Abstinence Education Might Work After All, Says New Study

A major new study on abstinence education is the topic of a story in the Washington Post:

Abstinence-only programs might work, study says
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Only about a third of sixth- and seventh-graders who completed an abstinence-focused program started having sex within the next two years, researchers found. Nearly half of the students who attended other classes, including ones that combined information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active.

The findings are the first clear evidence that an abstinence program could work.

“I think we’ve written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence,” said John B. Jemmott III, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who led the federally funded study. “Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used.”
[read more]

Of course, this study could be wrong or may mask the real cause of the apparent benefits. For example, Todd Feinburg speculates that, “It could be that the regular sex ed classes are really effective at encouraging kids to be sexually active, and the benefit of abstinence only is keeping kids out of those classes.” You know, that’s not an entirely unreasonable thought.

I don’t know all the answers on this or any other topic. However, I do worry that some of the education kids get does more harm than good and is designed not to just give information but to shape behavior and attitudes in ways that undermine what many parents wish to achieve in raising their children.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

6 thoughts on “Abstinence Education Might Work After All, Says New Study

  1. The problem with the study is the age group. They surveyed sixth- and seventh-graders (typically ages 11 and 12) who had abstinence education, and followed them for the next two years (to ages 13 and 14) and saw that they weren't having much sex. That's way too young to see meaningful results, in my opinion.

    A legitimate study would have looked at kids who received abstinence education at 11 or 12 years old, and then followed them to ages 18 or 19.

    Several other recent studies have shown that abstinence-only education is not effective, and even has promoted unsafe sexual practices. Links here:


  2. In response to Mike I'd rather not have my daughters having sex at 13-14. If the 2 groups were the same age groups then the results are comparable (assuming a large enough sample size for a proper A/B test)

  3. Anonymous: I'm not exactly sure what argument you're making.

    My point is that tracking kids who had abstinence education at age 12 and then declaring victory because they haven't had sex by age 14 is jumping the gun.

    The average age of lost virginity is 16–17 in the U.S.; this study should go back at age 18 and see how successful it's been.

    In the meantime, other studies have shown that abstinence-only education does not work, and, in fact, has contributed toward unsafe sexual behaviors.

    I'm all for abstinence until marriage (and I speak as one who did exactly that), but abstinence education hasn't proven itself, and this study is flawed.

  4. I have mixed feelings on both with most abstinence education programs they do a great job at telling you not to but a terrible job at explaining why. With current sex ed though I agree with Jeff that most the programs are about shaping a child's view to encourage and seek out sexual experience even at younger ages. I personally think that there are ways to teach abstinence and safe sex that encourages thoughtful and careful action on the part of the youth.

  5. Abstinence education program is a great idea to abstain themselevs from earlier sex and prevent teenage pregnancy. It is mostly needed in the western countries because there boys and girls move freely here and there. That's why then can have sex at any time if they wish. Abstinence education will aware them about the benefits of abstinence.

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