Abstinence-only sex education has been a favorite target of the cultural elite, who argued it was naive at best and dangerous at worst. Now, a new study published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine suggests that encouraging young teens to just say no to sex may be the most effective method at delaying early sexual activity. The study, the first of its kind to employ rigorous research methods in a controlled setting, showed that programs that encouraged 12- to 14-year-old students to refrain from sexual activity "until they are ready" were more effective than other approaches.
The study followed 662 African-American students in urban schools, a group that, on average -- previous research shows -- become sexually active at a young age. The students were randomly assigned to one of four groups. One group was given abstinence-only sex education. Another was given sex education that stressed condom use. A third group was given contraceptive information but was also encouraged to delay sexual activity. And a control group was given only general health information.
Two-thirds of the students who received an abstinence-only message had not become sexually active two years later. These students were provided with information on HIV and were given medically accurate information on sex. Students were encouraged to remain abstinent and were given advice on how to resist pressure to have sex.
Those students who were given a safe-sex curriculum that stressed contraception and avoiding sexually transmitted disease, without an abstinence message, were significantly more likely than the abstinence-only students to be sexually active two years later. More than half of those in the safe-sex group, 52 percent, became sexually active in that time period -- slightly more than the 47 percent in the control group, who received neither a safe sex nor an abstinence message but only general health information. Some 42 percent of the students in the comprehensive program -- who received instruction on contraception and encouragement to delay sex -- became sexually active within two years.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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