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Do you think abstinence-focused programs can work?

Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Read the full article.

By Jodi Westrick  |  February 2, 2010; 9:26 AM ET  | Category:  National Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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This is a skewed poll. One could think that other programs are more effective than abstinence programs, and still vote yes.

Posted by: Sentan | February 2, 2010 9:54 AM

It's funny how this question has little to do with sex education. It is more a tribal identification question and political tribes are what WaPo comments are all about.

The focus should be on abstinence. Somebody needs to clue young girls into the fact that they will get little of what they want from having sex with boys. That said, abstinence focused should not be abstinence only, which would be another question.

Posted by: edbyronadams | February 2, 2010 10:31 AM

Duh, there have been several studies and every single one of them shows that abstinence based sex ed works. Instead of that, the Post "diddles" around asking people if it works. Of course it woks. What are you going to do tomorrow, have a poll asking if the earth is flat? (Evidently, some of the reporters at you newspaper think so.)

Posted by: mibrooks27 | February 2, 2010 10:52 AM

The glaring problem with the study is that it doesn't report outcomes - ie, unwanted teenage pregnancies. Instead it talks about when teenagers have sex. So? There's nothing wrong with that. It's quite easy to believe that lying to our children about the alleged dangers of sexual behavior will get them to abstain. How is that a "success"? For what? A success for lying? Come on.

Posted by: christianh1 | February 2, 2010 11:27 AM

Yeah, right. Just like nobody cheats on their income tax. Kids have more access to everything and seem to mature much sooner. So, how long should they stay abstinent? Just like Kids don't smoke/drink until their old enough. A few of you need to pull your head of your arse. Perhaps you don't have kids/teenagers? And why is it only young girls? Better to prepare them on all the choices and not just one.

Posted by: larry40 | February 2, 2010 11:49 AM

"Somebody needs to clue young girls into the fact that they will get little of what they want from having sex with boys"

And what should we clue young boys onto? It takes 2 to tango.

Posted by: g_963 | February 2, 2010 12:01 PM

The evolutionary psychology of sex makes males want to spread their seed widely, indiscriminately even. Girls want intimate relationships and commitment for the prolonged effort required to raise a child.

Boys and girls are different. Training girls to keep their knees together just fits the psychology better. Viva la difference!

Posted by: edbyronadams | February 2, 2010 12:11 PM


Posted by: linda2tomlin | February 2, 2010 12:38 PM

I suggest that everyone go to the actual article and look at the data. It is horribly skewed and should not have been accepted by any reputable journal. SOMEHOW, the group of kids who got into the "safer sex" group had baseline demographics that indicated that they were MUCH MUCH more likely to engage in risky (unprotected) sex than any other group. So much that it is unlikely to have happened by chance (that is, the study was rigged). In fact, this is the STRONGEST conclusion that can be drawn from the paper. In the end, this extremely different group was equal to the abstinence group in safe sex practices (which is more important than abstinence as a criterion). I mean, give me a break, the group that was trained for abstinence was more abstinent -- DUH. But, pregnancy and STDs will track with unprotected sex, and that was ONLY equal in the end because the groups were deliberately (way beyond coincidence) skewed at the beginning. I sure hope we aren't going to base public policy on such a rigged study.

Posted by: DrJ2 | February 2, 2010 12:44 PM

This is not a poll. It is a readership survey.

It is testing how many Washington Post readers remain firm in their conviction that abstinence-only education, as it has been advanced in the US, is more a covert way to indoctrinate children to various religious beliefs, than a serious effort to address personal and societal problems by the best means available.

It is testing the firmness and depth of this conviction among Washington Post readers in the face of a front page headline now telling them abstinence education "works" -- something the headline did not say so crudely yesterday when there was no survey.

So vote away, but vote bearing in mind that what is at issue is not sex education but how far the Washington Post dares continue to pander to the right in their ongoing grab for increased readership.

Posted by: washpost29 | February 2, 2010 12:47 PM

Every time I see someone talking about evo psych on the internet, they're usually either misunderstanding it, or appropriating it to justify boorish behavior in males. Y'all have very low opinions of men, and the ability of men to restrain themselves.

