A government-requested report released late last week shows that abstinence sex education programs failed to impact the sexual behaviors of participants. The report (PDF), which was contracted to Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. by the US Department of Health and Human Services, documents a multi-year, experimentally based impact study of 2,057 youth, 60 percent of whom were participating in one of four abstinence-only education programs in rural and urban areas of Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, and Mississippi. While the four programs varied slightly, each received Title V, Section 510 funding, which mandates that teachers instruct students that abstinence outside of marriage is the “expected standard,” that sex outside of marriage “is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects,” and that pre-marital sex “is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society.”
The study found that 49 percent of both Title V program participants and the control group — comprised of youth who were not offered the program services — remained abstinent. Within the past 12 months, 56 percent of program participants and 55 percent of the control group remained abstinent. What’s more, identical percentages of the program participants and the control group practiced protected sex: 23 percent always used a condom during sex, 17 percent sometimes used a condom, and 4 percent never used a condom in both groups. Program and control group participants also reported the same mean age of first intercourse (14.9 years) and almost the exact same number of sexual partners.
The US government has spent about $87.5 million annually on Title V, Section 510 abstinence-only sex education programs since 1998. Said James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth, of these policies, which are heavily supported by President Bush, “The tragedy is not simply the waste of taxpayer dollars, it is the damage done to the young people who have been on the receiving end of distorted, inaccurate information about condoms and birth control. We have been promoting ignorance in the era of AIDS, and that’s not just bad public health policy, it’s bad ethics.”