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Expensive Sex Education Programs “Ineffective” 2007-04-14

Posted by clype in Health, Statistics.
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A new study authorised by The US American Congress has found that The Federal Abstinence Education Program that encourage adolescents to abstain from having sex during their early years has proved ineffective.The Federal Abstinence Education Program is due to Title V, Section 510 of ‘The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996’ which aims to promote sexual abstinence and health behaviour in teenagers.

To this end, it receives 175 million USD from the federal government and also from individual states each year.

However, this extensive study and 164-page report found that The Federal Abstinence Education Program did not dissuade youth from having sex, nor even change their other sexual behaviour — including condom use.

This report released yesterday by Mathematica-Policy Research Inc. will be reviewed by the ‘US Department of Health & Human Services’ “ASPE” –Office of The Assistant Secretary For Planning & Evolution‘.
For the study of the abstinence education program, researchers surveyed 2057 youth for their sexual behaviour in 2005 and 2006. The participants were enrolled in the program four to six years ago. By the time the study was finished, the subjects were on average 16.5 years old. The mean age was 18 years of age for study youth in the two middle school programs known as ‘ReCapturing the Vision’ and ‘My Choice, My Future’ while the age of those who were in the two upper elementary school programs, ‘FUPTP’ and ‘Teens in Control’ was younger, around 15 years of age.

The study focuses on two measurements. One measurement is sexual behaviour including rates of sexual abstinence, rates of unprotected sex, number of sexual partners, expectation to abstain and rates of pregnancy, births and incidence of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), and the other is knowledge and perception of risks of teen sexual activity including risks of pregnancy and STDs and perceptions of the effectiveness of condoms and birth control among others.

  • The study found that the abstinence education made no difference in the teenagers in terms of
    1. the rate of abstinence,
    2. the number of sexual partners, and
    3. the mean age at which they started having sex

    –compared to the group of teenagers who did not receive the education.

The group of teenagers who were uneducated for abstinence, contrary to concerns raised by the critics, was no more likely to have engaged in unprotected sex than control group youth.

In the last 12 months prior to the survey, the sexual behaviour in both the program group and control group were the same:

  • about 55 per cent of teenagers remained sexually abstinent;
  • 23 percent had sex and always used condom;
  • 17 per cent had sex and sometimes used condom;
  • 4 per cent had sex and never used condom;
  • The age for the first intercourse and the number of sexual partners were identical;
  • Teenagers who had sex started having sex at a mean age of 14.9 years;
  • One-quarter of all youth in both groups had sex with three or more partners and one in six with four or more partners.

The abstinence program did improve identification of STDs, but had no overall impact on knowledge of unprotected sex risk and consequences.

Both groups of teenagers had a good understanding of risks of pregnancy, but less knowledge of sexually transmitted disease and their health consequences.

In terms of perceptions about the effectiveness of condoms for pregnancy prevention, 50 per cent of teenagers in both group reported that condoms usually prevent pregnancy while 38 percent said condoms sometimes prevent pregnancy.

A low percentage of teenagers in both groups knew the effectiveness of condoms for prevention of STDs. One-quarter of youth in both groups were unsure about whether use of condoms would prevent chlamydia and gonorrhea or herpes and HPV whereas one in seven did not know if condoms can effectively prevent HIV.

When it comes to perception of effectiveness of birth control pills, 55 per cent of the youth in both groups believed that birth control pills prevent pregnancy while more than two in three youth said that birth control pills do not prevent STDs.

The abstinence program does not seem effective at preventing teenagers from having sex or improving their sexual behaviour, but the current situation demands more effort. Nationwide, more than 50 per cent of pupils will have sex when they graduate from high school. More than one in five will have four or more partners. One quarter of sexually active teenagers has an STD and STDs are lifelong viral infection that can’t be cured.

The abstinence education programs were implemented in upper elementary and middle schools. The study shows that implementation of the abstinence program in these school does not help teenagers to reduce their sexual activity.

  • Teenagers are most sexually active in high school, but the study does not provide any evidence to indicate abstinence education at high school is effective either.

The report states that an analysis of teenage sexual activity shows that friends’ support for abstinence is a predictor of future sexual abstinence. The grogram does not promote this measurement, but the researchers say their findings suggests that peer network for abstinence should be an important feature for future abstinence programs.

The National Abstinence Clearinghouse‘ issued a statement saying that ‘there are many more substantive reports that show otherwise (that abstinence education reduces teenagers’ sexual activity). The organisation, which serves as a community for abstinent people, cited many programs that show effectiveness at preventing teens from having early sex.

A health observer with foodconsumer.org suggested that it’s better to leave abstinence education to the parents, and to prevent teenagers from having sex too early at least two things are required: (1) reducing the sex scenes in the media and (2) reducing intake of animal derived foods, suggesting that the former can serve as a trigger for sexual activity, and the latter promotes hormones, which push children to enter puberty at an early age.

For more information, read the full report at
http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/PDFs/impactabstinence.pdf

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