Scroll To Top

Abstinence Results Don�t Apply?

Abstinence Results Don�t Apply?

A study indicating that abstinence-only education, done correctly, can be successful has sparked considerable discussion. The curriculum tested in the research, however, differs markedly from the abstinence education program taught in Texas.

The study, led by John B. Jemmott III of the University of Pennsylvania, is the first to evaluate an abstinence program in comparison to several alternative strategies over a long period. Conducted between 2001 and 2004, it involved 662 black sixth- and seventh-graders from four Philadelphia public middle schools.

The students were randomly assigned to one of four curricula: an eight-hour abstinence-only program; an eight-hour safer sex-only program targeting increased condom use; eight- and twelve-hour comprehensive interventions targeting sexual intercourse and condom use; or an eight-hour health promotion intervention targeting health issues unrelated to sexual behavior, which functioned as a control group.

Follow-up at two years found approximately 33% of students in the abstinence program started having sex, compared with 52% in the safe-sex class, 42% in the comprehensive curriculum, and 47% in the control group. The abstinence program had no negative effect on condom use, a key criticism of the approach.

Jemmott, however, points out that the study's abstinence-only approach varies from that employed in many locations, including Texas:

>The study curriculum was introduced to students years earlier than is typical in Texas, which reserves most such instruction for students in higher grades.

>The study curriculum extended for eight hours, plus follow-up sessions. By comparison, nurses in the Richardson school district in suburban Dallas spend about an hour each year with students starting in the fifth grade, said Gloria Canham, director of health services for the district.

>The study curriculum did not take a moral stand against sexual activity; rather, it encouraged students to think about how their life goals could be impacted by early sexual activity. By comparison, "Our teachers are told to frame it in terms of a marital relationship," said Dallas schools spokesman Jon Dahlander.

>The study curriculum did not criticize the use or effectiveness of condoms. Texas state law mandates the teaching of "reality rates" for effectiveness, an approach that allows for some ambiguity and, some critics say, encourages teachers to avoid frank discussion of contraception.

Jemmott said he still favors comprehensive sex education but encourages innovation in abstinence-focused programs as well.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

HIV Plus Editors