A new study claims that students who participated in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex as those who did not take the classes.
The study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc., looked at 2,057 youths which included students in one of four abstinence programs around the country and those from the same communities who did not participate in the abstinence programs. Results showed hardly any difference in the number of sexual partners, the age students first had sex, and their rates of unprotected sex.
Forty-nine percent of both student groups remained abstinent, the study found. And 56 percent of the group that took part in abstinence classes remained abstinent in the last 12 months compared to 55 percent of those who did not. The average age both groups first had sex was 14.9 years.
Study results are released just as Congress considers renewing a block grant program for abstinence education – Title V – this summer. The federal government has authorized up to $50 million annually for the program, according to The Associated Press.
A prominent Christian public policy group says the new report is timed to affect funding.
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, director and senior fellow of Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute, pointed out several flaws to the study including the ages of the students involved.
Mathematica's study had targeted children as young as 9 years old who were in abstinence programs. The average age was 11 to 12 when they entered the programs in 1999. They were then followed up in late 2005 and early 2006.
"The targeted children were too young to absorb the abstinence message, and there was no follow-up to the original abstinence message," said Crouse in a statement. "This basic flaw in the study design invalidates any findings in the report."
Similarly, Harry Wilson, the commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families, said the abstinence message should be reinforced in subsequent years to truly affect behavior, according to AP.
"This report confirms that these interventions are not like vaccines. You can't expect one dose in middle school, or a small dose, to be protective all throughout the youth's high school career," he said.
"Values" that are taught in the programs is also a significant issue, Crouse noted.
"Comprehensive sex education is not values based. Yet, sex involves values – especially the values of commitment, love and intimacy," Crouse stated. "If values are omitted, the teaching implies that casual teen sex has no lasting consequences as long as the teens use a condom."
Still, some say the study provides evidence that federal money should be used for comprehensive sex education.
"This report should give a clear signal to members of Congress that the program should be changed to support programs that work, or it should end when it expires at the end of June," said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, which promotes comprehensive sex education.
But Bush administration officials have cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions from the study, according to AP. They said the four programs reviewed were some of the very first established after Congress overhauled the nation's welfare laws in 1996. And the findings represent less than 1 percent of all Title V abstinence projects across the nation, according to the National Abstinence Education Association.
The field of abstinence has significantly grown and evolved since the time the study began, stressed Valerie Huber, executive director of the trade association.
"This new study by Mathematica holds no water in the wake of the overwhelming evidence that abstinence education produces positive results," said Crouse.