Performance Improvement 2008. How Effective Are Four Abstinence Education Programs?


This study examined the long-term impacts on participants´ behavior of four abstinence programs. The analysis used survey data collected four to six years after study enrollment from more than 2,000 teens. Study participants were randomly assigned to either a program group eligible to participate in an abstinence education program or to a control group that received only the usual services available in the absence of the abstinence education program.

Youth in the program group were no more likely than youth in the control group to have abstained from sex. Program and control group youth who reported having sex had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same age. Contrary to concerns raised by critics of abstinence education, program group youth were no more likely to have engaged in unprotected sex than control group youth. The abstinence programs improved identification of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) but had no overall impact on knowledge of unprotected sex risks. Both program and control group youth had a good understanding of the risks of pregnancy but a less clear understanding of STDs and their health consequences.

One implication of the study is that targeting youth solely at young ages (elementary and middle school) may not be sufficient. The study found that friends' support for abstinence was a significant predictor of future sexual abstinence, yet peer support for abstinence eroded sharply during the teen years. These findings suggest that promoting support for abstinence among peer networks into the high school years should be an important feature of future abstinence programs.

Report Title: Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs,
Agency Sponsor: ASPE-OHSP, Office of Human Services Policy
Federal Contact: Lisa Trivits, 202-205-5750
Performer: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
PIC ID: 8626

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