The New Abstinence Study

A landmark study on sex education draws a surprising conclusion. Well, you and I aren’t surprised, but the media and the educational establishments are. The study found that abstinence-based sex education works better than any other form of sex ed.

The study was undertaken by University of Pennsylvania professor John Jemmott III. Six hundred sixty-two young girls were randomly assigned to one of five groups, including a control group. Some kids were taught contraceptive-based “safe sex” education; others were taught to delay having sex; some girls were given a comprehensive message that included contraceptive information. Others were given general health messages about diet and exercise.

The result? Girls who received the abstinence-only message were far less likely to begin having sex than those given “safe sex” messages-33 percent to 52 percent-far less likely than any of the other categories. That’s a huge difference.

The response to the study-which made the front page of the Washington Post-was muted, to say the least. The Post headline said, “Abstinence programs might work”-as if its editors couldn’t quite believe their own story. Monica Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the very liberal Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., says the study indicates educators have a “new tool to add to our repertoire.”

Wait a minute. If abstinence training works so much better than anything else, shouldn’t they be throwing out all the other tools? After all, the new study doesn’t just reveal the success of abstinence-based programs; it also exposes the horrific failure of programs that simply focus on so-called “safe sex.”

The truth is-and this may shock you-many in the anti-abstinence crowd really don’t care if “safe sex” messages work or not. For these folks, sex ed has never been about the prevention of premarital sex, pregnancy, and disease. It’s about indoctrination into a Freudian worldview.

In Touchstone magazine, Patrick Fagan writes that the culture of the traditional family, based on life-long monogamy, is competing with another culture-one that is polyamorous in nature. “In the culture of monogamy,” he writes, “men are anchored in their families and tied to their children and wives, through the free and deliberate focus of their sexuality.”

By contrast, the culture of polyamory treasures sexual license. In fact, Fagan writes, any attempt to constrain sex “would be the antithesis of the main project of the culture of polyamory”-sexual relations when you want, with whomever you want.

That’s why the culture of polyamory attempts to control childhood education, sex education, and adolescent health programs. This control, Fagan warns, “enables the polyamory culture to reach into the traditional monogamy culture and gradually dismantle it.”

This is why-especially in light of the findings of this important new study-parents need to keep a close eye on what their kids are being taught. Better still, we should supplement those teachings at home with teachings that reflect the truth-that sexuality is designed not to be thrown away on one partner after another, but to nurture a deep and abiding bond between husband and wife.

And teaching this works.

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  • jpckcmo

    Advocates of comprehensive sex education are also praising the study, for example the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Other important aspects of the classes were that sex was not portrayed negatively, did not suggest that condoms are ineffective, and contained medically accurate information. I think everyone will welcome the right combination of factors to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and delay sex in teenagers. This is good news.

  • Terri Kimmel


    There is no such thing as “comprehensive sex education”. Abstinence and so-called safe-sex doctrines are mutually exclusive.

    The ugly truth is that having sex outside of a relationship with life-long committment (i.e. within marriage) is intrisically chaotic. The Church does not portray sex as negative (to the contrary!), it tells the truth about the inefficacy of condoms and the spiritual/emotional/moral poison of contraception and it supports and promotes good science.

    We need to stop abdicated to the irresponsible default of promiscuity education and teach kids (and adults) the truth. Sex outside of convenantal marriage is always destructive and creates a chaos that cannot be controlled.

  • jpckcmo

    If the combination of comprehensive sex education and abstinence education works, it should be used. The imposition of a particular moral code is fine for the Catholic schools, but in public education the Catholic view of contraception has no place. That’s why you have a choice to send your children to a school which promotes the tenets of your faith, and I have the choice to send my children to public schools and receive a comprehensive and effective view. I have no objection to abstinence being promoted, as long as the other components, which apparently add to its effectiveness, are included. Can’t we be glad together that this study shows progress in this area?

  • I have difficulty with the statement “in public education the Catholic view of contraception has no place”. Who are you to exclude Catholics from the public square? Last time I checked, we paid taxes for the public schools as well, and are “double taxed” when we send our children to Catholic schools. Our voice has a right to be heard, yes, even in the public schools.

    As stated by the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, truly “comprehensive” and healthy sex education teaches students that sexuality is integral to their whole well being – physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. It teaches that saving sexual activity for marriage is the surest way to express that totality, to ensure that children will grow up in a stable environment,and to avoid harm. It teaches that trust, fidelity, and friendship are fostered best when individuals exercise responsibility and self-control. The most effective sex education requires the involvement of parents, not their replacement.

    How is such a message inimical to the public schools? Such a message is the truth. Actually, the public schools taught such a message before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Is there now a law that the public schools are forbidden to teach the truth?

  • GaryT

    The truth of abstinence is not uniquely Catholic at all. It is just Truth.
    There are several excellent reasons why abstinence is superior:
    1. Health – abstinence is the only certain way to avoid STDs – which affects 25% of girls by the age of 18!
    2. We know from many studies that children born into a marriage are much better off than otherwise. Since no form of contraception is 100%, this leaves every act outside of marriage as risking the procreation of a child who will be in a disadvantaged position. This disadvantaged starting point is the fault of the parents (and there is no possibility of a government bailout for these kids). The only sure way to give kids a fair chance is to bring them into the world with 2 committed, married parents.
    3. Medical studies show that sex has other emotional effects that cannot be contracepted.

    Sex outside of marriage comes with risks and fears. Thus the quest for “safe sex”. Within a marriage open to children, the marital act is all good with no downsides at all!

    Even if people are willing to accept the concequences themselves (assuming that they are emotionally and financially capable of doing so which is often not the case), they have no right to place their consequences on others, namely their own children.

  • jpckcmo

    The problem is that it doesn’t work. You can claim you know the “Truth,” but the problem is that the facts don’t uphold your thesis. Abstinence only teaching doesn’t make the grade. In conjunction with comprehensive sex education it does. Let’s admit that both sides have a positive influence on this problem. I’m willing to admit that, why aren’t you?