The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is withholding the full results of a government study that makes a strong case for promoting abstinence before marriage over sexual education promoting “safe sex.” While the executive summary and final results are available, behavioral scientists are not being allowed a look at all the data behind the study’s major findings.
The HHS’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF) funded a national survey of 1,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 and their “most knowledgeable parent.” The objective of the study was to examine the relationship between parent attitudes and levels of communication with adolescents and their behavior, as well as the effect of peer attitudes.
The executive summary revealed that 70 percent of parents agreed with the statement: “It is against your values for your adolescents to have sexual intercourse before marriage.” Another 70 percent of parents agreed with the statement: “Having sexual intercourse is something only married people should do.”
The response of adolescents showed slightly more permissive attitudes, although the majority still agreed with the elder generation. Just over 60 percent agreed that “Having sexual intercourse is something only married people should do,” while just under 60 percent agreed that “It is against your values for your adolescents to have sexual intercourse before marriage.”
The key findings also showed that “attitudes” of parents and peers toward sexual intercourse were key in an adolescent’s choice to abstain from or engage in sexual intercourse. It found that “conservative parent attitudes were strongly associated with conservative adolescent attitudes.”
Notably, the study also found that increased levels of communication about sex actually had no impact or a negative impact on youth’s sexual attitudes. Specifically, it found that higher levels of parent to adolescent communication about sex “were not associated with any differences in adolescent attitudes.” Also, when communication about sex is greater among adolescent peers, the study found that these were associated with “less conservative adolescent attitudes.”
The study concluded that, while adolescents in abstinence classes increased parent-adolescent communication, these had “no influence on adolescent attitudes” – again indicating that parental attitudes were far more influential.
“Adjusting for all other factors in the model, parent and peer factors are more consistently associated with differences in adolescent attitudes about sex and abstinence than are measures of adolescent exposure to sex and abstinence topics in a class or program,” stated the American Public Health Association in its findings. “Additionally, parent attitudes are more important in influencing adolescent views than the level of parent communication with their adolescent.”
But the problem for behavioral researchers is that the Administration is not releasing the full study, which could offer insight into how to encourage teen abstinence in order to reduce teen pregnancy, out of wedlock births, and the epidemic of venereal disease.
Researcher Lisa Rue, Ph.D., a specialist in adolescent behavior, wrote an editorial in the Times Call revealing that the HHS had blocked her repeated requests for the full detailed study, including a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. According to Rue, the HHS said they would not release the full study because they were “pre-decisional and deliberative” – a claim Rue said she found hard to believe, since the study has been publically mentioned at least twice.
“We have to know cultural norms and values before we ever do any kind of research, or develop initiatives,” Rue said. “If you ignore that, you’re ignoring a premise, a key premise in evaluation science and research.”
Rue suspected the full details were being withheld because they would undermine the Obama administration’s priorities on sex education, which do not include sexual abstinence or address the issue of fatherlessness in children’s lives.
Rue concluded, “At this point in time, we must ask ourselves: Is this valuable process being suppressed by those who wish to repress American values in an effort to exert control over sex education offered in the United States?”
The National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) reports that individuals interested in requesting the study can file their own FOIA request for the full report. Those who wish to fill out such a request can visit the HHS website, or consult the NAEA website on how to file the form correctly.
Click here to read the available results of the HHS study.