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Fact Sheet


  • Since 1996, the United States has wasted more than $1.5 billion in federal and state funding on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that fail to teach teens how to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS.
  • No study in a professional peer-reviewed journal has found these programs to be broadly effective. Scientific evidence simply does not support an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach.
  • By providing misinformation and withholding accurate information that young people need to make informed choices, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs deny young people lifesaving information. 
  • The federal government should not continue funding for the ineffective Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program but should instead listen to the overwhelming evidence that this massive federal expenditure has failed completely to achieve its stated goals.

The Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program expired on June 30, 2009, and at that time had been refused by nearly half of the states both because of its restrictive nature and the fact that overwhelming evidence has proven such programs to be ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Last fall, conservatives in the U.S. Congress managed to include funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the Senate health care reform bill. The extension for the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage state grant program remained in the Senate health care bill that was signed by President Barack Obama. This extension equals $250 million for failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs over the next five years (2010–2014).
Health care reform should not have been used to fund programs that put young people’s health and lives at risk by denying them important information about contraception and condoms.

There is clear evidence that federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are not effective in stopping or even delaying adolescent sex. In fact, the federal government has been supporting and evaluating single-purpose abstinence promotion programs since the early 1980s, and there is now evidence suggesting that they may be harmful to young people in the long term.
  • A 10-year government study of the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program found that such programs did not delay sexual initiation—the entire purported purpose of the programs.[1] The evaluation found that the federally funded abstinence-only programs evaluated had no beneficial impact on young people’s sexual behavior. Individuals who participated in the programs were no more likely to abstain than those who did not.[2] 
  • This report followed the findings from 13 states that have evaluated their own Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage programs with results ranging from finding the programs ineffective to finding them harmful.
  • Furthermore, in early November 2007, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released Emerging Answers 2007, which discussed what programs work in preventing teen pregnancy and STDs, including HIV. The report found strong evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs do not have any impact on teen sexual behavior.[3]
    • The study found no evidence to support the continued investment of public funds.
    • The study also found that, to date, no abstinence-only-until-marriage program that is of the type to be eligible for funding by the federal government has been found in methodologically rigorous studies to positively impact teen sexual behavior.
Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been sharply criticized by leading medical professional organizations for being, by their very nature, antithetical to the principles of science and medical ethics. As a matter of law, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are required to promote ideas that are at best scientifically questionable and to withhold life-saving information; as such, they may not credibly assert that they are “medically accurate.”
  • The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has called for the termination of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs because they represent “poor fiscal and public health policy.” 
  • Leading public health and medical professional organizations—including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society of Adolescent Medicine, and the American Psychological Association—have raised serious ethical concerns about U.S. support for such programs. These organizations and many others do not support abstinence-only-until-marriage programs but instead support a comprehensive approach to educating young people about sex.
  • “Governments have an obligation to provide accurate information to their citizens and to eschew the provision of misinformation in government-funded health education and health care services,” notes the American Public Health Association in its policy statement on abstinence-only programs. “While good patient care is built upon notions of informed consent and free choice, [abstinence-only] programs are inherently coercive by withholding information needed to make informed choices.”  
Federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs must adhere to a strict eight-point definition of “abstinence education” that is found in the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program language.[4]
  • The federal definition of “abstinence education” promotes marriage as the only acceptable family structure; ostracizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth; stigmatizes youth who have been sexually abused; and denies information to sexually active youth.
  • This definition ensures that young people who have already engaged in sexual activity, those who have been sexually abused, or those living in nontraditional households are not only denied critical health information but are presented with shame- and fear-based messages.
  • Though they are often presented to communities and school boards as programs designed to prevent pregnancy or STIs, including HIV/AIDS, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are about marriage promotion, and they consistently ignore many youth who are most in need of information, education, and skills training.
  • Many aspects of the definition and guidelines for this program are in direct opposition to the goals and tenets of comprehensive sexuality education, which seek to help young people navigate adolescence and become healthy adults.
 Updated April 2010

[1] Trenholm, Christopher, et. al., Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs: Final Report (Trenton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research April 2007); accessed 6 September 2007 at
[2] Trenholm, Christopher, et al., Impacts of Abstinence Education on Teen Sexual Activity, Risk of Pregnancy, and Risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 27, no. 2 (2008): 255–76.
[3] Kirby, Douglas, Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2007), 15; accessed 5 February 2007 at 
[4] Section 510(b) of Title V of the Social Security Act, P.L. 104-193:
For the purposes of this section, the term “abstinence education” means an educational or motivational program that
A.        has as its exclusive purpose teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;
B.        teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children;
C.        teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;
D.       teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity;
E.        teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;
F.        teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society;
G.       teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances, and;
H.        teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.


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