1. Does abstinence education work? "The Waxman Report" by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), a long-time opponent of abstinence education, claims it is not effective. 1
There is plenty of evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of abstinence education. Several studies published in peer-reviewed journals found that students participating in abstinence programs are more likely to delay sex, to view abstinence more positively and to have an increased knowledge of the negative consequences of premarital sexual activity. 2
The Waxman report accuses abstinence programs of creating gender stereotypes and of teaching inaccurate information about contraceptives, abortion, and human reproduction. However, almost all of the "scientific errors" contained in the Waxman report were not errors but rather medically accurate facts that the report took out of context or distorted.
2. Why should the government fund abstinence education?
Practicing abstinence-until-marriage is the only 100 percent effective way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
Two studies indicate that abstinence has contributed to the decline in unwed teen birthrates. 3
3. Hasn't funding for abstinence programs increased in recent years?
Federal funding for abstinence has increased during the Bush Administration, but comprehensive sex education programs are vastly over-funded in comparison.
In 2002, abstinence-until-marriage programs received $144.1 million in federal and state government funding, while contraception sex-ed programs received $1.73 billion in 2002. In other words, government spent $12 to promote contraception for every dollar spent on abstinence education. 4 Abstinence-until-marriage programs received about $176.5 million in federal funding in 2006, but there is still a lack of parity between these programs.
4. What's the difference between abstinence education and comprehensive sex education?
Comprehensive sex-ed programs encourage contraceptive use, assuming that young people will be sexually active. The underlying message in these programs is that sexual activity is okay for teens as long as they use "protection." 5
Abstinence-until-marriage programs teach young people that abstaining from premarital sex is the expected standard and that "personal happiness, love and intimacy are most likely to occur within the commitment of a faithful marriage." (6) Abstinence programs teach relationship skills; goal setting; self-control; decision making; healthy personal and sexual boundaries; an understanding of sexual intimacy and human bonding; emotional and physical consequences of premarital sexual activity; and the benefits of saving sex for marriage.
5. Are teens open to the abstinence message, and can they successfully practice abstinence before marriage?
Teens view abstinence favorably. Almost all teens (94 percent) believe that teens should be given a strong message from society to abstain from sex until at least after high school. 7 Also, two-thirds of all sexually experienced teens said they wished they had waited longer to become sexually active. 8 Moreover, most teens think highly of virginity. In 2003, 73 percent of teens surveyed said they are not embarrassed to admit they are virgins. 9
Increasing numbers of high school students are practicing abstinence. The Centers for Disease Control reports that the percentage of teens who have had premarital sex declined during the 1990s. In 1991, 54 percent of teens said they had had sex, compared to 47 percent in 2003. 10 The decline was particularly notable among teen boys. In 1991, 57 percent of high school boys said they had had sex, compared to 48 percent in 2003. 11
Written by Bridget Maher, Family Research Council.
1 "The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs," Prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman, United States House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform – Minority Staff, Special Investigations Division, December 2004.
2 Robert Lerner, "Can Abstinence Programs Work? An Analysis of the Best Friends Program," Adolescent & Family Health 3 (2004): 185-192; Elaine A. Borawski, et al., "Effectiveness of Abstinence-only Intervention in Middle School Teens," American Journal of Health Behavior 29 (2005) 423-434; and Andrew S. Doniger, et al., "Impact Evaluation of the 'Not me, Not Now' Abstinence-Oriented, Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Communications Program, Monroe County," Journal of Health Communications (2001): 45-60.
3 Joanna K. Mohn and Lynne R. Tingle, et al., "An Analysis of the Causes of the Decline in Non-marital Birth and Pregnancy Rates for Teens from 1991 to 1995," Adolescent & Health 3 (2003): 39-47 and John Santelli, et al., "Can Changes in Sexual Behaviors Among High School Students Explain the Decline in Teen Pregnancy Rates in the 1990s?" Journal of Adolescent Health 35 (August 2004): 80-90.
4 Melissa G. Pardue, Robert E. Rector and Shannan Martin, "Government Spends $12 on Safe Sex and Contraceptives for Every $1 Spent on Abstinence," The Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder No. 1718, January 14, 2004.
5 Shannan Martin, et al., "Comprehensive Sex Education vs. Authentic Abstinence: A Study of Competing Curricula," The Heritage Foundation, 2004
7 National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, "With One Voice 2004: America's Adults and Teens Sound Off About Teen Pregnancy," December 2004.
9 National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, as cited in "With One Voice 2003: America's Adults and Teens Sound Off About Teen Pregnancy," December 2003.
10 Centers for Disease Control, National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, "
Trends in the Prevalence of Sexual Behaviors 1991-2003," available at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/pdfs/trends-sex.pdf.
11 Centers for Disease Control, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, Vol. 51 September 27, 2002 and Vol. 53, May 21, 204.
Other Research Articles on Abstinence Education
Parents & Teachers Matter!
Teen Sexual Abstinence and Academic Achievement by Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson PhD, The Heritage Foundation, August 2005
The Effectiveness of Abstinence Education Programs in Reducing Sexual Activity Among Youth, by Robert Rector, The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, April 2002