Researchers Find that Abstinence-Only Sex Education Does Not, In Fact, Promote Abstinence

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Dec. 1 2011 10:25 AM

Researchers Find that Abstinence-Only Sex Education Does Not, In Fact, Promote Abstinence

Promoting condom sense.
It might just make more sense to teach kids how to use birth control

Photograph by Mario Tama/Getty Images

This one may come as a shock to those conservative types who believe that telling hormone-riddled teens to ‘just say no’ actually does anything to promote their sexual health:

Researchers at the University of Georgia have just published the first large-scale study of teen pregnancy rates by state in comparison with sex education curricula. The results demonstrate that rates of teen pregnancy are “significantly higher” in states that use “abstinence-only” models, while lower in those that provide a more comprehensive education, including birth control instruction and STI prevention alongside abstinence. Moreover, the significance of the relationship remained even when the researchers adjusted for potentially important factors like socioeconomic status, education level and ethnicity.

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According to the press release, the study is only correlative (meaning that it does not show that abstinence education causes more pregnancies), but the implications for policy are readily apparent:

"This clearly shows that prescribed abstinence-only education in public schools does not lead to abstinent behavior," said David Hall, second author and assistant professor of genetics in the Franklin College. "It may even contribute to the high teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. compared to other industrialized countries."

The finding may seem odd in light of the fact that teen pregnancy rates have been on the decline in the U.S. for over a decade; however, the problem is that we still have the very high rates compared to other developed nations. If the goal is truly to reduce teenage pregnancies, comprehensive sex education is the way to go. On the other hand, if the goal is to shore-up a religious ideology while ignoring the numbers, states are welcome to continue. Just don’t be upset when MTV’s Teen Mom franchise comes to town.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.