Studies Cite Effects of Abstinence Programs

By Vaishali Honawar — June 21, 2005 3 min read

Abstinence-based programs of sex education help make younger students more aware of the potential negative consequences of nonmarital sex but do not improve their self-esteem, refusal skills, or communication with their parents regarding sex, a federally financed study released last week suggests.

The study, conducted for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by researchers at Mathematica Policy Research Inc., in Princeton, N.J., and the University of Pennsylvania, scrutinized data on elementary and middle school students in four abstinence programs nationwide that receive federal funding, as well as on their peers who received a variety of other forms of sex education at school or from community-based providers.

The study did not examine the impact of the programs on the sexual behaviors of participants, who ranged from 3rd to 8th graders.

The authors found that students in abstinence-based programs had views more supportive of sexual abstinence and less supportive of teenage sex than those who were not enrolled in such programs. The report says there is also some evidence that the programs increased expectations among the students that they would abstain from sex and not date as much as their peers.

“First Year Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs” is available from Mathematica Policy Research.

The Heritage Foundation posts its June 2005 report, “Adolescent Virginity Pledges, Condom Use, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Among Young Adults.”

“Adolescent Virginity Pledges and Risky Sexual Behaviors” is posted by The Heritage Foundation.

But researchers acknowledged that the study’s scope was limited because of the young ages of the participants, who in one of the four programs examined were as young as age 10.

“At this stage, on this measure, it is difficult for us to assess whether the programs have had an effect on whether the [students] will abstain in the future,” said the project’s director, Christopher Trenholm of Mathematica. “What we don’t know is … if we change expectations, will we see changes in behavior?”

Sex education built around a strictly pro-abstinence message has come under increasing scrutiny, given the Bush administration’s high-profile support for such programs, despite questions from many researchers and educators about their effectiveness. President Bush is seeking $206 million for abstinence-based programs in fiscal 2006, a 23 percent increase over the current year.

Two other reports released last week by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, argue for the benefits of abstinence education. Reanalyzing data used in a previous study, they concluded that young people who pledged to keep their virginity were less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior and had lower rates of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases than their peers who did not make such pledges.

New View of Data

The Heritage reports seek to refute a study published in the April issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. That study, from professors at Columbia and Yale universities, found that teenagers who pledged to abstain from sex before marriage still engaged in certain sexual behaviors, and as a result contracted venereal diseases at rates similar to those of nonpledgers. (“Study: Pledgers of Sex Abstinence Still at Risk of STDs,” March 30, 2005.)

While the Heritage studies used the same data from the federal National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health as the Columbia and Yale authors, they came up with different conclusions.

Robert Rector and Kirk A. Johnson of Heritage found that, on average, individuals who took virginity pledges as adolescents were 25 percent less likely to have sexually transmitted diseases as young adults than nonpledgers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Pledgers were also less likely to have sex in high school or have children out of wedlock.

It is common sense, Mr. Rector said, that because virginity pledgers are more likely to abstain from sex or have fewer sexual partners, they are less likely to contract STDs.

“Throughout our analysis, taking a virginity pledge was a more surefire way of reducing STDs than condom use,” he said.

Hannah Bruckner, an associate professor of sociology at Yale University and one of the two authors of the report in the Journal of Adolescent Health, said that the Heritage study has not yet been peer-reviewed and the researchers’ analyses would have difficulty satisfying the standards for publication in such a journal.

Related Tags:

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
Speech Therapist - Long Term Sub
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Curriculum From ‘Stunning’ to ‘Surprising’: How News of the Capitol Attack Was Repackaged for Schools
Experts criticized ed-tech company Newsela for sugarcoating the violent insurrection when it adapted an Associated Press story for schools.
6 min read
A man dressed as George Washington and holding a Trump flag kneels and prays near the Washington Monument on Jan. 6.
A man dressed as George Washington and holding a Trump flag kneels and prays near the Washington Monument on Jan. 6.
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Curriculum 6 Ways to Help Students Make Sense of the Capitol Siege
A week after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, teachers are helping students figure out how the country got to this point.
15 min read
Image of the Capitol building shown in a rearview mirror.
Macrocosm Photography/E+
Curriculum Theater Educators Struggle to Keep Shows Going Amid COVID-19
Convinced that the show must go on, high school theater troupes are turning to livestreamed shows, outdoor performances, and radio plays.
8 min read
Wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, students from New Albany (Ind.) High School perform the musical “Bright Star” earlier this year.
Wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, students from New Albany (Ind.) High School perform the musical “Bright Star” earlier this year.
Photo courtesy of Crit Fisher
Curriculum Letter to the Editor Curriculum as a Lever for Racial Equity
To the Editor:
The special report "Big Ideas for Confronting Racism in Education" (Sept. 23, 2020) highlighted essential ingredients for creating anti-racist schools, including better teacher preparation, expanded anti-bias training, and universal internet access, among others.
1 min read