As to the poll question, programs with a focus on abstinence can work. Most comprehensive sex-ed programs--that is, the ones that teach about birth control and safer sex--also teach that abstinence is the only surefire way to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies. The program in this recent study was NOT a traditional abstinence-only program, but what used to be called "abstinence plus" years ago, and it did not call for abstinence until marriage. The one class in the study that taught nothing about sex led to students having sex at nearly the same rate as the students who were not in the abstinence-focused class.

Posted by: dkp01 | February 2, 2010 12:47 PM

Think of sex as a new car. when you grow up its like getting a high end sports car then parking it in the garage for years.

Posted by: grogg1 | February 2, 2010 12:50 PM

It's not scientific, but one can't help having the gut feeling that abstinence programs are fighting a tough, uphill, ultimately doomed battle just by launching forth with such a weaselly latin-root term -- "abstinence" - completely foreign, if not downright antithetical to all known naturally arising American teenage vocabulary.

Posted by: washpost29 | February 2, 2010 1:02 PM

You don't "train" girls to "keep their knees together." Women and men of any age are not always able to make the right choice at the time but it doesn't mean they should be punished or not informed of their options beyond being a virgin.

Posted by: possumsleeper | February 2, 2010 1:27 PM

This study reminds me of the Reagans' "Just Say No to Drugs" program back in the 80s. Yeah, like that worked.

Instead of abstinence, how about some real old-fashioned sexual education, so that if you are going to engage in sexual activity you can protect yourself from STDs and pregnancy. How about condom use and going to visit a gynecologist so that you can find out what is the best method of birth control for you? Perhaps, if parents were more into parenting they would prepare their children in case the kids decided to have sex anyway. It sure would have helped Bristol Palin if her mom had taken an interest in what she and Levi were doing behind closed doors.

Posted by: missgrundy | February 2, 2010 1:43 PM

The question "can abstinence work" infers that our teens, and people in general are no more in control of sexual urges than DOGS IN HEAT. The movement called "pro-choice" is falsely named. We find that these folks do everything to silence anyone who would suggest that there ARE indeed choices other than abortion. Efforts to silence free speech and the practice of morality or ethics of any kind are despirate and shameless. They care only about forcing others to do thier will. One of the crazy irrational tactics is to warn of religious indoctrination. The far left are showing themselves as hateful control freaks. Unable to debate the merits of their position they resort to lies in order to silence free speech , freedom of ideas, and most of all CHOICE.

Posted by: luckystucki | February 2, 2010 1:59 PM

No contraceptive is foolproof (tho a lot of fools advocate their proof). Aside from getting an "operation"... the ONLY 100% foolproof way to avoid teen pregnancy/stds is abstinence.

How diseases (such as STDs)are spread is a matter of science, not religion. Teaching kids how to have safe sex WONT ensure they will have safe sex--- just like teaching kids how to drive safely WONT ensure they will. What teaching them safe sex WILL DO... is give them a "license" or more appropriately, a "learners permit" to have sex.

Teaching safe sex is like teaching safe driving. Plainly, if the high rates of fatal teen car accidents is any indicator of applying this "safety" education to the realm of sex, it's a bad idea.

Posted by: 123412 | February 2, 2010 2:10 PM

Abstinence should obviously be a part of the mix of preventing unwanted pregnancies. However, every valid study in this field so far has shown strong evidence that abstinence-only education did not work, does not work and will not work unless human beings fundamentally change.

Posted by: benswing | February 2, 2010 2:20 PM

Abstinence and Comprehensive sex education programs in public schools will have little affect on students whose own parents: cheat, shack up, have one night stands, have a stable of multiple sexual partners, expose their children to graphic sexual media, contract STD's through illicit sex, spread STD’s, use abortion as a form of contraception, and turn their back on the children they make.

Posted by: motherseton | February 2, 2010 3:08 PM

We should encourage abstinence. However the education shouldn't stop there, because abstinence only isn't realistic. We have to be truthful about presenting all the consequences of sex. We should educate about how to avoid the negative consequences like STDs, teen pregnancy, and the many negative emotional aspects that can follow. It is only when we are honest and realistic with ourselves that we can educate with authority.

