Every Saturday the CSPH highlights news or recent research in the field of human sexuality. This week we’re looking at an analysis conducted by the University of Georgia to evaluate the efficacy of different sex education programs with regards to teen pregnancy.
Researchers Kathrin Stanger-Hall and David Hall discuss how the U.S. ranks first among developed nations in rates of both teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and in an effort to reduce these rates, the U.S. government has funded abstinence-only sex education programs for more than a decade. The central message of these programs is to delay sexual activity until marriage, and under the federal funding regulations most of these programs cannot include information about contraception or safer-sex practices. In 2010, the Labor-Health and Human Services, Education and Other Agencies appropriations bill provided funding to states for a new evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative – the first large-scale federal investment dedicated to preventing teen pregnancy through research and evidence-based efforts. Despite accumulating evidence that abstinence-only programs are ineffective however, funding for abstinence-only sex education still represents a much larger chunk of government financial support for states. With two types of federal funding programs available, individual states now have to decide which type of sex education to choose while pursuing the ultimate goal of reducing teen pregnancy rates. Stanger-Hall and Hall’s analysis aims to evaluate the most recent data on the effectiveness of different sex education programs with regard to preventing teen pregnancy for the U.S. as a whole.
They collected the most recent (2005) teenage pregnancy, abortion, and birth data from 48 U.S. states (all U.S. states except North Dakota and Wyoming) along with information on each state’s prescribed sex education approach to find quantitative evidence regarding whether or not abstinence-only education is effective in reducing U.S teen pregnancy rates. There published analysis, entitled “Abstinence-only education and teen pregnancy rates: why we need comprehensive sex education in the U.S.,” cites that of the 48 U.S. states in the study, 21 states stressed abstinence-only education, 7 states emphasized abstinence education, 11 states covered abstinence in the context of comprehensive sex education, and 9 states did not mention abstinence in their state laws or policies. In 2005, the states that did not mention abstinence in their state laws or policies had an average teen pregnancy rate of 58.78 teen pregnancies per 1000 girls aged 14–19, states that covered abstinence in the context of comprehensive sex education averaged 56.36, states that emphasized abstinence education averaged 61.86, and the states that stressed abstinence-only education averaged 73.24.
The level of abstinence education was positively correlated with both teen pregnancy and teen birth rates, indicating that abstinence education in the U.S. does not cause abstinence behavior. To the contrary, teens in states that prescribe more abstinence education are actually more likely to become pregnant. A multivariate analysis of teen pregnancy and birth rates identified the level of abstinence education as a significant influence on teen pregnancy and birth rates across states. According to Stanger-Hall and Hall, their analysis included data on four possibly confounding factors: socio-economics status, education level, ethnicity, and Medicaid-funded access to family planning services.