Abstinence-Only Programs Do Not Reduce HIV Risk
August 6, 2007
Data from 13 trials involving almost 16,000 U.S. youth suggest that abstinence-only programs are not an effective way of preventing HIV infection in high-income countries, according to a study by researchers from the University of Oxford.
Dr. Kristen Underhill and colleagues found that compared with no program, safer sex programs, and various other prevention programs, abstinence-only programs did not appear to reduce HIV risk. Specifically, abstinence programs did not influence the rate of unprotected vaginal sex, condom use, the number of sexual partners or timing of sexual debut.
Data from one trial suggested that abstinence-only programs may have had an adverse effect: Compared with a group of young people who did not participate in an HIV prevention program, abstinence programs were associated with a rise in STDs and pregnancy. Other studies did not show a significant link between these outcomes and abstinence-only programs, the authors noted.
"In contrast to abstinence-only programs, programs that promote the use of condoms greatly reduce the risk of acquiring HIV, especially when such programs are culturally tailored behavioral interventions targeting people at highest risk of HIV infection," said a related editorial by Dr. Stephen E. Hawes of the University of Washington-Seattle and colleagues.
The study, "Sexual Abstinence-Only Programs to Prevent HIV Infection in High-Income Countries: Systematic Review," and the editorial, "Is There a Role for Abstinence-Only Programs for HIV Prevention in High-Income Countries?," were published in the British Medical Journal (2007;335(7613):248 and 217-218, respectively).
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