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congress ordered study on abstinence programs backfires
April 13, 2007 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Mathematica Policy Research Inc. released the findings of their study on government funded abstinence programs. The results? Not so great for the abstinence programs, or the federal & state governments which combined spend $80+ million funding the programs. The major findings were that the abstinence programs they studied had no correlation with a decreased level of sexual activity in the population of teens they surveyed. Interestingly, one of the programs they studied was a voluntary after school program consisting of daily 2.5 hour sessions with enrollment beginning at grade 3 and continuing into the 8th grade, and even that program didn't produce a significantly higher number of abstinent teens. The study was ordered by Congress. You can read the full study here (pdf, 164 pages.)
posted by nerdcore (61 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
one of the programs they studied was a voluntary after school program consisting of daily 2.5 hour sessions with enrollment beginning at grade 3 and continuing into the 8th grade

2 and a half hours a day for five years!? Jesus christ.

(Voluntary? Somehow I don't think the kids were the ones who 'volunteered' for it)
posted by delmoi at 2:51 PM on April 13, 2007




I don't suppose they measured rates of pregnancy and/or STIs among the groups they studied as well? I mean, sure they might be having just as much sex as people who didn't go through the programs, but are they having safer or better sex? Seems to be a more important thing to measure to me since that's exactly the kinda thing the abstinence programs are trying to prevent. (As long as you ignore the whole morality thing anyway...)
posted by public at 2:54 PM on April 13, 2007


Abstinence only works if people actually abstain! Obviously its time to bring back chastity belts.
posted by wfrgms at 2:55 PM on April 13, 2007


Peer support for abstinence erodes during adolescence

You think?

Here are links to the programs studied.

My Choice, My Future
Recapturing the Vision
Families United to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
site I could locate.
posted by Miko at 2:57 PM on April 13, 2007


Table 5 is interesting -- it shows that a statistically significant (though not huge) effect of abstinence education is to change students' responses from "Condoms usually prevent HIV" to "Condoms never prevent HIV." And similarly for gonorrhea, chlamydia, etc.
posted by escabeche at 2:58 PM on April 13, 2007


public:

Contrary to concerns raised by some critics of federal funding for abstinence education, however, youth in the abstinence education programs were no more likely to have engaged in unprotected sex than youth who did not participate in the programs.
posted by Miko at 2:59 PM on April 13, 2007


Bush Seeks Money for Abstinence Education.

In other news, abstinent seek money for bush education.
posted by Mister_A at 3:00 PM on April 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


congress ordered study on abstinence programs backfires

The study didn't backfire, it just showed that the programs were a huge waste of money. And it's still not as big a waste of money as the 1.4 billion dollars spent on anti-drug ads that made kids more likely to do drugs.
posted by amarynth at 3:01 PM on April 13, 2007


amarynth, your link does not support your thesis.
posted by Mister_A at 3:05 PM on April 13, 2007


By the way, I take issue with the title on this post. The study didn't backfire; it did exactly what studies are supposed to do. I presume that members of Congress who want to stop unmarried people from having sex want to know how to stop unmarried people from having sex.
posted by escabeche at 3:06 PM on April 13, 2007


I think it really doesn't matter if the program works or not.

As we are coming to see with many of the Right-Wing/Republican programs their point is not to achieve anything other than help Republicans win elections.

The message to the voters is: Do you support us and modest sexuality, or our oppenents who encourage rampant teenage promiscuity.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 3:08 PM on April 13, 2007 [4 favorites]


I presume that members of Congress who want to stop unmarried people from having sex want to know how to stop unmarried people from having sex.

lol
posted by DU at 3:14 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


This ptetty much mirrors a heavily endorsed policy of abstaining from drugs: D.A.R.E.--it failures are hushed because too many people have jobs and money because of this program.
posted by Postroad at 3:14 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is something rational human beings have known about for awhile. Abstinence education, independent of HIV infection rates, fails miserably. This is statistical fact. Education about birth control has been statistically demonstrated to work successfully to reduce pregnancy, HIV and other STD rates in Africa and SE Asia. This is just more confirmation of what we already know.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:15 PM on April 13, 2007


public writes "I don't suppose they measured rates of pregnancy and/or STIs among the groups they studied as well?"

