Abstinence Only Ed a No Go?

The abstinence-only educational model embraced by Bush and a great number of conservatives has come under criticism and has recently been deemed highly ineffective by a great deal of liberal-minded individuals.

Students who participated in programs to discourage sex before marriage didn’t hold off any longer than peers who didn’t participate in such programs, finds a longterm study authorized by Congress.

Those who participated in the four "abstinence-only" program studied had sex about the same age — 14 years and nine months —as those in their communities who didn’t have any specialized abstinence education, and had similar numbers of sex partners, says the $7.7 million study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. of Princeton, N.J. for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families.

This is clearly an issue, seeing as the U.S. government spends around $176 million on abstinence programs each year.

The study — the first long-term look at actual youth behavior rather than attitudes — began tracking 2,057 youths in their late elementary and middle school years and followed them four to six years. The control group had one to three years of abstinence education at one of four programs around the country. They were in Miami, Milwaukee, Powhatan, Va.,and Clarksdale, Miss. Follow-ups were conducted at one year, two years and four to six years later. About half from each group had remained abstinent.

What is most curious about the study is the time in which it was released (just before Congress decided to renew funding for abstinence programs). And before we turn this into a "Blame the Bush Administration Extravaganza," let’s consider that the U.S. government has funded abstinence education since 1982; it was in 1996 that the bulk of these programs were created (this came with the reformation of welfare laws occurring at the same time).

Even more curious is the fact that this study is based on only four programs. Why were none of the 696 programs included? The sample seems way too small to be an accurate depiction of the entire abstinence-online landscape. I understand the intricacies of planning and implementing a research study, but this question must be answered with deep consideration.

Also, when considering that the four programs studied come from the 1996 overhaul, eyebrows can (and should) yet again be raised. Research and abstinence education have changed a great deal since 1996, so basing an overarching effective or ineffective label on a study that examines results from premature programs is odd and may (or has) led to static results.

At the end of the day, we need to educate youth on a plethora of issues associated with sex. I do believe that, to some degree, it’s unrealistic to expect every child to refrain from sex. With that said, intentions show us that many youth make the pledge not do engage in premarital sex. While their actions aren’t necessarily jiving with words, it’s important that we further explore these inclinations. Clearly — at some point — they took a stand that they have not been able to live up to.  But why?

There’s much to consider: media influence, parental guidance, drugs and substances and other situations that may harm one’s chances of avoiding premarital sex. Plus, let’s not forget the societal forces (many of which are in the aforementioned sentences) that tell them that sex is simply "okay" to engage in.

Today’s teens face difficult challenges; examining support structures is a necessity before deciding that abstinence programs are totally and utterly ineffective.  I believe that they have a place, but that the "only" may need to be expounded upon.  Youths need to be educated on the issue as a whole.  With that said, I wholeheartedly support the goals and methods these programs utilize.

I’d also like to address STD’s. MisterE and others contend that it’s totally healthy to engage in sex with whomever – as long as one remains safe. Aside from ignoring the severe emotional issues that may result from this exploration, these bloggers never address STD’s that can be contracted even when individuals remain “safe.”

If I recall – HPV is rampant. Unfortunately, it can be contracted even with the use of a condom. Condoms are not 100% effective to begin with, but when we consider herpes, genital warts (a form of HPV) and other communicable diseases, being safe means remaining abstinent.

Consider this:

The male condom is not as effective at preventing HPV transmission as it is for the prevention of other STDs; the male condom does not prevent all skin-to-skin contact during sex.

While both sides of the debate (the "safe sexers" and the "refrainers") agree on some basic condom tenants (the reduction of HIV/AIDS, etc.), there are pieces of both arguments that should be heard:

Each side has some truth in its argument: Condoms are very effective against the AIDS virus, but data for their effectiveness against some other STDs is surprisingly spotty.

At the end of the day, limiting partners and encouraging youth to wait is the only 100%, sure-fire method of prevention and mode of protection for the mind, body and soul.