The main conclusion of this rigorous clinical trial? "The abstinence-only intervention compared with the health-promotion control intervention reduced by about 33 percent the percentage of students who ever reported having sexual intercourse by the time of the 24-month follow-up, controlling for grade, age and intervention-maintenance condition."
Wow. Any negative side effects? Are the kids less likely to use condoms? Nope. The authors report that "a randomized controlled trial and a literature review found no effects of abstinence interventions on condom use. Similarly, in this trial the abstinence-only intervention participants did not differ in self-reported consistent condom use compared with the control group."
How about the contraceptive "safer sex" education program? Did teaching the kids to use condoms make them more likely to use condoms? Remarkably, no. The kids in the control group were just as likely to use condoms as kids given safer-sex education. Well, then, did the comprehensive "abstinence plus" approach do better at increasing condom use, compared to doing nothing? No, it did not either delay sex or increase condom use, either. The abstinence-only approach, in this one rigorous study, was the only one that "worked."
I know this is only one study, no matter how high quality. Can it be replicated? Do other abstinence-only approaches work equally well? Do they work with older teens or middle-class teens? Would similar clinical trials support the efficacy of some other types of abstinence-plus programs? There is much to be learned.
But recall that the Guttmacher Institute required no real study at all to claim (and get widely reported as "fact") that abstinence-only education was causing the increase in teen pregnancy rates.
Yet in 2008, according to a Health and Human Services funding analysis requested by Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., the federal government spent just $177 million on abstinence education compared to $609 million on contraceptive-based sex education.
Are progressives like Carolyn Maloney going to call for an end to safer-sex education now? Will the Guttmacher Institute retract its attack? Will President Obama step forward to restore abstinence-only funding?
We will learn something about the alleged commitment of people like this to science from their response to this new research.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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