Why would you not suppose that?

It's in table IV.3. There's no statistically significant difference.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:15 PM on April 13, 2007


Oi! These are faith-based initiatives, judging them on evidence is completely unfair.
posted by Artw at 3:17 PM on April 13, 2007 [9 favorites]


Also, abstinence is not even 100% effective, according to Christian religious teachings. So why bother?
posted by Mister_A at 3:23 PM on April 13, 2007 [15 favorites]


I can't install the Adobe PDF reader on this computer or I would've gone looking my self. God damn domain policies. Thanks for pointing that out.
posted by public at 3:24 PM on April 13, 2007


Obviously the program needs a better name. I suggest "The War on Premarital Sex". That should help.

Daily 2.5 hour sessions? What a waste of time! They could be learning valuable math or other skills. "And that, class, is how you put on a condom without using your hands."
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:28 PM on April 13, 2007


Ah.

What is hubris?
Fighting against millions of years of evolution.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 3:30 PM on April 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


I can't install the Adobe PDF reader on this computer or I would've gone looking my self. God damn domain policies. Thanks for pointing that out.

If we only had safe computing education courses and could teach how to use a software condom we wouldn't have to resort to these draconian domain software installation abstinence only policies. But no, you wild kids can't control your PDF wantin' urges!

Re the study: *gasp* *shock* 2,000 year old belief system not valid for wrangling the desires of millions of years of ingrained evolutionary desire to bump and grind some of our funnest bits together? Well, this certainly puts a damper on the educational plans for MY children.
posted by smallerdemon at 3:43 PM on April 13, 2007


Yay for Science!!!
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:44 PM on April 13, 2007


This ptetty much mirrors a heavily endorsed policy of abstaining from drugs: D.A.R.E.--it failures are hushed because too many people have jobs and money because of this program.

Good intentions -> concentrations of capital -> intractable bureaucracies -> falsified results -> ?
posted by Flem Snopes at 3:46 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


"The message to the voters is: Do you support us and modest sexuality, or our oppenents who encourage rampant teenage promiscuity."

I think he has a point. That's a big reason why I was really pissed off when Gavin Newsom started the whole gay marriage legalization thing in San Francisco in early 2004. One of my biggest fears came true - the extra conservative homophobic religious wingnuts came out of the woodwork and voted for George Bush en masse.

Had we been able to keep sex out of politics (and politics out of sex!) we might not be looking at Bush in the damn White House right now.
posted by drstein at 3:55 PM on April 13, 2007


Good intentions -> concentrations of capital -> intractable bureaucracies -> falsified results ->
Good intentions? Try this:

Good intentions->prohibition(Amendment19)->massive organized crime->massive number of treasury agents->end of prohibition->massive number of useless treasury agents->new prohibition to provide excuse for the useless->...
posted by hexatron at 3:59 PM on April 13, 2007


Newsflash: Government spends huge amounts of money telling kids they don't want to do something, runs study to find out success rate, discovers that, despite warnings, kids actually like doing it anyway.

Drugs, sex, whatever. These people never learn. Just tell the kids how to do whatever it is safely. Because no matter what you tell them, they are going to do it anyway.

Just exactly as it has always been.
posted by quin at 4:14 PM on April 13, 2007


according to the NPR story about this an hour or so ago, the finding didn't deter abstinence only supporters from claiming the study was flawed, and already out of date. Which sounds a lot like the rhetoric surrounding the current war, "just give us more time and money and believe in us, we'll make it work, I promise!"
I just wish people where held accountable for their "promises". Didn't work? Fine, but now you owe us 1.3 Billion in re-compensation.
posted by edgeways at 4:24 PM on April 13, 2007


flem snopes:
Good intentions -> concentrations of capital -> intractable bureaucracies -> falsified results -> ?


