Modified abstinence program helps delay teen sex, study finds

CHICAGO -- An experimental abstinence-only program without a moralistic tone can delay sex among teens, a provocative study found.

Billed as the first rigorous research to show long-term success with an abstinence-only approach, the study differed from traditional programs that have lost federal and state support in recent years. The classes didn't preach delaying sex until marriage or disparage condom use.

Instead, they involved assignments to help sixth- and seventh-graders see the drawbacks to sexual activity at their age, including having them list the pros and cons themselves. Their cons far outnumbered their pros.

The students, mostly 12-year-olds, were assigned to one of four options: eight-hour-long abstinence-only classes, safe-sex classes, classes incorporating both approaches or classes in general healthy behavior.

Two years later, about one-third of abstinence-only students said they'd had sex since the classes ended, versus about 49 percent in each of the other groups.

The study was released Monday in the February edition of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Critics of abstinence-only programs have said most evidence shows that they don't work. The new study challenges that, but even the authors say the results don't mean that more comprehensive sex education should be ignored.

Advocacy groups favoring traditional abstinence-only programs praised the study and said it shows that the Obama administration's move away from funding those programs is misguided.

The administration has focused on programs proven to prevent teen pregnancy. But the study is unlikely to revive enthusiasm for a narrow abstinence approach.

"No public policy should be based on the results of one study, nor should policymakers selectively use scientific literature to formulate a policy that meets preconceived ideologies," an Archives editorial said.