Abstinence Education: Assessing the Evidence

Heritage Foundation – Christine Kim and Robert E. Rector   April 22 2008

Early sexual activity is associated with an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), reduced psychological and emotional well-being, lower academic achievement, teen pregnancy, and out-of-wedlock childbearing.

Abstinence education “teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school age children” and stresses the social, psychological, and health benefits of absti­nence. Abstinence programs also provide youths with valuable life and decision-making skills that lay the foundation for personal responsibility and developing healthy relationships and marriages later in life. These programs emphasize preparing young people for future-oriented goals.

The Evidence. Studies have shown that absti­nent teens report, on average, better psychological well-being and higher academic achievement than those who are sexually active. Delaying the initia­tion of or reducing early sexual activity among teens can decrease their overall exposure to risks of unwed childbearing, STDs, and psycho-emotional harm. Authentic abstinence programs are therefore crucial to efforts aimed at reducing unwed child­bearing and improving youth well-being.

The Current Environment. Today’s young peo­ple face strong peer pressure to engage in risky behavior and must navigate media and popular cul­ture that endorse and even glamorize permissive­ness and casual sex. Alarmingly, the government implicitly supports these messages by spending over $1 billion each year to promote contraception and safe-sex education—at least 12 times what it spends on abstinence education. Although 80 percent of parents want schools to teach youths to abstain from sexual activity until they are in a committed adult romantic relationship nearing marriage—the core message of abstinence education—these parental values are rarely com­municated in the classroom.

Conclusion. Teen sexual activity is costly, not just for teens, but also for society. Teens who engage in sexual activity risk a host of negative outcomes including STD infection, emotional and psycholog­ical harm, and out-of-wedlock childbearing.
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