The last step is, of course, profit.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:28 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


2 and a half hours a day for five years!? Jesus christ.

That much talk about abstinence would make anybody horny.
posted by jonmc at 4:34 PM on April 13, 2007 [5 favorites]


Sounds like it's about time I took this abstinence pledge.
posted by washburn at 4:40 PM on April 13, 2007


Maybe we can fight the war on terror by getting Al-Qaeda to sign abstinence from terror pledges. In other words, let's combine all of Bush's good ideas into one.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:42 PM on April 13, 2007


dances, they'd just do us up the bunghole, that technically isn't sex, according to the horny teenage progeny of the religious right
posted by maxwelton at 4:54 PM on April 13, 2007


Sure, these numbers may look bad to you filthy heathen leftists, but theres really only one number that counts: how many young souls have been saved from the fires of hell?

Thats what abstinence education is really all about.
posted by Avenger at 5:11 PM on April 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I would like more info about this 2.5 hrs a day for five years class. I really really hope they weren't just talking about abstinence all the time? I'd rather if it was a general religous class! 2.5 hrs after school is an era 5th graders! I guess most kids probably got their parents to stop sending them there after a couple months.
posted by Firas at 5:22 PM on April 13, 2007


Am I the only one thinking 2.5h day for 5 year isn't education, nor useful repetition, but indoctrination ?
posted by elpapacito at 5:31 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Make that: $87.5 million per year - on a program that's been going for ten years. Meanwhile the National Institutes of Health continues to suffer budget cuts. After all, you wouldn't want actual scientists working on public health issues, when you could just pay some dude in a church basement to louse it up instead.
posted by drmarcj at 5:41 PM on April 13, 2007


Vowing not to have sex in high school makes it almost certain that you will have sex in high school?

Man, I had it all backward as a teenager!
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:48 PM on April 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


You mean some bullshit moral handwaving couldn't override millions of years of evolution that tells teenagers to fuck? Indeed, evolution that makes it quite clear to teenagers that every fiber of their being exists for the sole purpose of fucking?

You mean on a planet with $6 billion humans, a abstinence only sex ed. didn't really stop people from fucking?

Wow, I am truly shocked! Shocked, I tell you.

Your kids are going to fuck. Just like you did. And your grandparents. And theirs. etc, etc, extending back billions of years.

That any one would find this shocking is a testament to how deluded human beings can be.

Kids don't need a book or a teacher to learn how to fuck each other -- once puberty kicks in, essentially every human will figure it out. However, birth control and STD prevention and the social consequences fucking are NOT instinct.

But hey, I'm the asshole and heretic and moral pervert for thinking teenagers deserve and education about sex.
posted by teece at 6:14 PM on April 13, 2007


Yeah, I would like more info about this 2.5 hrs a day for five years class

you can get cramps from crossing your legs that long
posted by pyramid termite at 6:18 PM on April 13, 2007


An anecdoatal data point: the part of New Mexico I grew up in is culturally West Texas and part of the Bible belt. In my hometown of 12,000 people, there were more Baptist, Church of Christ, and similar churches than I can recall. Every few blocks, scattered throughout the town. Senior prom at the high school was contentious because of the dancing. And yet these two counties, during my childhood 25 years ago and still today, lead the state in teen pregnancy.

I lost my virginity at 15, the rest of my friends when they were slightly older. A girl I knew well had four abortions while we were still in school. Preachers' kids were notoriously the most wild.

The cultural conservative doctrine doesn't work. Hell, I mentioned in another thread that I didn't use any drugs even though I had nothing against them. Partly it was because the way I was raised, there was no rebellion value in using them. The only thing I did that my parents deeply disapproved of was skipping school and nearly flunking out. Mostly, though, they raised me to be responsible for myself and think about the things I did. And while I was a wild teenager in many respects, I was a wild mindfully, most of the time. There was something a lot different from me and the kids I knew who were raised with strict religious cultural conservatism. Those kids had no clue, they were transgressive on impulse.

