New Abstinence Study Fails to Acquit Religiously-Motivated Programs

In a landscape where “abstinence-only” sexual education programs are justly reviled as dangerously ineffective, a new study from Penn showing that one abstinence-only program successfully delayed sexual activity in teenagers will likely make waves. But partisans on both sides should note that the success of the analyzed program appears to have more to do with the program’s uniqueness than with a general failure to give abstinence-only programs credit. Specifically:

[The successful program] did not take a moralistic tone, as many abstinence programs do. Most notably, the sessions encouraged children to delay sex until they are ready, not necessarily until married; did not portray sex outside marriage as never appropriate; and did not disparage condoms.

Emphasis mine. The two bolded distinctions effectively distinguish the successful abstinence-only program from the majority of schlocky Christian programs, with their “purity balls” and “silver rings” —  the latter of which lost funding under the Bush administration for being too blatantly religious, even for them — and represent, rather, a third way between traditional abstinence-only and fully-informative sexual education.

The rational case against abstinence-only education — for reality ought know no party — has been built on a deep suspicion of the notion that programs premised on holding children to an arbitrary moral standard, and insulating them from all other information, will lead to informed, safe choices about sex. That conclusion remains undisturbed.


  1. But that’s not even an “abstinence-only” program, right?

  2. Well, it says they don’t condemn condoms, but it doesn’t say that they teach their usage. I agree that this version of abstinence only — “abstain until you don’t want to” — is pretty weak. It’s probably properly understood as “anti-peer pressure,” rather than pro-abstinence.

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