Posted by: terabyte | February 2, 2010 3:18 PM

"Kids receiving abstinence instruction did not use condoms less often than other kids, a possibility that critics occasionally raise. They also showed slightly better knowledge about the prevention of sexually transmitted disease."

Posted by: cprferry | February 2, 2010 3:36 PM

@ MotherSeton...well said!

Many parents don't care if their children have sex at a young age, because they themselves want the "freedom" to play the field with different lovers, watch movies with graphic sex scenes and not be bothered with parenting b/c they are busy working or watching TV. "Those pesky kids always need attention!"

I completely agree that we need to teach young girls that they won't get what they want from having sex with boys. That is exactly why I wrote the article "Is Having Sex Before Marriage a Good Idea or Not?"

Posted by: gabrielamerola | February 2, 2010 3:50 PM

Is all the polling at WAPO so skewed? This is what we'd refer to as push polling if it were done for a campaign. First, you smear the opponent with innuendo, and then without smirking, ask a "fair" minded innocuous question.

The correct answer is "I don't know" which most people seem to have gotten wrong. You can't know whether such programs are effective because the heart of the question is scientific--it is not a matter of opinion. Sticking "Do you think" in front of it makes about as much sense as asking, "DO you think gravity is an effective force in America over the past 10 years?"

Let's count the biases in the informative summary leading up to the question.

1) "Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity"

Hey the answer most people selected was right there for us to read!

2) "researchers reported Monday in a landmark study"

Well, if researchers found it, who am I to disagree? And, hey, if it's being hailed by WAPO as being "landmark" it must be so. To be truly landmark, of course, a study would have to be not just the first of its kind, but would have be evaluated as such years after the body of supporting evidence has been established. Such unfounded hyperbole obvious seems to work.

3)" that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases"

Meaningless speculation and hyperbole--yes, it "could have", but you could just as easily stated that it could change sex education curriculums throughout the known universe--or that it might not have any implications at all.

So what's the point of this polling after all? Is it to just get more people involved in the discussion? To influence our thinking about this issue in a particular direction--seeing that so many have successfully internalized the introductory message? Again, I don't know.

Posted by: grillsalm | February 2, 2010 6:35 PM

Democrats and liberals are going to get their hats' handed to them over this in time. I use to be a Democrat and a liberal and let me tell you if it wasn't for the immoral racial hatred spewed by some Republicans in the past I would sign up as a Republican for life over this issue!

Posted by: RobertCurleyJacobs | February 3, 2010 12:07 AM

The problem comes with it being not only "the" focus, but an exclusionary focus. That doesn't work. It's what crazy religious types want to impose on the public schools though

Religious zealotry drives this issue more than common sense and reality do. If parents want to keep their children stupid about biology & human reproduction then they ought to send their children to a private school. I don't agree they have some 'right' to impose values I view as twisted & wrong on the general public.

Posted by: Nymous | February 3, 2010 12:11 AM

I am an Indian man who grew up his whole life here in the U.S. and I must say that abstinence needs to be taught. There is NOTHING kosher about sex before marriage. It leads teens down the wrong path and diminishes their self-worth. Growing up, all of the girls who had sex before marriage had problems at home and used sex as an escape. The males learned about sex through disgusting pornographic films that teach men how to objectify women and create an unrealistic view of sex. Teens in high school are not ready for sexual relationships unless bound by the union of marriage. No religion permits sex before marriage. Religion means mean to "go-back" (Re-ligare). Let's "go back" to being virtuous in this promiscuous society that bombards teens with so much sexual innuendo. It literally is wreaking mental anguish on our teens and young adults.

Posted by: shalshah | February 3, 2010 12:22 AM

abstinence rules, promiscuity drools

Posted by: RobertCurleyJacobs | February 3, 2010 12:27 AM

It's an interesting study. However, there were four different groups with four different methods, all of which had some affect. What the study didn't tell us is which method worked for each individual in each group. In other words, no method was 100 percent effective. To me, we should be instructing using all the methods available and not rely simply on abstinence only.