I won't claim I was responsible when having sex as a teenager, because I wasn't. I certainly knew better because I was well aware that I, myself, was a "mistake" born to parents just out of high school. If I'd had regular sex with a girlfriend in high school, which I didn't, I'm sure I would have used birth control. The sex I did have was, um, spontaneous. And there's one girl from another town that I've never known her name that I still worry that I may have gotten pregnant. So I'm no saint.

But the point here is that I've been around these Christian kids and this dogma doesn't work on 90% of them. If anything, it makes them more irresponsible rather than less. It doesn't prepare them for real life. It makes everything simplistic when it really isn't.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:25 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


You mean on a planet with $6 billion humans, a abstinence only sex ed. didn't really stop people from fucking?

We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first asexual teenager.
posted by BaxterG4 at 7:31 PM on April 13, 2007


Meanwhile at the World Bank, Wolfowitz hasn't just been helping his girlfriend--... The original strategy also deals with abortion, the use of condoms and sexual education, all troubling issues for conservative U.S. politicians and their constituents in the extreme Christian right -- a base of support for the George W. Bush administration whose influence led to Wolfowitz's appointment in the first place.

"This deletion marks a dramatic departure from the priorities set out in the existing HNP Strategy, which focuses heavily on family planning and cites high fertility as one of four primary health challenges," said GAP in its statement.

The new 197-page proposed strategy, seen by IPS, fails to emphasize family planning or contraception, as originally mentioned. ...

posted by amberglow at 7:32 PM on April 13, 2007


You mean on a planet with $6 billion humans

Jesus ... fuck .. inflation at work. In the '70's it was a measly $6 Million Man.
posted by ericb at 7:38 PM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ethereal Bligh, I agree that browbeating values into people doesn't work, but I think it has a lot to do with whether the values themselves have a point to them! I think it's mostly because the only rules you're going to respect are ones that make sense to you from internal rationality, and 'conservative values' (which always have a tendency to get wrapped up in religion) like 'don't have sex' or 'don't do harmless drugs' just fall apart upon examination.

I say this in contrast to something like 'don't regularly smoke' or 'don't get particularly into the more fucked-up drugs', which people like me who'll never be held back by 'religious restrictions' decide to adhere choose because it makes sense, internally. A bit like 'don't drink cyanide', ya know?
posted by Firas at 7:39 PM on April 13, 2007


Blank's Virgin: The Untouched History has a really erudite section in the last chapter about these topics. I'm pretty sure at least one section heading is "True Love Legislates".

Note: This isn't a self-link, but I am Blank's partner/sweetie/spouse/etc. The reason I can't give exact info is that I'm travelling and without a copy of the book.
posted by kalessin at 8:31 PM on April 13, 2007


There's a giant billboard for abstinence next to my local grocery store and it always irritates the hell out of me. Sure, a ghetto full of teenage mothers is a great place to advertise that perhaps you shouldn't have sex. Idiots. Of course, Providence is so Catholic that putting condoms in schools is about as likely as, well, the ol' snowball in hell.

On a personal note, I went through this weirdo Fundamentalist Christian phase in middle school to try and get my crazy Jew-For-Jesus father to like me (it didn't work) and during that time, I joined True Love Waits.

I lost my virginity at fifteen. True Love apparently didn't wait very long.

As for the claims of promiscuity, I've only had sex with a grand total of three people, so the claims that once you start having sex you're on a one way path to teenage pregnancy, AIDS, and Satanic possession are clearly overblown. At worst, I'm only possessed by a very small demon.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:20 PM on April 13, 2007


As a footnote, I would venture that the reason that most of these abstinence programs don't work is that they don't offer any sort of follow-up. It's just "Don't Have Sex, Or Else." There's no offer for support for teenagers who are considering having sex other than "Don't do it." And for teenagers who have already had sex, they're just completely ostracized from their peer group (or at least, that was my experience) which is hardly an incentive to get back on the wagon.

