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Study Casts Doubt on Abstinence-Only Programs

April 16, 2007

A national study that followed 2,000 students from elementary or middle school to high school found that abstinence-only sex education does not prevent teens from having sex. Nor does it increase or decrease the odds of condom use if teenagers do have sex.

The much-anticipated study was authorized by Congress in 1997. Its release comes as questions are being raised as to the effectiveness of the programs. Currently, the federal government spends an annual $176 million on abstinence education, while millions more are spent each year through matching state and local grants. Eight states that used to receive federal abstinence money now decline to accept the funds. A bill introduced in Congress with bi-partisan support seeks to allocate money for sex education that teaches abstinence as well as contraception. In addition, federal abstinence funds are up for congressional renewal under the Title V grant.

The study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc., surveyed children in four communities -- two urban, two rural. All participants received the family life services available in their community, and slightly more than half also received abstinence-only education. At the end of the study, when the average participant was almost 17, half of both groups had remained abstinent.

The average age of sexual debut for teens in both groups was 15. Of those who were sexually active, almost half said they used condoms only "sometimes" or "never." Less than a quarter of teens in both groups reported using a condom every time they had sex. Students in both groups were knowledgeable about the risks of having sex without using a condom or other means of protection. More than a third of all of the sexually active teens reported having had two or more partners.

The adolescents who participated in abstinence programs did not use condoms less than other kids, the study found. They did, however, show slightly higher knowledge about STD prevention.

To view the report online, visit:

Back to other news for April 2007

Adapted from:
Washington Post
04.14.2007; Laura Sessions Stepp

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.
See Also
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10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More Research on HIV Prevention Among Youth


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