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Summary: Abstinence Education Programs Reduce Teen Sexual Activity

Abstinence vs. Comprehensive Sex Education: A Response to the Mathematica Study.
  • The debate about “abstinence” versus “comprehensive” sex education has recently been re-energized by the recent findings from a national study by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Mathematica reported studied four different abstinence education programs and reported that teens in those abstinence programs did not abstain from sexual activity any more than those not participating in the program. This led some to conclude that the abstinence education approach is not effective and that comprehensive sexual education is effective. However, The Institute for Research and Evaluation conducted more than 100 evaluations of abstinence education interventions in 30 states over the past 15 years and found that well-designed and well-implemented abstinence education programs can reduce teen sexual activity by as much as one-half over a period of one to two years. The Institute for Research and Evaluation observed that when the same criteria employed by the Mathematica study are applied to comprehensive sex education programs, they do not appear to be effective. Additionally, the Mathematica study cannot be generalized to represent all abstinence education programs in view of the fact that only four programs were looked at. The Mathematica study did not examine comprehensive sex education programs and the high-risk population used in the study does not represent the teen population in the U.S. The Institute for Research and Evaluation found the following benefits of abstinence: abstinence guarantees 100% protection from the biological costs of sex; youth who choose to abstain from sexual activity can avoid the negative emotional consequences associated with teen sex; abstinence education programs put emphasis on principles of self-restraint, self-esteem, future goals, long term commitment, and unselfishness in relationships; and abstinence education addresses the relationship of sexuality to the well-being of the whole person.1

1 "Abstinence” or “Comprehensive” Sex Education?, The Institute for Research and Evaluation, 2007.

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