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A new federally funded study of abstinence education programs shows that the programs do not prevent teens from becoming sexually active or affect condom use, The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer reports. The only tangible impact the programs have, according to the report, is reducing the number of sexual partners and the number of sexual encounters by young people who are already sexually active.
The report, conducted by researchers at Case Western Reserve University, is one of the first scientifically valid studies done on abstinence programs. It focused specifically on an Ohio-run abstinence program called For Keeps, which is offered to thousands of teens across the state.
Researchers surveyed 2,069 seventh- and eighth-graders in Cleveland, half of whom had participated in the For Keeps program. The study found no significant difference in the average age of sexual initiation between program participants and teens who did not receive abstinence instruction. There also was no difference detected in reported rates of condom use by sexually active teens in the two groups.
However, students who participated in the abstinence program reported fewer sexual partners and fewer sexual encounters several months after taking the classes.
Proponents of abstinence programs hailed the study's findings, saying it proves that abstinence education resonates with young people by helping them reduce the number of partners they have and how frequently they have sex if they're already sexually active. But opponents of comprehensive sex education--which includes abstinence instruction but also includes lessons on safer sex--say the study proves that abstinence programs do not keep young people from remaining virgins or to stop having sex if they've already become sexually active.
The full study appears in the American Journal of Health Behavior.