Abstinence-only sex education programs that don't teach teens about safe sex are finally on their way out, after more than two decades of being funded by the federal government.
The Obama administration announced in its final budget proposal last week that they'll effectively shut down a $10 million per year federal sex education grant program for schools teaching abstinence-only programs, meaning that teens don't learn about contraception or how to protect themselves if they do choose to have sex.
Though abstinence-only education has been included in the Department for Health and Human Services' "Evidence-Based Programs" list for at least two decades, it's been proven that telling teens to not have sex as the only defense against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases doesn't work. In a 2007 study, researchers looked at the programs and found that they didn't change whether teenagers chose to have sex or not, Teen Vogue reports:
The study concluded, "At present, there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence, or reduces the number of sexual partners. In addition, there is strong evidence from multiple randomized trials demonstrating that some abstinence programs chosen for evaluation because they were believed to be promising actually had no impact on teen sexual behavior.".
Areas with abstinence-only programs actually tended to have higher teen pregnancy rates, according to another study of abstinence-only programs from 2011. "Abstinence-only education as a state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S., " the authors of that study wrote.
Not only does abstinence-only sex ed not seem to work, but programs that only teach abstinence can put teens at risk of pregnancy and S.T.D.s because the abstinence-only approach assumes that they don't need to learn about contraception. They're also contrary to what most Americans want their teens to be taught in schools: a combination of information about contraception, sexual health and abstinence, according to this 2004 study from NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard.
Empowering teenagers with knowledge about how to safely navigate sex if they choose to have it is a more realistic, responsible way to go about sex ed than pretending they won't have it before marriage. And if President Obama's cuts make it through the budget approval process, it will be a major step toward responsible, effective sex education.