According to a new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Christian-based “abstinence only” programs designed to prevent teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases mostly fail to stop young people from having sex.
The programs advocate that heterosexual marriage should be the only setting for sex between two people, but according to the study’s co-author Laura Linberg, the programs are “not just unrealistic, but it leaves our young people without the information and skills that they need.”
“We fail our young people when we don’t provide them with complete and medically accurate information,” she said, according to NPR.
The analysis confirms previous public health findings that abstinence-only education programs don’t succeed in reducing rates of teen pregnancies or STDs. Moreover, public health data indicate that such programs “have little demonstrated efficacy in helping adolescents to delay intercourse,” the authors write.
When American teens do begin having sex, they may fail to use condoms or other forms of contraception, unlike their peers in other countries who have routine access to contraceptive education and counseling, the report suggests.
Lindberg, who is a research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, says telling young people that abstinence is the only option before marriage “violates medical ethics and harms young people” because it prevents them from learning vital information about pregnancy and STD prevention while at the same time over-exaggerate the risk of contraception failure.
According to a 2004 report prepared for House Democrats, language used in abstinence-based curricula often reinforces “gender stereotypes about female passivity and male aggressiveness” — attitudes that often correlate with harmful outcomes including domestic violence, the report notes.
The new analysis argues there’s another reason that abstinence until marriage is increasingly unrealistic: Americans are marrying later, on average, and some are not marrying at all, but they’re not waiting longer to begin having sex. The average age for initiating sexual activity has remained around 17 or 18 since the early 1990s. The net effect, the report concludes, is a substantial increase in premarital sex.
In his last year as president, Barack Obama’s 2017 budget proposal removed a $10 million annual grant that went toward funding the programs in public schools, aiming to end the financial incentive for states to continue teaching the now-debunked form of sexual education.
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