinence-Only Sex Education Curriculum: An 18-Month Follow-Up


Denny, George, Young, Michael, Journal of School Health


There has long been controversy in this country about the implementation of school-based sexuality education. (1) In recent years, however, the controversy has centered on abstinence education. Federal involvement in abstinence education began under President Reagan with the Adolescent Family Life Act administered by the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs (OAPP). In 1996, a provision was added to the Welfare Reform Act that block-granted abstinence education funds to states and introduced a federal "a-h" definition of abstinence education. The definition emphasized teaching abstinence from all sexual activity except within the context of marriage. The definition also applied to OAPP grantees. More recently, abstinence education grants have been awarded directly to community groups under the Special Projects of Regional and National Significance, a program that in 2005 became the Community Based Abstinence Education Program. Currently, substantial amounts of federal dollars are going to support abstinence education programs.

Critics of abstinence education programs have indicated that such programs are ineffective in reducing sexual behavior among teens. A review of published evaluations of abstinence education curricula indicates, however, that rather than research showing that abstinence programs are not effective, there are simply few studies that have examined the impact of abstinence education on student sexual behavior. (2) In fact, of the 46 curricula listed in the Abstinence Clearinghouse Directory of Abstinence Resources, (3) no published evaluations exist that examine the effects of any of them on sexual behavior. Given the funding emphasis that has been placed on abstinence education, it is important that these programs be evaluated. Published evaluations that do examine the effects of abstinence programs on measures of sexual behavior are summarized below.

In 1990, 2 different evaluations of the Success Express abstinence education program were published. (4,5) Both studies used a quasi-experimental design with a pretest, posttest, and 6-week follow-up of both intervention and comparison groups. Researchers examined the impact of the program on the initiation of sexual intercourse and found that the program produced no differences between the intervention and comparison groups relative to this variable. It should come as no surprise, however, that these studies, with a short follow-up period produced no effect. In fact, the first published evaluation of Reducing the Risk, (6) one of the most frequently cited evaluations of a sexuality education program, found no effect due to the program at 6-month or 12-month follow-up but did find an effect at the 18-month follow-up. (7) The longer follow-up period gave students more opportunity to begin having sex, and significantly more students in the comparison group did so than did the intervention group. This long-term follow-up was lacking in the Success Express studies.

Evaluations of Project Taking Charge, a curriculum from the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, were published in 1991 (8) and in 1993. (9) The first article examined pretest-posttest differences, and the second article examined the 6-month follow-up data for this curriculum. At 6-month follow-up, the comparison group subjects were more likely (p = .051) than the intervention subjects to report initiation of intercourse.

St. Pierre et al. (10) evaluated the impact of the Stay Smart curriculum. These researchers did conduct a long-term evaluation, surveying students at 3-, 15-, and 27-month follow-ups. Students were assigned to the basic program, the program plus booster, or a comparison group. For students who were virgins at pretest, there was no effect on the combined measure at posttest. For students who were nonvirgins at pretest, there was no effect at posttest, except at 27 months there was an effect on the frequency of intercourse for the basic program group but not for the group that received the basic program plus the booster. …

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