In 1996, Congress authorized $50 million annually for five years in funding to states for programs that teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for school-age children. This funding was established through a new formula grant program created under Title V, Section 510 of the Social Security Act, authorized under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. The funds became available to states in 1998 and are administered by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Currently, Title V Section 510 abstinence education is in its last funding cycle, and deliberations regarding reauthorization will begin shortly.
Four years into the Section 510 abstinence education funding, the percentage of teens reporting that they have had sex has decreased, continuing a decline that started in 1991. At this time, however, no definitive research has linked the abstinence education legislation with these downward trends. Most people acknowledge that “abstinence works.” It is certain to prevent unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), abortions, and out-of-wedlock childbearing. However, an important question is: To what extent are abstinence education programs effective in persuading youth to be sexually abstinent and in changing teen sexual behavior?
Empirical evidence on the effectiveness of abstinence education is limited. Moreover, most studies of abstinence education programs have methodological flaws that prevent them from generating reliable estimates of program impacts. Even the features of abstinence programs implemented, the curricula used, and the experiences of program staff and program participants are not well documented in a readily accessible way. To address this gap in information, Congress authorized a federally funded, independent evaluation of Section 510 abstinence education programs in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-33). Through extensive implementation, process, and impact analyses, the evaluation will strengthen the research base and knowledge about strategies for promoting sexual abstinence among youth and the benefits of various approaches to abstinence education.
This report presents interim findings from the congressionally authorized evaluation. The first in a series of reports from the evaluation, this report draws most heavily on four years of implementation experiences in a selected group of abstinence education programs funded under Title V Section 510. This report also uses information from federal program monitoring reports, efforts by state and local evaluators, and policy and issue statements by various constituent groups and policy organizations. Later reports from the evaluation will present estimates of short- and longer-term program impacts, as well as studies on special topical areas.