Your Health

Abstinence Message Gets Through To Teens

More talk can lead to less teenage sex.

A study that tested abstinence-focused sex ed against classes that featured other messages, including safer sex and better health, found that the advice to forgo sex stuck best.

About one-third of the sixth- and seventh-graders who took eight-hour abstinence classes had sex within two years compared with about half of the students in the other classes.

The results from the carefully designed study suggest that teaching the merits of abstinence as a way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases can work. "I think we've written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence," John B. Jemmott III, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania who led the study, told the Washington Post. "Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used."

The results appears in the current issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

The researchers say their findings shouldn't be generalized to every kind of class that encourages adolescents to delay having sex. The abstinence classes tested weren't "moralistic and did not criticize the use of condoms," wrote the researchers, who said the classes wouldn't meet the strict criteria for federal funding of abstinence programs. The study was paid for by the federal National Institute of Mental Health.

An accompanying editorial cautioned that public policy shouldn't be based on a single study. Still, the results, which the editorialists acknowledged might "be surprising to some," should become part of the base of scientific knowledge that informs government action.

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