Abstinence-only study highlights importance of teaching style, message

A new study has found that abstinence-only sex education might work — but before values-based organizations jump on this study as the end all, be all of abstinence-only sex education, it’s important to look at what sets this program apart.

I can’t access the article directly without a magical password, but the abstract explains how there were four different groups with four different sex ed curricula — abstinence only, sex-only, a combination, and then a random health class not related to sex ed. The findings suggest that adolescents who took the abstinence class were less likely to have had sex two years later when compared to those who took the sex-only class (33 percent vs. 52 percent).

But, as The Washington Post points out, this was not your typical abstinence-only class. In fact, it really wasn’t your typical sex education class. Not only was it not morality or values-based, but it was conducted using small group teaching methods and a lot of student-teacher interaction.

When students are given more focused attention by teachers, they respond better to whatever they are being taught. In the abstinence-only set of students, the teacher worked with students in small groups and there was a high degree of student-teacher interaction that engages the student more than the typical lecture-based, large classroom environment of most sex ed classes. I wish I could read the study to see if the same small group teaching methods were used in the sex-only group.

This study shows two things: it shows that students respond better when they are more involved, engaged, and a part of the lesson, and it shows that pinning morality to the abstinence cause might actually be detrimental. This study did not attach values to the lesson, but rather spoke in more generic terms:

It did not take a moralistic tone, as many abstinence programs do. Most notably, the sessions encouraged children to delay sex until they are ready, not necessarily until married; did not portray sex outside marriage as never appropriate; and did not disparage condoms. (The Washington Post)

I can see how separating morals from the equation can be effective: Teenagers are full of angst and hormones, and they need to feel empowered to make their own decisions for themselves, instead of making them out of shame, guilt, or fear. Sometimes just telling them “no” and giving punishment just won’t get through to a teenager, and it seems like this method includes adolescents rather than preaches to them. I know at that age, I felt the urge to immediately tune-out many things that I saw as preachy because I felt like I was preached at all the time.

I think when it comes to sex education, this study proves that the message matters, and the way the message is delivered is extremely important when it comes to trying to prevent teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

Note: One thing that the study didn’t do was increase condom use, which is a problem if these students do decide to have sex before marrying another person who is waiting to have sex until marriage. According to a 2005 study, abstinence-only education not only can decrease sexual behavior, but it also can decrease the use of condoms, which means unprotected sex and possible pregnancies and transmission of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.


Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: