regardless of their political leanings, favor
comprehensive sex education in schools over abstinence-only
programs, researchers reported Monday.
federal government champions the abstinence-only approach,
giving around $170 million each year to states and community
groups to teach just-say-no sex education. This
funding precludes mention of birth control and
condoms, unless it's to emphasize their failure rates.
point out that studies have failed to show that
abstinence-only education delays sex or lowers rates of teen
study, according to the authors, suggests that the federal
government is out of step not only with research but also
with public opinion. Of the nearly 1,110 U.S. adults
they surveyed, 82% supported programs that discuss
abstinence as well as other methods for preventing
pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Half were in
outright opposition to abstinence-only education.
self-described conservatives, 70% supported comprehensive
sex education, while 40% opposed the abstinence-only
"highlight a gap between policy, and science and public
opinion," said Amy Bleakley of the University of
Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who is lead author
of the new study. Whether this divide will influence
policy makers is unknown, she told Reuters Health. "We
just want to bring this to their attention," she said.
Bleakley and her
colleagues report the findings in the Archives of
Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
federal funding, abstinence-only programs must meet eight
criteria set in 1996. Among these is the stipulation that
abstinence until marriage be taught as the "expected
standard of human sexual activity."
Only a handful of
studies have examined the effectiveness of such
programs, and the results have been mixed, according to an
editorial published with the study. Many more studies
have looked at comprehensive sex education and found
that some programs do increase condom and
contraceptive use but may also help delay sex, writes
Douglas Kirby of ETR Associates in Scotts Valley,
Calif. ETR Associates is a nonprofit company that
researches and develops health programs, including STD and
pregnancy prevention programs for schools.
"Until we have
strong evidence that particular abstinence-only
programs are effective," Kirby argues, "we certainly should
relax the funding restrictions and fund programs
[including comprehensive programs] that effectively
delay sex among young people."
with that conclusion. But beyond the issue of balance in
funding, she said, is the fact that there is evidence
showing comprehensive sex education can help prevent
the potential consequences of teen
sex--including HIV and other STDs. (Reuters)