Study shows 'abstinence only' doesn't work

Another study, reported in the Tribune Nov 8, has once again shown that the much publicized Abstinence Only Until Marriage sex education does not cause teens to delay sexual activity. The Federal Government's own study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. on behalf of the HHS, released in April, found no evidence that the abstinence-only programs increased rates of sexual abstinence. The Mathematica study found that students in the abstinence only programs had a similar number of sexual partners and similar age of first sex as their peers not in such programs. Virginia recently became the 16th state to refuse federal abstinence only funds. Since 1997 the federal government has spent nearly $2 billion on this ineffective approach.

Oregon has a much better approach to sex education. The educational model used for sex education has long assumed that students deserve to be provided the best information available to equip them to make responsible decisions. Those who have opposed this model have attacked it by contending that it is not possible to promote abstinence while teaching about sex, because teaching about sex encourages young people to have sex. There is virtually no statistical evidence to prove that contention. The very essence of education is based on the premise that the more young people know about any subject, including sex, the better decisions they will make. Knowledge is not a dangerous thing.

It almost goes without saying that the purpose of education is to prepare students not just for today's decisions but also for those later in life. Abstinence Only Until Marriage curricula are based on a complete misnomer. First of all the average age of marriage in the US is 26. According to the Guttmacher Institute 95 percent of all US young people have had sexual intercourse prior to marriage. Secondly, sex is no longer sequential to marriage — if it ever was. Educators must not provide sex ed based on the "... until marriage" myth. They need to be preparing youth for the real world. They need to be stressing abstinence but should also teach young people how to prevent an unwanted pregnancy and how to avoid sexually transmitted infections.

According to a newly passed Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR 581-022-1440) all public schools now have clear guidelines for providing comprehensive sex education. The materials "shall enhance students' understanding of sexuality as a normal and healthy aspect of human development." The curriculum should emphasizes abstinence but include medically accurate, age appropriate, information focusing on HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease prevention. The OAR mandates that the materials shall also include information about the risks and benefits of contraceptives and other disease reduction, methods which reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy. The material shall include information that encourages family communication and helps students learn how to make responsible decisions. These measures are designed to continue the seventeen year decline in the teen pregnancy rates. In Jackson County the rate of teen pregnancy per 1,000 students between 10 and 17 dropped from 20.9 in 1990 to 8.7 in 2007.

This approach to sex education enjoys wide popular support in the Rogue Valley. A professional survey conducted in the Medford and Grants Pass in both 2002 and 2003 showed that most responders (84 percent) felt that sex education should be taught in the public schools and 95 percent of those said that such education should be medically accurate, should cover such topics as birth control, condoms, puberty, responsibility/commitment, STD's, HIV/AIDS, teach ways to reduce risky behavior, cover such topics as love, sexual orientation and teach the skills needed to postpone sex (abstinence).

Young people today are subjected to sexual messages everywhere they turn; in movies, advertising, music videos and from their peers. But parents, teachers and faith leaders also have an influence on their decisions. It is therefore imperative for the adults to provide young people with accurate information so they can make responsible decisions. We owe young people respect and honor their right to participate in making important decisions regarding sexuality.

Paul Robinson of Medford is community relations director for Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon.

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