Or so a new study says. The research, released Monday in the February edition of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, suggests an abstinence-based approach can be successful.
The study was different than past abstinence only programs in that it avoided a moralistic tone, about the importance of saving sex for marriage, for example.
Instead, the approach was designed to help sixth and seventh graders better identify the drawbacks to sexual activity at their age. The students were asked, for instance, to list the pros and cons themselves, an exercise in which they saw the list of cons was far longer than the pros.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the study, the students were broken into four groups. One group received safe-sex classes, one got abstinence-only classes, one group received classes incorporating both approaches, and the fourth group had classes in just general health behavior. Researchers assessed success by the number of students who said they had had sex in the two years following the classes. About a third of the abstinence-only students said they had sex, but that compares to nearly half of the students in the other three classes.
The program, based on social psychology theory about what motivates behavior, encouraged abstinence as a way to prevent STDs and avoid pregnancy (though pregnancy and STD rates were not recorded). The approach was designed to be relatively focused on these issues.
The lead author of the study, John Jemmott III, is a psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has worked extensively with efforts to reduce risky behavior among inner-city youths. He said the single focus may have made the difference, versus the other three approaches. “The message was not mixed with any other messages,” he said.
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