Abstinence-only sex education

Abstinence-only sex education emphasizes abstinence from sex to the exclusion of all other types of sexual and reproductive health education, particularly regarding birth control and safe sex. Adolescents are encouraged to be sexually abstinent until marriage and are not provided with information about contraception. In the Kaiser study, 34% of high-school principals said their school's main message was abstinence-only. Many religious groups consider premartial sex to be morally objectionable and some, such as Catholic church, object to the use of contraception even by married couple. And some of these groups often objects to teaching of contraception because they feel that teaching of contraception for school children presume premartial sex from the outset and somewhat imply that such things are morally permissible. These organisation advocate abstinence-only sex education because it is the only approach they find acceptable and in accordance with their religious teachings.

Some organizations promote what they consider to be "sexual purity", which encompasses abstaining from not only intercourse before marriage, but also from sexual thoughts, sexual touching, pornography, and actions that are known to lead to sexual arousal. Advocates of abstinence-only sex education object to comprehensive curricula which fail to teach moral behavior; they maintain that curricula should promote conventional (or conservative) morality as healthy and constructive, and that value-free knowledge of the body may lead to immoral, unhealthy and harmful practices.

A comprehensive review of 115 program evaluations published in November 2007 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that two-thirds of sex education programs focusing on both abstinence and contraception had a positive effect on teen sexual behavior. The same study found no strong evidence that programs that stress abstinence as the only acceptable behavior for unmarried teens delayed the initiation of sex, hastened the return to abstinence, or reduced the number of sexual partners. According to the study author:

    "Even though there does not exist strong evidence that any particular abstinence program is effective at delaying sex or reducing sexual behavior, one should not conclude that all abstinence programs are ineffective. After all, programs are diverse, fewer than 10 rigorous studies of these programs have been carried out, and studies of two programs have provided modestly encouraging results. In sum, studies of abstinence programs have not produced sufficient evidence to justify their widespread dissemination."

Proponents of abstinence-only sex education object to curricula that fail to teach their standard of moral behavior; they maintain that a morality based on sex only within the bounds of marriage is "healthy and constructive" and that value-free knowledge of the body may lead to immoral, unhealthy, and harmful practices.

Abstinence-only sex education became more prominent in the U.S. over the last decade, largely as a result of over $1 billion in federal government funding initiatives. Through direct funding and matching grant incentives, the U.S. government steered more than a billion dollars to abstinence-only education programs between 1996 and 2006. However, few long-term, rigorous studies have been done on these programs, and their effectiveness remains a matter of question. While abstinence-only sex education is a controversial subject, the fact that complete abstinence itself (even within marriage) is the most effective preventative measure against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases has never been in dispute. What is in dispute is whether abstinence-only sex education actually succeeds in increasing abstinence.

In 1996, the federal government attached a provision to a welfare reform law establishing a program of special grants to states for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. The program, Title V, § 510(b) of the Social Security Act (now codified as 42 U.S.C. § 710b), is commonly known as Title V. It created very specific requirements for grant recipients. Under this law, the term “abstinence education” means an educational or motivational program which:

    Has as its exclusive purpose teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;
    Teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children;
    Teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;
    Teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity;
    Teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;
    Teaches that bearing children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society;
    Teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances, and
    Teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.

Title V-funded programs were not permitted to advocate or discuss contraceptive methods except to emphasize their failure rates.

The program dedicated $50 million annually to be distributed among states choosing to participate. States accepting the funds were required to match every four federal dollars with three state-raised dollars. For the first five years of the initiative, every state but California participated in the program.

After its first five years, many states evaluated the effectiveness of their programs. A comprehensive review of 11 state evaluations conducted by Advocates for Youth showed some short-term benefits, but did not find any programs with lasting positive impact.

Research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2002 indicated that, by that time, about a third of U.S. secondary schools were using an abstinence-only approach. However, after their five-year evaluations, more states began declining the funding. By 2009, only 25 of the 50 states continued to receive and pursue Title V funding.

In 2000, the federal government began another large program to fund abstinence education, Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE). CBAE became the largest federal abstinence-only funding source, with $115 million granted for fiscal year 2006. The CBAE awards bypass state governments, offering federal grants directly to state and local organizations that provide abstinence-only education programs. Many of these grantees are faith-based or small non-profit organizations, including crisis pregnancy centers, which use their grants to provide abstinence-only programs and services in local public and private schools and to community groups. Within the last decade, the federal government has encouraged abstinence-only education by steering over a billion dollars to such programs. Some 25 states now decline the funding so that they can continue to teach comprehensive sex education. Funding for one of the federal government's two main abstinency-only funding programs, Title V, was extended only until December 31, 2007; Congress is debating whether to continue it past that date.

Congress extended funding of Title V several times, through fiscal year 2006. In October 2007, Congress again extended funding, only until December 31, 2007. In 2010, the Obama administration and Congress eliminated two federal abstinence-only programs - the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) grant program and the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) Prevention program. This leaves the Title V program as the only remaining federal abstinence education program.

Site Map