A recent study by Mathematica Policy Research – a highly respected and fair group in education and social research released information about Abstinence only education. For those who want to blast them, Mathematica, a nonpartisan research firm, conducts policy research and surveys for federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector clients. The employee-owned company, with offices in Princeton, N.J., Washington, D.C., and Cambridge, Mass., has conducted some of the most important studies of education, health care, welfare, employment, nutrition, and early childhood policies and programs in the U.S. Mathematica strives to improve public well-being by bringing the highest standards of quality, objectivity, and excellence to bear on the provision of information collection and analysis to its clients.
The main findings:
The study found that youth in the four evaluated programs were no more likely than youth not in the programs to have abstained from sex in the four to six years after they began participating in the study. Youth in both groups who reported having had sex also had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same average age.
The programs had no effect on the sexual abstinence of youth.
This is to be expected. Young people have sex today, had sex yesterday and in the past, and guess what, they will have sex in the future regardless of any educational program. Having the goal of adolescents who do not engage in sexual activity, while laudable, is illusory. When I was a young teen, even though I was a minister’s son, sang in the choir – very much by coercion – participated in the youth group, and honestly had a concern for my morals and for my relationship with God, I still wanted to have sex, and probably would have been much happier had my success rate been higher than it was. The desire for a young person to explore in this area is rather natural, and what is actually unnatural about modern society is the expectation that this is not the norm. Is it positive that young people want to have sex, probably not, is the behavior going to change, probably not.
Among the other findings:
Contrary to concerns raised by some critics of federal funding for abstinence education, however, youth in the abstinence education programs were no more likely to have engaged in unprotected sex than youth who did not participate in the programs.
This is an odd case that the null hypothesis, I hope my doctoral professors are reading, being confirmed is signficant. The cry of many, and a concern of my own, was that the lack of information about birth control, combined with an unrealistic expectation of teens not doing what teens have always done, have sex, would lead to unprotected sex running rampant. It didn’t happen.
Targeting youth at young ages may not be sufficient. The findings from this study provide no evidence that abstinence programs implemented at these grades reduce sexual activity of youth during their high school years. However, the findings provide no information on the effects programs might have if they were implemented in high school or began at earlier ages but continued through high school.
The research implies that abstinance education may be more beneficial if it is started earlier in a child’s education. This would be disastrous from a policy standpoint. I have a feeling that if John and Jane Q. Citizen, really don’t want their kids to know that Heather has Two Mommies, they’ll be equally upset that their five and six year olds are having discussions about sexual intercourse. The reasons that both are inappropriate are not based on the moral views that homosexuality is inherently wrong, or that sexual education is not the domain of the public interest. It is based on the educational idea that children who are five or six do not have the cognitive ability to make any meaningful sense on such information. It is akin to giving a five year old a suitcase that weighs 100 lbs. and asking them to carry it. They can’t handle the load, and children are not meant to handle such information.
Peer support for abstinence erodes during adolescence. Peer support for abstinence is a significant predictor of later sexual activity.
Of all the findings this is in my opinion, and I do analyze policy in education regularly, the most important and statistically valid finding. Other research in attitudinal factors in education has consistently found the same trend, that as the age of the learner increases, the affirmation received from the child’s peers increases in its predictive value of any behavior. This is something that common sense also tells you to be valid.
Perhaps the best way to prevent rampant sexual behavior, and by that I mean irresponsible behavior, because kids will have sex, among adolescents is frank candid discussion about expectations and modelling of appropriate behavior by the adults in that child’s life. If you want to be serious about your youngster – boys or girls – being responsible in their sexual choices ask them these questions:
Do you wish to possibly live with the knowledge of causing or having an abortion?
Do you wish to possibly give up your college and social life by having to raise a child?
Do you wish to face the possibility of surrendering your child to another family with the likelihood you will never see that child again?
Do you wish to surrender that child to another family for adoption, knowing that adopted children have a much higher likelihood of developing issues such as attachment disorder, attention deficit disorder, problems in committment to relationships in later life, among a myriad of others.
If they answer no to these questions, they are not prepared to have sex, however much they may want it, and a reminder of the fallibility of birth control may not be a bad idea. Will they listen to you? Quite probably they won’t at some point, and will do what you didn’t want them to do. Welcome to the reality that you don’t parent a Stepford Child. Now all you can do is hope and pray they are smart enough to use birth control, and that it works.
For those who think Abstinence is a panacea, as well as those who think abstinence is a ridiculous idea, there is enough information here to make both of you rethink your positions. However, most will simply pick and choose items from this report to validate their own ideology. How typically insane.