Abstinence ‘not effective’

First Published – 25 Apr 2008

$1.8b in funding but teen pregnancy, STD rates unchanged

WASHINGTON— Programmes teaching schoolchildren in the United States to abstain from sex have not cut teen pregnancies or sexually-transmitted diseases or delayed the age at which sex begins.

Health groups told US Congress this on Wednesday, reported Reuters.

The Bush administration, however, voiced continuing support for such programmes during a hearing before a House of Representatives panel.

This, even as many Democrats called to cut off federal money for so-called abstin e n c e – o n l y instruction, said Reuters.

“Vast sums of federal money continues to be directed to the programmes. In fact, evidence suggests some are even harmful and have negative consequences by not providing adequate information for sexually active teens,” the news service quoted Dr Margaret Blythe of the American Academy of Paediatrics as saying.

The programmes are supported by social conservatives who oppose the teaching of contraceptive methods to teenagers.

Reuters said the programmes had received about US$1.3 billion ($1.8 billion) in federal funds since the late 1990s. Seventeen of the 50 US states refuse to accept federal funds for such programmes.

Experts from the American Public Health Association and US Institute of Medicine testified that scientific studies have not found that abstinence-only teaching works to cut pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases or the age when sexual activity begins.

The American Psychological Association and American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have criticised the abstinence-only programmes. Dr Blythe said comprehensive sex education programmes should emphasise abstinence as the best way for a teenager to avoid pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease.

“Adolescents who choose to abstain from intercourse should obviously be encouraged and supported in their decisions by their families, peers and communities. But abstinence should not be the only strategy discussed,” she was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Lawmakers cited government statistics showing that one in four US teenage girls has a sexuallytransmitted disease and 30 per cent of American girls become pregnant before the age of 20.

Republicans said even if some abstinence-only programmes do not work, others do, and it would be wrong to end the funding.

Mr Charles Keckler of the US Department of Health and Human Services said the Bush administration believes abstinence education programmes send the healthiest message. Mr Stan Weed, director of the Utah-based Institute for Research and Evaluation, said research casts doubt on the effectiveness of comprehensive sex education programmes.