A study suggesting abstinence-only education courses do not curb teenage sexual activity has reignited the debate over such programs in the US.
Proponents of the abstinence approach argue the new study of teenagers at 29 high schools in President George W Bush’s home state of Texas is seriously flawed, as there appears to be no control group against which the impact of the course can be measured.
The study, led by Buzz Pruitt at Texas A&M University, shows a rise in teen sex after a group of ninth grade children – aged about 13 to 14 – underwent abstinence programmes.
But the US-based Abstinence Clearinghouse, which advocates such programmes, argues that comparing Pruitt’s results directly with data from the US National Youth Risk Behavior Study for 2003 shows the abstinence courses were in fact effective.
Pruitt says this is not the case. “The study shows these programmes do not delay the initiation of sex when compared with national data,” he asserts. But he adds that the fact that kids were more sexually active after the programme cannot be attributed to the programme either – they just got older.
Peter Bearman, a sociologist at Columbia University in New York, US, says the results fit in with previous work. “These kinds of programmes have never been shown to be effective,” he says. “This is consistent with almost every other study that has ever been done.”