The New York Times reports that a study of middle-school students has “found for the first time that abstinence-only education helped to delay their sexual initiation.” Uh oh? The finding “is already beginning to shake up the longstanding debate over how best to prevent teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.”
Okay okay! Nobody panic! Keep reading.
“[T]he abstinence-only classes in the Jemmott study…unlike the federally supported abstinence programs now in use, did not advocate abstinence until marriage. The classes also did not portray sex negatively or suggest that condoms are ineffective, and contained only medically accurate information. [This] abstinence-only course was designed for the research, and is not in current use in schools.” [Emphasis added.]
Well, there you go. Look, the debate has never been about abstinence-only vs. “…and, for your homework, please have sex this afternoon.” It’s moralistic, inaccurate abstinence-only vs. comprehensive and realistic: please wait; if you don’t, please be responsible. Though there are those who will misrepresent this research as surely as they misrepresent the effectiveness of condoms, it’s actually yet another vote in our favor.
Update: This (PDF) just in from our heroes at Guttmacher: “While the evaluated program is the first abstinence-only intervention to demonstrate this positive impact in a randomized control trial, it was not a rigid ‘abstinence-only-until-marriage’ program of the type that, until this year, received significant federal funding. The evaluation, therefore, adds important new information to the question of “what works” in sex education, but it essentially leaves intact the significant body of evidence showing that abstinence-only- until-marriage programming that met previous federal guidelines is ineffective.”