Why I doubt the abstinence-only sex ed study
I’m not an expert on scientific research but I question whether we should draw any big conclusions from a highly publicized research study on an abstinence-only program that is being touted as persuading young teens not to have sex.
The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, dominated headlines this week because it concluded that a specific kind of abstinence-only program had been more effective than other kinds of sex education.
But unlike some abstinence-only programs, the one that was used in the study did not encourage kids to have sex only after marriage or condemn condom use. In addition, the program tested was created for the study and is not used in schools.
The abstract of the study says that the outcomes were self-reported, meaning that the researchers took the word of middle and high school students about whether they had had sex or not. Surely many of the kids told the truth about whether or not they had sex. But all of them? I don't think so. We already know that self-reporting in other medical studies has proven to be a problem.
Take a study on the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control titled “Validity of Self-Reported Height, Weight, and Body Mass Index: Findings From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2001-2006.” That study determined that on average men overreport their height and their weight while women overreport their height but underreport their weight.
Let’s not forget about a study released last week showing data that teen pregnancy rates started rising during the years in which abstinence-only programs were the only sex ed programs being funded by the two successive Bush administrations.
The pregnancy rate among 15-to-19-year-olds increased 3 percent between 2005 and 2006 -- the first jump since 1990, according to an analysis of the most recent data collected by the federal government and the nation’s leading reproductive-health think tank. Experts blamed several factors for the rise, including the increase in abstinence-only programs. Maybe the experts were right about the causes and maybe they weren’t, but the data on teen pregnancy ecrtainly seems to indicate a continuing problem.
And late last year, a task force of independent experts reviewed an analysis of 83 studies of sex ed programs conducted between 1980 and 2007 and determined that: programs that encourage teens to delay sexual activity and teach them about contraception cut risky sexual behavior, increase condom use and lower the chances of getting the AIDS virus and other infections. The task force said, however, that there was insufficient evidence to know whether abstinence-only programs that encouraged teens to remain sexually inactive until marriage are effective.
Meanwhile research studies have shown for a long time that comprehensive sex ed targeted to specific populations can reduce risky behavior among teens, even those who are already sexual active.
I hesitate to jump to a conclusion about what works and what doesn’t on the basis of one study in which kids reported on their own sexual behavior.
Tell me why I’m wrong.
Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/
Follow all the Post’s Education news & blogs on our Facebook fan page, the "PostSchools" feed on Twitter or our Education home page at http://washingtonpost.com/education.
| February 3, 2010; 6:08 AM ET
Categories: Health | Tags: sex education
Save & Share: Previous: Alcohol, drug use: Colleges should tell parents
Next: College acceptances, test scores: a plea for privacy
Posted by: sanderling5 | February 3, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: gooch0001 | February 3, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: aed3 | February 3, 2010 10:18 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: zoniedude | February 4, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.