A US study published this week has found that abstinence-only sex education was significantly more effective than "safer sex" programs in delaying sexual activity.
"This is gold-standard research," said Ros Phillips, national research officer for FamilyVoice Australia. "It is randomised; it has a large sample; it has a valid control group; it followed up students over two years. Federal education minister Julia Gillard should take note: the program which taught the benefits of abstinence-only worked significantly better than other approaches in protecting students from the serious risks associated with sex at an early age."
The study by Jemmott et al, "Efficacy of a Theory-Based Abstinence-Only Intervention over 24 Months", was published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine on 1 February 2010.
The researchers studied 662 African-American students in grades 6 and 7 (about 12 years old), each of whom was randomly assigned to one of four different programs:
- 8 hours abstinence only
- 8 hours safer sex only
- 8 hours or 12 hours comprehensive – both abstinence and safer sex
- control group: 8 hours non-sex related health program
"The results were fairly dramatic," Ros Phillips said. "Over the next two years, one third (33%) of those who were taught abstinence-only began having sex – compared with over half (52%) of those taught safer sex. Forty nine percent of the control group, and 42% of the comprehensive group, began having sex during that time. Condom use was not affected by the abstinence program."
Mrs Phillips said she was particularly interested in the most successful program, because it appeared to be similar in its approach to a program she taught in SA high schools some years ago.
"When I talked to some SA education officials about my program, they appeared interested – but the programs currently used in most SA schools focus on so-called safe sex. They mention abstinence, but only in passing," she said. "I am not surprised to find that despite millions of dollars spent on these programs, the problems associated with early sexual activity – depression, disease and unwanted pregnancy – are not going away."
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