Does Abstinence-Only Education Work?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a report on Oct. 4, 2004 for Congress titled "Reducing Teen Pregnancy: Adolescent Family Life and Abstinence Education Programs," in which it defined "abstinence education":

"To ensure that the abstinence-only message is not diluted, the law (P.L. 104-193, Section 510 of the Social Security Act) stipulated that the term 'abstinence education' means an educational or motivational program that -
(1) has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains of abstaining from sexual activity;
(2) teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children;
(3) teaches that abstinence is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, STDs, and associated health problems;
(4) teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship within marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity;
(5) teaches that sexual activity outside of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;
(6) teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child's parents, and society;
(7) teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increases vulnerability to sexual advances; and
(8) teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sex."

Oct. 4, 2004 - Congressional Research Service 



PRO (yes)

Kate Hendricks, MD, MPH&TM, Vice President for Science at the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, and Patricia Thickstun, PhD, former Director of Demonstration Projects at the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, et. al, stated on May 5, 2006 in a technical paper titled "The Attack on Abstinence Education: Fact or Fallacy?" published by their organization:

"Abstinence education programs are based on the basic public health principle of primary prevention. They mirror other widely accepted youth-oriented programs that advocate risk avoidance strategies for drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Few, if any, public health professionals would argue against abstinence as the healthiest behavior for school-aged children. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the only sex education programs to have actually documented decreased teen pregnancy were abstinence-based programs."

May 5, 2006 - Kate Hendricks, MD, MPH&TM 
Patricia Thickstun, PhD 



The Heritage Foundation, a public-policy research organization, published the following information in Policy Social Welfare analyst Melissa G. Pardue's Dec. 2, 2004 article titled "Waxman Report Is Riddled with Errors and Inaccuracies":

"There are currently 10 evaluations showing the effectiveness of abstinence education in reducing teen sexual activity. Of these 10 evaluations, four were published in peer-reviewed journals.

Additionally, an April 2003 study published in Adolescent and Family Health found that increased abstinence was the major cause of declining birth and pregnancy rates among teen girls. This study found that increased abstinence accounted for 67 percent of the decline in pregnancy rate for teen girls ages 15 to 19. Similarly, 51 percent of the drop in the birth rate for single teen girls was attributed to abstinence. A similar study released in the August 2004 Journal of Adolescent Health attributes 53 percent of the decline in pregnancy rates for 15-17 year olds to decreased sexual activity, which was larger than the decline attributed to contraceptive use."

Dec. 2, 2004 - Heritage Foundation 



Concerned Women for America (CWA), a public policy women's organization, quoted Lanier Swann, CWA's Director of Government Relations, as having said the following in a Dec. 3, 2004 press release titled "The Truth About Abstinence-Only Education":

"What could be more solidly scientific than telling a child that abstinence is the only method that is 100 percent effective in protecting from pregnancy and specific sexually transmitted diseases? I see no blur there.

Apparently the ACLU needs to hire stronger fact-checkers before cranking out inaccurate press releases.... Under the stipulations from federal funding, abstinence education must be presented factually, not based solely on religious undertones, as the ACLU would have us believe. In fact, according to the Abstinence Clearinghouse, its exclusive purpose [is] teaching the social, psychological and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity."

Dec. 3, 2004 - Concerned Women for America (CWA) 



David N. Bass, a self-described "homeschool graduate turned political pundit," wrote in his Feb. 19, 2005 article "'Misunderestimating' Generation Next," published on the World Net Daily website:

"No one can deny that there is a concerted effort under way across the nation to discredit abstinence-until-marriage education as prudish, medically inaccurate, unscientific and hopelessly out of step with the times. Contraception-based programs, on the other hand, are heralded as a boon to teen-kind...

But our generation is not a lost cause, as hard as that notion may be for sex-ed profiteers to stomach. We have the ability to exercise self-discipline and to understand the physical and emotional blessings resulting from chastity before marriage and faithful monogamy afterward...

If you expect more of the younger generation, they'll give you more; if you expect less, they'll give you less. It's the responsibility of parents and educators to set high behavioral standards. Throwing money at programs that encourage children to cave in to every impulse won't accomplish anything; placing confidence in the next generation and actually setting standards that require an iota of self-responsibility will."

