American surveys show advantages of sexual abstinence education

American surveys show advantages of sexual abstinence education

In October the US House of Representatives voted for a 49 per cent increase in funding for abstinence education with the Senate set to pass the measure in November thanks to a strong Republican majority following the latest elections.

The increase will give $105 million in federal funds for 2005 to the abstinence program, up from $70.5 million this year.

The federal funds are "making an impact," said Leslee Unruh, President of the Abstinence Clearinghouse. She told the Washington Times, however, that abstinence education still receives only $1 for every $12 given to programs that stress condom use and "safe sex".

The positive effects of delaying sexual activity were indicated in studies published by the Heritage Foundation (based in Washington DC). On 21 September it published a report titled "Teens Who Make Virginity Pledges Have Substantially Improved Life Outcomes."

The report provides statistical evidence demonstrating that teenagers who publicly pledge to refrain from sexual activity are less likely to experience teen pregnancy. And they will likely have fewer sexual partners.

The study cited data from the government-funded National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, showing that the behavior of adolescents who have made a virginity pledge is significantly different from that of peers who have not made a pledge. Teenage girls who have taken a virginity pledge are one-third less likely to experience a pregnancy before age 18.

The Heritage report also observed that almost two-thirds of teens who do not make a virginity pledge are sexually active before age 18. By contrast, only 30 per cent of teens who report having made a pledge become sexually active before age 18.

Even though those who pledge to chastity may eventually break their commitment, the report notes that delaying the onset of sexual activity has a number of positive effects. And the surveys cited in the report show that the benefits last into adulthood.

For example, women who become sexually active in their early teen years are less likely to have stable marriages in their 30s when compared with women who wait.

Another advantage is the reduction in children born outside marriage. The report observes that children born and raised outside marriage are seven times more likely to live in poverty than those born and raised in intact married families. As well, they are more prone to a number of social problems, from crime to emotional difficulties.

Adolescent girls who make a pledge to refrain from sexual activity are substantially less likely to give birth in their teens or early 20s. By age 18, 1.8 per cent of those who were firmly pledged had given birth, compared with 3.8 per cent of girls who did not make a pledge.

"Regrettably," the study notes, "teens today live in a sex-saturated popular culture that celebrates casual sex at an early age." Social institutions that teach abstinence values can play an important part in helping teens to resist media and peer pressure, the report concluded.

Further support for the efficacy of abstinence programs came in a study carried out by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Washington Times reported on 16 July. The results attribute a 53 per cent drop in teen pregnancy, from 1991 to 2000, to increased abstinence. Increased use of contraceptives accounted for 47 per cent of the decline, according to the study.

Another report published by the Heritage Foundation helps explain why abstinence programs can help change teens' behaviour. The study, "Comprehensive Sex Education vs Authentic Abstinence: A Study of Competing Curricula," was published on 10 August. It explained that in the past there were two basic approaches to sex education. There was the "safe sex" approach, which encourages teens to use contraception, especially condoms; and abstinence education, which focuses on delaying the onset of sexual activity.

In recent years a new approach, termed "abstinence-plus" or "comprehensive sexuality education," has been developed. This combines, in theory, information on abstinence and contraception.

Research for the report analysed nine major abstinence-plus curricula and nine abstinence curricula. It revealed that in practice the abstinence-plus programs devoted only 4.7 per cent of their page content to the topic of abstinence and nothing to healthy relationships and marriage.

Holistic approach

Moreover, a detailed analysis of the contents of comprehensive sex-ed programs shows that their aim is not to have teens abstain from sexual activity. Rather, their aim is to reduce the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases that results from "unprotected" sexual activity. "Abstinence - or not having sex - is mentioned as one option that teens may consider to avoid risks, but the overwhelming emphasis is on reducing risk by encouraging contraceptive use."

By contrast, the programs promoting abstinence "take a more holistic approach to human sexuality." They place more emphasis on the social and psychological aspects of sex. As well, they examine themes such as love, intimacy and commitment. "Young people are taught that human sexuality is not primarily physical, but moral, emotional and psychological in nature."

The abstinence programs also promote the idea that "personal happiness, love and intimacy are most likely to occur within the commitment of a faithful marriage and that, in contrast, casual sex with multiple partners is likely to undermine the natural process of bonding and intimacy."

Zenit News Service

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