Social conservatives, wingnuts, and sexophobes are using a new study to wave the flag about discredited, abstinence ignorance–only sex education. In reality, they are misrepresenting the nature of the study. I also have serious doubts about whether the study actually means anything.
The form of abstinence–only sex education in the study differed significantly from the most common form of abstinence–only sex education. From a Washington Post article on the study (emphasis added):
Several critics of an abstinence–only approach said that the curriculum tested did not represent most abstinence programs. 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.
“There is no data in this study to support the ‘abstain until marriage’ programs, which research proved ineffective during the Bush administration,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth.
This is different from Bush–style ignorance–only. Telling people to abstain from sex until they are ready to have sex is a completely different thing from moralizing and telling them that premarital sex is evil and lying about contraception. Being married and being ready to have sex are different things. There is nothing wrong with telling people to wait to have sex until they are ready. There is also nothing wrong with two consenting people having sex, whether they are married or not. Indeed, social conservatives and wingnuts are so against premarital sex that the joke is really on them regarding this study as they are beating the drum of a study that did not discourage premarital sex!
Indeed, the form of abstinence–only used in the study was different enough from Bush–style that it would not have qualified for funding because it was not based in Bronze Age morality that discouraged premarital sex and did not discourage contraception (cite).
In addition, there are issued with what this study has actually determined. Echidne raised issues with how truthful the participants might have been, and I agree that this might be a concern. In addition, the abstract (see the first link in this post) does not provide information about secondary outcomes, such as pregnancies or STD infections. This is mainly because the average age of participants was 12.2 months, with the follow–up lasting two years. It is entirely possible that the participants might delay having sex for a bit longer, but once they do start, they will still have sex in an unsafe manner. In this sense, the study won’t really mean anything; causing people to have unsafe sex when they are 17 years instead of when they are 16 isn’t really making a difference.
This post uses information provided by Hullabaloo and Echidne of the Snakes.