Posted by: DGSPAMMAIL | February 3, 2010 12:27 AM

Why ask for opinions when you already have the facts? Most studies indicate that abstenance-only programs have limited to no effectiveness. In addition we have the examples of Canada and Europe, which offer more extensive sex education classes and have a fraction of the teenage birth rate that this country has. So, why ask for opinions when you already have the facts? Those that answered yes to this poll are clearly wrong and are proven wrong by the numbers. Are we to devote taxpayer dollars, MY taxpayer dollars, to programs based on erroneous opinions? I certainly hope not.

Posted by: nyrunner101 | February 3, 2010 12:46 AM

Almost all traditional cutures practice abstinance based sex education and it has worked for thousands of years....Why do we think it is so modern to completely remove tradational sturctures surrounding impulse control surrounding sex and then we are surprised by the results we get....Our cuture is just so silly and imature about how we approach sexuality...Now having sex is treated like having a cup of coffee...the contiuous undermining of the significance of sexuality as a healthy part of a mature relationship has degraded it to a point now that it expresses nothing more now than the urge...silly...we think we are so modern...yet we are so wrong headed as a culture and spoiled... this is not sexual is sexual slavery...slavery to our most primitive impulses unencombered by traditional social restrictions that essential put into place healthy boundaries which were ment to support personal growth and social cohesion and stability....

Posted by: markcg2 | February 3, 2010 3:08 AM

washpost29, are you as stupid as your writing suggests?

Posted by: DCer1 | February 3, 2010 7:49 AM

Abstinence-focused programs can work a lot better if they are bolstered with good parenting, community leadership, and positive role models.

Alas, with the type of behavior that is presented (and glorified) by TV, movies, and pop culture in general, the abstinence advocates today are fighting an uphill battle.

Posted by: mwuagi | February 3, 2010 7:50 AM

This poll should have included the selection "partially". As in, for younger children, yes. For young adults, no.

Making this a black and white issue lends the debate to the inaccuracies of polarization. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.

I propose teaching abstinence until 6th-7th grade, after which you phase in safety and pregnancy prevention. This way, ALL available information is taught...which should be the goal of any educational system.

Posted by: trident420 | February 3, 2010 8:57 AM

"Most notably, the sessions encouraged children to delay sex until they are ready, not necessarily until married..." How can there be any proof of "when they are ready?" Maybe the some of the participants were "ready" in eighth grade. How can that be studied? And as for Mr. "No religion permits sex before marriage," who are you to push your beliefs or religion of any kind on someone else? What about that whole first amendment thing? And to everyone who things teenagers are going to be abstinent if taught to do so, when was the last time you were in a high school?

Posted by: keggen | February 3, 2010 9:15 AM

Instill it as an "attitude" not a program!!

Posted by: cmiller14701 | February 3, 2010 9:18 AM

When facts and science don't uphold the liberal position they resort to polling the ignoratii. Abstinence programs have been shown to provide better results then the alternatives but then you don't need condom distribution programs, safe sex seminars, gay sex for kids programs, if it feels good do it advocacy etc.

Hopium Dopium Nitwits

Posted by: JoeDBrown | February 3, 2010 9:19 AM

Young boys at 12 0r 13 really want to have sex. Now with the internet they can find lots of it on line. If they get the proper education they can experience it without the worry of aids or pregnancy. If they can't do it with a girl, they will do it with a friend and there is a likelihood of more homosexual experiences. Abstinence is a joke. Maybe it might work in Alabama or Utah but i've met a number of gay Mormons and southern boys who started real young.

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Posted by: ytrfyetityjytoeyhfjytug | February 3, 2010 9:42 AM

Worked for Bristol Palin, didn't it?

Posted by: Utahreb | February 3, 2010 9:47 AM

washpost29, are you as stupid as your writing suggests?
Posted by: DCer1 | February 3, 2010 7:49 AM


You are for assuming that everyone should think like you.

Posted by: camera_eye_11 | February 3, 2010 10:38 AM

I teach Health in middle school. I stress abstinence for decisions related to alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and sex. I suggest putting off getting into a serious relationship at all as a teen. They should go out in groups when they socialize instead of rushing into situations that most of them lack the emotional maturity to handle. Unfortunately, most of them ignore my advice. By the end of 8th grade, some of them are engaging in activities that are usually associated with college kids. Yet, they are still ignorant about the risks they are taking and how they could protect themselves.

Posted by: Aine | February 14, 2010 5:16 PM

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