Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Is a Big Fail
U.S. programs and policies that promote abstinence-only sex ed are ineffective and don’t delay sexual activity or reduce risky sexual behaviors in young people, according to two reviews published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The reviews also suggest these programs, which urge young people to avoid sexual activity until marriage, violate adolescents’ rights, withhold medically accurate information, stigmatize or exclude many people, reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, and undermine public health programs.
Most health professionals who care for young people, including the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, reject abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in favor of comprehensive sex education. This type of sex education has been shown to have a favorable effect on several behaviors, including sexual initiation, number of sex partners, frequency of sexual activity, use of condoms and contraception, frequency of unprotected sexual activity, sexually transmitted diseases and infections, and pregnancy.
Abstinence-only programs have also had a detrimental effect on family planning and HIV prevention efforts in the United States and worldwide. From 2002 to 2014, the percentage of schools that required students to learn about human sexuality dropped from 67 percent to 48 percent, and HIV prevention requirements fell from 64 percent to 41 percent. In 1995, 81 percent of male adolescents and 87 percent of females reported having received formal education about birth control, but by 2013, these percentages had dropped to 55 percent of young men and 60 percent of young women.