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The Study

Unfortunately for all you prude parents out there, it turns out that abstinence-only education does not lead to abstinent behavior, a new study reports. This study only adds to the growing body of evidence which reaches the same conclusion.

This is the first large-scale study showing that the type of sex education provided in public schools has a significant effect on teen pregnancy rates.

The researchers in the study looked at 48 states and the effectiveness of their sexual education classes. This was their conclusion:

Our analysis adds to the overwhelming evidence indicating that abstinence-only education does not [emphasis added] reduce teen pregnancy rates.

Furthermore, the researchers suggested that:

[Abstinence-only education] may even contribute to the high teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. compared to other industrialized countries.

Just because these two variables, teen pregnancy rates and sexual education programs which stress abstinence, are positively correlated does not necessarily mean that one causes the other. However, if abstinence-only sexual education did reduce teen pregnancy rates as proponents claim, then the correlation would be negative. But this is not what the researchers found. They found a strong positive correlation meaning that states whose laws stressed the teaching of abstinence until marriage were significantly less successful in preventing teen pregnancies.

Conversely, the study indicates that states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates were those that prescribed comprehensive sex and/or HIV education, covering abstinence alongside proper contraception and condom use.

The authors end on a reasonable question for those who still think abstinence-only education works:

Advocates for continued abstinence-only education need to ask themselves: If teens don’t learn about human reproduction, including safe sexual health practices to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as how to plan their reproductive adult life in school, then when should they learn it and from whom?

My Opinion

Abstinence-only education, the “no sex until marriage” approach, in my experience primarily stems from religious interpretations of purity and sanctity of marriage. While my views on the religious interpretations of sexuality are highly critical, I believe parents can teach their kids the way they want to about sex. I don’t think that some approaches are safe or reasonable, but they have the right to teach them.

Given this, we can say that preserving the sanctity of marriage or purity is not accomplished through teaching abstinence-only education, it may even increase rates of teen pregnancy. I respect a parent’s right to teach their kids about sex, but those who want to have their children remain abstinent are certainly going about it the wrong way. Research shows that thoroughly informing kids about sex and protection is the best way to prevent teen pregnancy.

Fact: teenagers are going to have sex.

No two ways about it. Least we can do, for their own safety and sexual health, is give them the tools and education they need to properly think about sex, and abandon those religiously motivated ways that do not work (at all).