The TL;DR; answer is no, it does not work.
In 2007 the federal government commissioned a study to look into it all, and the results are here in a PDF. The executive summary lays it all out quite well, and basically reveals that the millions they spend promoting an abstinence education policy was completely wasted because it had no impact at all. Be warned, if you wade in, you will find that is it a very long detailed report.
If you also look at what the statistics tell you, then it soon becomes rather clear that the bible belt suffers from high rates of sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancy, divorce and sexual abuse, and that this can all be directly linked to the lack of any real education on such issues.
Is this really true?
Yes, and to verify you can check the CDC’s YRBS data, which you can find here.
To illustrate, here is what some of that data reveals …
The CDC issues a report in 2014 that spells it all out. Since they survey school health policies and practices in states, large urban school districts, and territories, then they are well positioned to see which policies work and which don’t because they also can align the policies with the actual results of those policies. Their 2014 profiles report is here, and yes it is another huge document.
The report reveals that many schools are not teaching all the recommended sexual health topics and one of the least taught topics was how to get and use condoms.
The CDC’s Scientific Results
Research shows that well-designed and well-implemented HIV/STD prevention programs can decrease sexual risk behaviors among students, including—
Delaying frst sexual intercourse.
Reducing the number of sex partners.
Decreasing the number of times students have unprotected sex. Increasing condom use.
A review of 48 research studies found that about two-thirds of the HIV/STD prevention programs studied had a significant impact on reducing sexual risk behaviors, including a delay in rst sexual intercourse, a decline in the number of sex partners, and an increase in condom or contraceptive use. Notably, the HIV prevention programs were not shown to hasten initiation of sexual intercourse among adolescents, even when those curricula encouraged sexually active young people to use condoms.
In other words, if the only thing you teach is to simply ask the students to take an abstinence pledge, then you will reap the results of keeping them ignorant. This involves simply telling students to sign an abstinence pledge then fold it down to the size of a condom wrapper and keep it in their wallet, and as the data demonstrates, this simply does not work.
Abstinence only education …
- does not decrease the rate of sexual activity amongst teens
- does not decrease the rate of unplanned pregnancy amongst teens
- often distorts the actual facts and also withholds potentially life-saving information on HIV and other sexually transmitted infections
As a contrast to all that a comprehensive sex education program does work.
What drives Abstinence-only education?
Why would they deliberately choose to only teach students to not having sex outside of marriage, and exclude all the other rather obvious things such as birth control and safe sex?
Just one word sums that up – religion.
On one side of this you have the religious belief that teaching no sex outside of marriage is the only moral choice, and on the other side you have a vast number of prominent professional associations in the fields of medicine, public health, adolescent health, and psychology, that all argue that such programs fail to provide adequate information to protect the health of adolescents. The abstinence-only folks simply have no rational arguments that withstand any criticism, and has been demonstrated to be a complete disaster.
As I’m sure you might be aware, Bristol Palin, the daughter of Sarah Palin, began at the age of 18 working with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, and strove to inform young people about the negative consequences of teenage pregnancy. That sounds fine, except her line and their line is this …
“abstinence is the only 100% foolproof way you can prevent pregnancy”
… and the rather dire problem, as illustrated by the statistics I have previously discussed above, is that this religiously driven belief simply does not work, and has been demonstrated over and over to not work.
That has now also been amply demonstrated by Ms Palin herself, because as the official spokesperson for this campaign, she has now just had her 2nd completely unplanned baby, both fathered by completely different fathers. Now normally if somebody has a baby out of wedlock like this, it not only does not merit comment, but should not even attract any stigma, and instead should garner support. However, given the observation that Ms Palin charges between $15,000 and $30,000 to go and promote abstinence-only, the degree of hypocrisy on display is jaw-dropingly astonishing, and so that does indeed make it all very newsworthy and very much in the public interest.
If this abstinence-only policy simply has not worked for a well-paid high-profile flag-carrier for this policy, then why oh why should anybody ever take her seriously or even consider paying her just $1 to come and talk about something that she has personally demonstrated does not work?