Abstinence and Teen Sex

February 26, 1999

A week ago, abstinence-based programs got a boost. A review of national data indicates that teen birthrates have fallen because teens are abstaining from sex, not because they are using more condoms. This study refutes the efforts by federal agencies and advocacy groups to attribute the birthrate declines to contraceptive use.

The study also showed that both condom use and out-of-wedlock birthrates have increased among sexually active teenage girls. The exact opposite correlation had been expected.

The study found that out-of-wedlock births among sexually experienced adolescent females rose 29% from 1988 to 1995. Increased condom use by teens was associated with increased out-of-wedlock birthrates among those teens who are sexually active.

The policy implications of this study are significant. Representatives Tom Coburn and Ernest Istook said that the research shows that the federal government's $50 million-a-year abstinence education program is good public policy. Dr. Coburn also added that the abstinence message is particularly important in light of the rapid spread of sexually transmitted diseases since condoms offer little protection against some of these diseases.

The study found that declines in adolescent sexual activity during the 1990s have coincided with a 12-fold increase in the number of teenagers reached by abstinence-only education programs.

It will be interesting to see the response to this new study. It effectively challenges statements by the Centers for Disease Control. It also challenges an anti-abstinence editorial published in May by the Journal of the American Medical Association. That editorial pointed to a Princeton study that found that young teens who were taught about contraception were less sexually active a year later than teens who had abstinence education. Some have felt that study was flawed because it did not use a genuine abstinence program. This latest study is significant and should focus needed attention on abstinence.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.