WASHINGTON Abstinence-only education programs
meant to teach children to avoid sex until marriage failed to
control their sexual behavior, according to a U.S. government
Teenagers who took part in the programs as elementary and
middle school students were just as likely to have sex as those
who did not take part in them, the survey found.
The report, ordered by Congress, was not released by the
Health and Human Services Department, but by activists and by
California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman's office. An HHS
spokeswoman did not answer a request for a comment.
The report revived the debate on government abstinence-only
education programs, which are strongly supported by the
administration of President George W. Bush.
"For both the program and control group youth, the reported
mean age at first intercourse was identical, 14.9 years," says
the report, available on the Internet here
Teens in both groups were just as likely to use condoms or
birth control, the report found -- countering the fears of
critics of abstinence-only education, who say children ignorant
of how to protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually
transmitted diseases will simply have more unprotected sex.
For the report, Christopher Trenholm and colleagues at
Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. interviewed more than 2,000
teenagers with an average age of 16 1/2. They lived in rural
and urban communities in Florida, Wisconsin, Mississippi and
About 1,200 of them had taken part in abstinence-only
education programs four to six years before.
"Over the last 12 months, 23 percent of both groups
reported having had sex and always using a condom; 17 percent
of both groups reported having had sex and only sometimes using
a condom; and 4 percent of both groups reported having had sex
and never using a condom," the researchers wrote.
"Program and control group youth also did not differ in the
number of partners with whom they had sex," they added.
About 25 percent in both groups had already had sex with
three or more partners.
"This data supports what a growing body of public health
evidence has indicated: Abstinence-only programs don't protect
teen health," said Waxman, chairman of the House of
Representatives Government Oversight Committee.
"In short, American taxpayers appear to have paid over one
billion federal dollars for programs that have no impact."
The report said the federal government has spent $87.5
million annually since 1998 for abstinence-only education
Activists said the findings showed that children need more
comprehensive education about abstinence, contraception and sex
"The vast majority of the public does not see abstinence
and contraception as an either/or proposition -- they want
teens to be informed of both," Sarah Brown, Executive Director
of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said in a
"We have been promoting ignorance in the era of AIDS, and
that's not just bad public health policy, its bad ethics,"
added James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth.
But proponents of abstinence-only education said the report
just suggested more such education is needed.
"To the contrary, the report specifically indicates that
programs should continue with changes where necessary to make
them more effective, particularly 'promoting support for
abstinence among peer networks' as an important feature." said
Dr. Gary Rose, president of The Medical Institute.