A study released last week found that Minnesota’s abstinence-only sex education program is not effective in preventing or delaying adolescent sexual activity. The study, conducted by Professional Evaluation Services of Minneapolis and commissioned by the state health department, evaluated Minnesota’s $5 million “Education Now and Babies Later” (ENABL) program from 1998-2002. Though the study found that there was some increased parent-child communication about sex, the percentage of adolescents who said they were sexually active actually increased after one year in the program from 5.8 percent to 12.4 percent, as did the percentage of students who thought they would have sex before they finished high school, from 9.5 percent to 17 percent, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“Given how much money is being spent [on the program], it seems like a really weak intervention,” said Connie Schmitz, who headed the study for Professional Evaluation Services, according to the Star Tribune. She expressed her concern that students who are sexually active were not getting the information they needed to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The study recommended that Minnesota adopt a more comprehensive sex education program that would address contraception as well as abstinence. In fact, a survey of parents conducted in conjunction with the study found that most (78 percent) thought it was best to “both promote abstinence and teach about contraception.”
Douglas Kirby, an expert on sex education who completed a review of 250 published and unpublished studies on teen pregnancy, told the Star Tribune, “So far all of the programs that have been demonstrated to have a positive impact … have been comprehensive sex education that emphasize abstinence and talk about condoms and contraception and encourage their use for young people who are sexually active.” The federal government has funded a nationwide review of abstinence-only sex education programs that will be completed in 2005.
Comprehensive sex education advocates argued that the state was trying to bury the study by releasing it quietly over the holidays, despite the fact that the study was completed in June, according to the Star Tribune. However, state health officials said that the release was not intentionally delayed. The ENABL program receives both state and federal funding.