A panel of independent medical experts has concluded that comprehensive sex education programs that teach contraception methods and safer sexual practices help reduce teenagers’ risky sexual behavior and limit the spread of sexually transmitted infections. But it found that evidence was more limited on the question of whether such programs are effective in reducing pregnancy and HIV.
At the same time, the panel concluded, there is not enough evidence to determine the effectiveness of programs that solely promote abstinence as a means of birth control and protection against disease.
The new findings come in a pair of reports issued this month by the Task Force on Community and Preventive Services, a volunteer body of public-health and prevention experts, whose members are appointed by the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta. It recommends interventions to the CDC to promote population health and identifies subject areas where more research is needed.
For the new reports, the task force reviewed 83 separate sex education studies—62 on comprehensive programs and 21 on abstinence-only programs—conducted between 1980 and 2007. A panel of experts assembled by the CDC produced the analysis on behalf of the task force.
The task forces recommendation for group-based comprehensive risk reduction delivered to adolescents comes as Congress considers President Barack Obama’s request to discontinue funding specifically targeted toward abstinence programs.
A version of this article appeared in the November 18, 2009 edition of Education Week as Comprehensive Sex Education Backed by Evidence, Medical Panel Concludes