If they could find some sort of "Try not to have sex, but if you do, wear a condom and then perhaps think it over and maybe don't do it again, and we're here to talk about how this is a complicated and difficult decision, especially since your hormones are going at Mach 5" that would be much more realistic.

Too bad realism has little to do with the conservative agenda.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:22 PM on April 13, 2007


Duh.
posted by luckypozzo at 10:06 PM on April 13, 2007


If it saves just one hymen, it's worth 87.5$ million.
posted by stavrogin at 10:07 PM on April 13, 2007


At worst, I'm only possessed by a very small demon.

Pillowpants?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:56 PM on April 13, 2007


grapefruitmoon writes "And for teenagers who have already had sex, they're just completely ostracized from their peer group (or at least, that was my experience) which is hardly an incentive to get back on the wagon."

So did the scarlet letter magically appear on your forehead, grapefruitmoon, or did you shout it uncontrollably from the hilltops:

"I've just had sex and I LOVED IT!!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:47 AM on April 14, 2007


Interestingly, one of the programs they studied was a voluntary after school program consisting of daily 2.5 hour sessions with enrollment beginning at grade 3 and continuing into the 8th grade, and even that program didn't produce a significantly higher number of abstinent teens.

HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!!!! That's a lot of classtime. How many perversions could these dudes cover in that timeframe?

Fifth Grade -- Day 10 "Clown Porn. You must not look at, or masturbate to, pornography depicting or involving clowns."

Seventh Grade -- Day 48 "Watersports. You must not piss on each other for sexual enjoyment."

Eighth Grade - Day 200 "Mandingo Sex Parties. You must not participate in snarky online discussions of suburban swingers. And don't do anything on the microfiber either."
posted by jason's_planet at 3:59 AM on April 14, 2007


You guys are missing the point.

The $80 million isn't about abstinence education, it's about buying votes. That 80MM just bought at least 50,000 votes from parents in the bible belt. And, since it was government money, it's effectively free.

Think about it, 50K votes for free! If a couple of teenagers get knocked up or not, well, who really cares?
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:01 PM on April 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


what jenkinsEar said--this is part and parcel with the faith-based funding Christian Welfare programs. See also the FDA and birthcontrol/Plan B, the DOJ and their "Civil Rights", but only for Christians who feel discriminated against, etc...
posted by amberglow at 3:04 PM on April 14, 2007


Even when I was fundy teen, I knew that not everyone would magically shut down their hormones til they got married.

So if these don't work, I wonder what does delay the age you lose it? I knew quite a few non fundies who lost theirs in college.
posted by Freecola at 4:12 PM on April 14, 2007


So if these don't work, I wonder what does delay the age you lose it?

isn't it just the normal things? awkwardness, bad social skills, shyness, low self-esteem, etc? Also and maybe most importantly--peer pressure. I first had sex because everyone else was. If your crowd isn't having sex, you probably aren't either.
posted by amberglow at 4:32 PM on April 14, 2007


I wonder too, about whether the exciting and dangerous and forbidden and "adult" allure of it maybe just doesn't appeal to everyone, so they wait longer?
posted by amberglow at 4:35 PM on April 14, 2007




So if these don't work, I wonder what does delay the age you lose it?

Having your mother leave her copies of Nursing 87 lying around the house open to the dramatic photos of somebody's nose eaten away by crotch nasties worked on me...
posted by joannemerriam at 8:09 PM on April 14, 2007


ewwwwww (i'm glad i didn't know of that kind of thing, joanne--we didn't even have aids yet--only herpes jokes)
posted by amberglow at 10:57 PM on April 14, 2007


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