Feb. 19, 2005 - David N. Bass 



CON (no)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated in a Dec. 1, 2004 press release titled "What the Research Shows: Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Sex Education Does Not Protect Teenagers' Health":

"There is no conclusive evidence that abstinence-only sex education, which teaches students to abstain from sex until married and generally only teaches about contraceptive failure, reduces the rate of unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Moreover, research indicates that many of these programs do not help teens delay having sex...

On the other hand, evidence shows that comprehensive sexuality education programs that provide information about abstinence and contraception can help delay the start of sexual activity in teenagers and increase condom use among sexually active teens. Yet there is currently no federal program dedicated to supporting comprehensive sexuality education."

Dec. 1, 2004 - American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 



Arthur Caplan, PhD, Emanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in an October 13, 2005 commentary piece published by MSNBC.com titled "Abstinence-only Sex Ed Defies Common Sense" that:

"Eleven states have tried to evaluate their abstinence-only programs and the results have been dismal. In Kansas, the evaluators stated that 'no changes [were] noted in participants' actual or intended behavior.' Evaluators of the Texas program found the same thing - no change in the number of students pledging to remain celibate until marriage. In fact, more students reported having had sex after taking an abstinence-only sex ed course then they did beforehand.

The fact is that a teen has a pretty good chance of getting involved in sex before graduating from high school and a small chance of being involved in something other than consensual male-female sexual intercourse. In addition to there being no evidence that abstinence-only sex ed works, there is no reason to believe that this form of sex education is even on the same planet as those it is intended to reach...Science and common sense, not wishful thinking and hypocrisy, should guide what we teach kids about sex."

Oct. 13, 2005 - Arthur Caplan, PhD 



Peter Bearman, PhD, Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University and co-author of a study entitled "After the Promise: The STD Consequences of Adolescent Virginity Pledges," published in the Apr. 2005 issue of Journal of Adolescent Health, stated the following in his article:

"In 2001... we were able to show that taking virginity pledges delayed sex by about 18 months... Then, of course, many kids have sex whether they pledge or not, and pledgers [who broke their pledge and had sex] were much less likely than non-pledgers to use contraceptives. So the benefits of delaying sex wash out, because of enhanced risk. Kids likely do benefit from delaying sex. But from a public health point of view, the pledge doesn't reduce pregnancy or STD acquisition rates for adolescents.

Although pledgers have slightly fewer partners than non-pledgers [on average]... pledgers have STD rates that are statistically the same as non-pledgers. There are three reasons for that.

The first reason is, they are less likely to use condoms [when they first have sex]... Secondly, pledgers are less likely than non-pledgers to think they have an STD when they have one; they are less likely to see a doctor to get diagnosed for an STD; and they are less likely than non-pledgers to get treated for an STD that they do have. And then the third reason is that kids who took virginity pledges and remained virgins were more likely to engage in what we call 'substitutional sex.'"

June 21, 2005 - Peter S. Bearman, PhD 



Henry A. Waxman, Representative (D-CA), stated the following in his Dec. 2004 report "The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs," published by the US House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform - Special Investigations Division:

"[G]iven the scarcity of comprehensive sex education courses in schools across much of the United States, abstinence-only education programs may be the only formal reproductive health education that many children and adolescents receive... in the most comprehensive analysis of teen pregnancy prevention programs, researchers found that 'the few rigorous studies of abstinence-only curricula that have been completed to date do not show any overall effect on sexual behavior or contraceptive use.'"

Dec. 2004 - Henry A. Waxman, JD 



The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) wrote in its Jan. 2005 health information page "Abstinence-Only 'Sex' Education" (accessed on Jan. 9, 2009):

"Abstinence-only sexuality education doesn't work. There is little evidence that teens who participate in abstinence-only programs abstain from intercourse longer than others. It is known, however that when they do become sexually active, teens who received abstinence-only education often fail to use condoms or other contraceptives... Meanwhile, students in comprehensive sexuality education classes do not engage in sexual activity more often or earlier, but do use contraception and practice safer sex more consistently when they become sexually active...

Every reputable sexuality education organization in the U.S., as well as prominent health organizations including the American Medical Association, have denounced abstinence-only sexuality education."

Jan. 2005 - Planned Parenthood Federation of America