February 16, 2007
Between 1995 and 2002, U.S. teens were significantly more likely to receive instruction about how to say no to sex during sex education than be taught about birth control methods, according to a recent Guttmacher Institute study. Abstinence was promoted "in the absence of any substantial scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of the approach," Laura Duberstein Lindberg and colleagues found. The primary reason for the disparity was states' reliance on federal abstinence funding, which restricts information about birth control.
Douglas Kirby, a senior ETR Associates researcher, called the study's results "very disturbing." Among 83 sex education curricula analyzed by Kirby and colleagues at the Scotts Valley, Calif.-based nonprofit, just six abstinence-only programs met minimal scientific scrutiny. While that figure is "too few to reach any conclusions," none of the abstinence programs delayed sexual debut, he said. "At the same time, abstinence-only programs are replacing programs where we have good evidence that they do work."
For 2007, President Bush budgeted $241.5 million for abstinence-only programs. Only California, Pennsylvania, and Maine refuse such funding.
Kirby compared California with Texas, both populous states with high rates of Latina teen births. "Texas pushed abstinence and made it a little more difficult for teens to receive contraceptives. Pregnancy did go down between 1991 and 2004, but Texas had the second-lowest decline of all states, 19 percent," said Kirby. "California took a very progressive approach," he noted. "California had the second-greatest decrease, 46 percent."
The Guttmacher Institute is a sexual health advocacy organization that supports comprehensive sex education. The full report, "Changes in Formal Sex Education: 1995-2002," was published in Guttmacher's Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health (2006;38(4):182-189).