Sex education may reduce teen pregnancy without increasing the amount of sexual intercourse among teens, or the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases among them, according to new research.
"It is not harmful to teach teens about birth control in addition to abstinence," said study lead author Pamela Kohler, a program manager at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Which approach will postpone sexual experience? Instruction on birth control, or advice on how to say No. That’s the longstanding debate between sex educators and parents. The findings of a study analyzing the response from 1,719 teens, heterosexual and aged between 15 and 19, and the 2002 national survey, found that one in four teens received abstinence-only education, 9%—primarily those living in rural areas and the poor%—received no sex education at all, while the remaining two-thirds received comprehensive instruction with discussion of birth control.
Predictably, those teens receiving comprehensive sex education were 60% less likely to become pregnant or impregnating someone than those receiving no sex education at all. The one in four teens receiving abstinence-only education were 30% less likely to become pregnant than those receiving no sex education at all, although this number was dismissed as statistically insignificant by the researchers because so few teens fit the categories researchers analyzed.
The findings support comprehensive sex education, Kohler said. "There was no evidence to suggest that abstinence-only education decreased the likelihood of ever having sex or getting pregnant." Don Operario, Ph.D., a professor at Oxford University in England, said the study provides "further compelling evidence" about the value of comprehensive sex education and the "ineffectiveness" of the abstinence-only approach.
Still, the study does not show how educators should implement comprehensive sex education in the classroom, said Operario, who studies sex education. "We need a better understanding of the most effective ways of delivering this type of education in order to maximize audience comprehension and community acceptability."
The study appeared in the April, 2008 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.