Abstinence Only Until Marriage Programs

Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have gained popularity in recent years in large part because the federal government continues to sink over $170 million each year into such programs.  These programs have never been proven effective and often rely on fear, shame, and misinformation.  In addition, virginity pledges, a cornerstone of many of these programs, have been shown to be ineffective at best and possibly harmful. 


ANALYZING DEFINITIONS AND CURRICULA

As abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have gained popularity many new curricula and resources have been created.  A number of researchers and organizations have reviewed these materials and found that they rely on fear and shame, include medical inaccuracies, and are inconsistent in their definitions of abstinence.  In addition to the resources listed in this section, see  SIECUS’ reviews of some of the more popular abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula at www.communityactionkit.org/curricula_reviews.html

A Review of 21 Curricula for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs 

Source:  K.I. Wilson, et. al., “A review of 21 curricula for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs,” Journal of School Health 75(3): 90–98 (2005).

Description:  The researchers reviewed 21 curricula for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs used in middle school grades (fifth to eighth) or with middle school-aged audiences (ages 9–13). 

Key Findings: Abstinence materials were found to “vary considerably” in terms of overall quality.
The researchers suggested that many of these materials are better suited for “character education” than sexuality education.

To View this Resource:

This article may be obtained online for a fee.  For more information:

If you have difficulty finding this article, you may contact SIECUS at www.siecus.org/feedback.html.


Defining Abstinence: Views of Directors, Instructors, and Participants in Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in Texas

Source:  Patricia Goodson, et. al., “Defining abstinence: views of directors, instructors, and participants in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Texas,” Journal of School Health 73(3)(2005): 91-96.

Description:  The researchers evaluated how program directors, instructors, and teens in eight Texas abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs define the term “abstinence.”

Key Findings:

  • There was “substantial variability” in how the term “abstinence” was defined.
  • Researchers concluded that “…many of the programs awarded federal funding for abstinence education are not sex education programs.”

 

To View This Resource:  This article may be obtained online for a fee.  For more information:

 

If you have difficulty finding this article, you may contact SIECUS at www.siecus.org/feedback.html.


The Waxman Report

Source:Prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman, The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs (Washington, DC: United States House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform, Minority Staff, Special Investigations Division, 2004).

Description: This Congressional report prepared for Representative Henry Waxman (D-California) found that widely used federally funded abstinence-only curricula distort information, misrepresent the facts, and promote gender stereotypes.

Key Findings:

  • More than 80 percent of the abstinence-only curricula reviewed contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health.
  • The curricula reviewed misrepresent the effectiveness of contraceptives in preventing STDs and unintended pregnancy.
  • The curricula reviewed contain false information about the risks of abortion, blur religion and science, promote gender stereotypes, and contain basic scientific errors.

 

To View this Resource:  http://oversight.house.gov/investigations.asp


The GAO Report

Source:  Abstinence Education: Efforts to Assess the Accuracy and Effectiveness of Federally Funded Programs Report GAO-07-87 (Washington, D.C.:  Government Accountability Office, 2006).

Description:  In 2006, the Federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that government-approved evaluations of abstinence-only programs fail to follow scientific guidelines.

Key Findings:

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is not providing adequate oversight of federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. 
  • In particular, HHS is not reviewing material for scientific/medical accuracy nor is it requiring grantees to do so.  

 

To View this Resource: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0787.pdf


PROGRAM EVALUATIONS

There are no published studies in the professional literature that show that abstinence-only programs will result in young people delaying sexual intercourse.

 

Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy

Source:  Doug Kirby, Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy (Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001). 

Description: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy commissioned a review of programs considered effective at reducing teen pregnancy and/or STD rates among young people. Kirby gathered information on over 250 studies to identify the elements that made the programs effective.

Key Findings:

  •      Research on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs remains inconclusive.  

To View this Resource:   http://www.teenpregnancy.org/resources/data/pdf/emeranswsum.pdf


The Mathematica Report

Source:  The Evaluation of Abstinence Education Programs Funded Under Title V Section 510: Interim Report (Washington, D.C.: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., 2005).

Description:  Mathematica has been hired by the federal government to conduct an evaluation of programs funded under the Title V Welfare Reform funding stream.  Of the more than 700 federally funded abstinence-only programs, the interim evaluation looked at 11 programs, only four of which were evaluated for attitudinal impact. The other six programs evaluated are community-wide interventions and were reviewed for implementation and process analysis only. None was evaluated for behavioral impact.

Key Findings:

  • The interim report measured only the ability of the evaluated programs to “strengthen knowledge and attitudes supportive of abstinence” and whether they “induce[d] more youth to embrace abstinence from sexual activity as a personal goal.”
  • The interim evaluation found that while there was some support for the idea of abstinence, the programs had little impact on peer pressure and no impact on views of marriage, expectation to abstain, self-esteem, self-efficacy, self-control, refusal skills, or communication with parents.

 

To View this Resource:  http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/PDFs/evalabstinence.pdf


Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education: Assessing the Impact

Source:D. Hauser, Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education: Assessing the Impact (Washington D.C.: Advocates for Youth, 2004).

Description:  As of 2004, 11 states had made the results of evaluation of their state-wide abstinence-only-until-marriage programs available for review.   This review summarizes the results from state-wide evaluations in Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington.   

Key Findings:

  • No evaluation demonstrated any impact on reducing teens’ sexual behavior at follow-up (three to 17 months after the program ended).

 

To View this Resource:  http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/stateevaluations/index.htm


VIRGINITY PLEDGES

Although they were once the sole province of religious organizations, many secular groups and schools now host events where students sign “virginity pledges” as a way to promote pre-marital abstinence. Today, virginity pledges are also part of most abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula and programs. Research has found these pledges to be ineffective and potentially harmful.

Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and the Transition to First Intercourse

Source: Peter Bearman and Hanah Brückner, “Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and the Transition to First Intercourse,” American Journal of Sociology 106.4 (2001): 859-912.

Description:  Researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative study of students enrolled in grades 7–12 in 1995, to determine the impact of virginity pledges on young people’s sexual behavior.  

Key Findings:

  • Under certain conditions these pledges may help some adolescents delay sexual intercourse. When they work, pledges help this select group of adolescents delay the onset of sexual intercourse for an average of 18 months—far short of marriage.
  • 88% of young people who take virginity pledges have sexual intercourse before marriage.
  • Young people who took a pledge were one-third less likely to use contraception when they did become sexually active than their peers who had not pledged.
  • Pledges taken by entire classes were ineffective.

 

To View this Resource:  This article may be obtained online for a fee.  For more information:

  • See the American Journal of Sociology online at: www.journals.uchicago.edu/AJS/
  • Contact your local librarian.

 

If you have difficulty finding this article, you may contact SIECUS at
www.siecus.org/feedback.html.


After the promise: The STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges

Source: Peter Bearman and Hanah Brückner, “After the promise: The STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges,” Journal of Adolescent Health 36.4 (2005): 271-278.

Description:Researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative study of students enrolled in grades 7–12 in 1995, to determine how virginity pledges impacted the rates of sexually transmitted diseases among young people who took them.  

Key Findings:

  • Although some students who take pledges delay intercourse, ultimately they are equally as likely to contract an STD as their non-pledging peers.

 

To View this Resource:  This article may be obtained online for a fee.  For more information:

 

If you have difficulty finding this article, you may contact SIECUS at
www.siecus.org/feedback.html.


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