A study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) suggests that a reproductive health education program for eighth grade girls, implemented at local public schools by a publicly funded hospital, may be responsible for the county's decline in teenage pregnancies.1 The education outreach program aims to encourage young females to postpone sexual intercourse if they are not yet sexually active and to use protection from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) when and if they do engage in sexual activity. Since its inception, the program has educated roughly 20,000 teenage females.
The program's curriculum is divided into two parts. According to the AJPH report, the first part focuses on "building the skills of youth to resist social and peer pressures toward sexual involvement" and the second part educates students on the "male and female reproductive systems, potential negative consequences of sexual involvement, where to obtain methods of protection, and how to use them."2
From 1997-2000, the county that implemented this program was found to have a decline in teenage pregnancy that was almost twice that of neighboring counties without the program.3 Neighboring counties were reportedly not able to participate because of hospital staffing and funding limitations.
As a result of this initial progress, the hospital expanded their educational and clinical services to boys of the same age. More than 2,000 eighth grade boys (ages 13 and 14) were assessed from 1998 to 2003 to determine their attitudes and behaviors before and after exposure to the program. Before the program, 52% stated that had not had engaged in sexual intercourse. Post-program results report that 83% of the young males believed they learned new information about peer pressure and negotiating in relationships and 92% stated that they had learned new information about teen pregnancy, STDs, and other risks associated with sexual intercourse. Ninety-four percent of the young males stated that the program has made them more likely to use protection during sexual intercourse.4
The data suggest that the program improves the knowledge, attitudes, and intended behaviors of eighth grade boys. The study, however, did not measure if or how the program impacts actual behavior and the researchers did not report any future plans to collect such data. While the data collected in this study may be useful, it offers a limited insight into the effectiveness of the program. To more confidently conclude that sexuality education positively impacts the sexual behaviors of eighth grade boys, future studies need to collect and examine such behavioral impact data, researchers say.
This is not the first study to suggest that increased sexuality education for young males leads to more likely responsible sexual decision-making. Results of the 1988 National Survey of Adolescent Males imply that males ages 15 through 19 who "received sexuality education reported less frequent intercourse, fewer sexual partners, and more consistent condom use."5
In a third study, conducted between 1990 and 1994, researchers studied 335 seventh and eighth grade males between the ages of 12 and 14 in North Carolina researches to determine if educating young males about responsibility, respect, and communication skills in the context of sexuality would produce responsible sexual decision-making.6 Those exposed to the program reported increasingly consistent contraception use (from 41% at the start of the program to 49% at the end of the program to 56% six months after the program had ended).7 In contrast, participants who were exposed to the education program reported a 28% increase in contraception use (from 60% to 88%) and maintained that level of contraception use six months after the program ended. Participants not exposed to the program reported sporadic contraception use (from 82% to 69% to 76%).
All three of these studies have concluded that a significant population of young males are sexually active and that many are having sex without using protection against unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.8
Rebecca Fox, State Policy Coordinator at SIECUS, sees the study in Georgia as well as the previous studies as potentially helpful tools for other states and communities. "The positive results suggested in this study may offer useful insight to other states around the country curious about the possible benefits of including young boys in their teen pregnancy and STD prevention programs," said Fox.
- M. Howard, PhD, "Young Males' Sexual Education and Health Services," American Journal of Public Health, August 2004, Vol. 94, No. 8.
- E. Gottsegen, et. al., “Impact of a Sexual Responsibility Program on Young Males,” Adolescence, Fall 2001, Vol. 36, Issue 143, p. 427-433. The 1988 National Survey of Adolescent Males was conducted by Freya L. Sonenstein, Ph.D., Director, Population Studies Center, The Urban Institute. Data was collected by Sociometrics Corporation.
- The program that half of the participants were exposed to was Wise Guys, a male-oriented teen pregnancy prevention program of the Family Life Council of Greater Greensboro.
- Gottesgen, et. al.
- Reported sexual activity: 48% of young males ages 13 to 14 reported being sexually active in the 1998-2000 Georgia study; 33% of 15 year-olds and 85% of 19 year-olds in the 1988 National Survey of Adolescent Males; and 28% of 12 to 14 year-olds in 1990-1994 North Carolina study.