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U.S. News

Few Americans Favor Abstinence-Only Sex Education

November 8, 2006

The federal government's $170 million annual commitment to abstinence-only sex education is out of touch not only with research but also with public opinion, a new study suggests.

Lead author Dr. Amy Bleakley of the University of Pennsylvania-Philadelphia and colleagues surveyed almost 1,100 U.S. adults on the topic of sex education. Half expressed outright opposition to abstinence-only programs. Among self-described conservatives, 40 percent were opposed to abstinence-only education, and 70 percent supported comprehensive sex education. Overall, 82 percent of respondents said they support programs that promote abstinence but also include the facts about how to prevent pregnancy and STDs.

Bleakley said the team's findings "highlight a gap between policy, science, and public opinion."

Federally funded abstinence-only programs must meet eight criteria established in 1996. Among these is the tenet that abstinence until marriage must be taught as the "expected standard of human sexual activity." Only a few studies have evaluated their effectiveness, yielding mixed results, said an editorial published with the study.

Comprehensive programs, on the other hand, have been studied much more, wrote Dr. Douglas Kirby of ETR Associates in Scotts Valley, Calif. These investigations show that some comprehensive programs both delay sexual debut and increase the use of condoms and contraceptives. A nonprofit, ETR develops health materials, including pregnancy- and STD-prevention programs, for schools.

"Until we have strong evidence that particular abstinence-only programs are effective, we certainly should relax the funding restrictions and fund programs (including comprehensive programs) that effectively delay sex among young people," Kirby wrote.

The report, "Public Opinion on Sex Education in U.S. Schools," and the editorial, "Comprehensive Sex Education: Strong Public Support and Persuasive Evidence of Impact, but Little Funding," were published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (2006;160(11):1151-1156 and 1182-1184).

Back to other news for November 8, 2006

Adapted from:
11.06.2006; Amy Norton

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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