Emerging Answers 2007, authored by Dr. Douglas Kirby, a leading sexual health researcher, discusses what programs work in preventing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. It examines research on programs in three categories: programs that focus on risks and factors that are directly related to sexual activity, programs that focus on nonsexual factors, and programs that are a combination.
Emerging Answers 2007 reviews several studies that analyzed sexual education and abstinence-only programs and discusses the common trends that arose in those analyses. These studies examined programs’ impact on sexual behavior, use of condoms or other contraceptives, combined measures of sexual risk, and pregnancy, birth, or STD/HIV rates. Each included program focused on teens ages 12–18 and was conducted in the United States between 1990 and 2007.
In this study, abstinence programs are defined as those that encourage and expect young people to remain abstinent, while comprehensive programs are defined as those which “encourage abstinence as the safest choice but also encourage young people who are having sex to always use condoms or other measures of contraception.”
Douglas Kirby, Ph.D., Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases,(Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, November, 2007), accessed 8 January 2007, http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/EA2007/EA2007_full.pdf
· No strong evidence exists that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs delay the initiation of sex, hasten the return to abstinence, or reduce the number of sexual partners.
· Strong evidence exists that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have no effect on sexual behavior.
· Two-thirds of comprehensive programs had positive sexual behavioral effects.
· 40% of comprehensive programs delayed the initiation of sex, reduced the number of partners, and increased condom or contraceptive use.
· Nearly 30% of comprehensive programs reduced the frequency of sex.
· More than 60% reduced incidence of unprotected sex.
· 40% of the programs had a positive effect on more than one sexual behavior.
· Studies suggest that interactive programs may have more of a positive effect than non-interactive ones.
While the number of teen pregnancies is too high, and, in fact, rose for the first time in fifteen years last year, we are optimistic about the possibility of progress on this front in the future. Emerging Answers 2007 identifies the programs and factors that can be the engines behind this progress if they are used broadly and are properly funded. We are not at all surprised that the programs that seem to work best in positively affecting sexual behavior are those that teach about contraceptive and condom use as well as abstinence, and that actively engage students with interactive materials.
Furthermore, Emerging Answers 2007 is the final report released in a year that was nothing less than disastrous for the proponents of the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry. Study after study in 2007 showed us that these programs just don’t work. Policymakers need to muster the political courage to end funding for these failed and ideologically driven programs, instead of letting them limp from one year to the next. The next step, of course, is to create dedicated funding for comprehensive sexuality education by passing bills like the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act.
Emerging Answers 2007 has provided a road map for educators, sexuality education advocates, and policymakers. The path is clear: more resources should be given to comprehensive programs that work, instead of abstinence programs that don’t.