Harvard Report Bashing Abstinence Education Relies on Decade-Old Data

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 4, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Harvard Report Bashing Abstinence Education Relies on Decade-Old Data Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Janice Shaw Crouse
May 4, 2006

Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse is a senior fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.

A report released this week by a Harvard University student, and published in the online edition of "The American Journal of Public Health," purports to show that virginity pledges are ineffective. This major hit at abstinence pledges contains several problems: The data is a decade old, there are no data comparisons, and the report relies on self-responses of adolescents.

Clearly, the left is at it again — taking or manufacturing any possible "evidence" in order to slam abstinence programs.

Plainly put, it is a matter of survival for the left because the network of consultants and experts for comprehensive sex education subsists on government contracts. And, we are talking about big money. For example, in 2002, abstinence programs received only $102 million in federal funding compared to at least $427 million allocated to comprehensive sex education and contraception programs. Last year, when the president proposed increasing funding for abstinence-until-marriage programs, more than 200 left-wing groups lobbied Capitol Hill to oppose the increase.

While the left claims that abstinence education is "too simplistic"and "just say no" doesn’t work, the programs have been very effective in providing teens the skills and character development that they need to handle situations and to say "no" effectively. In addition, such programs provide opportunities for teens to learn that others who have engaged in early sexual activity regret their choice — nearly two-thirds (63 percent) state that they wish they had waited to have sex.

It is incomprehensible that leaders of organizations that work with teens would oppose abstinence. It is even more incomprehensible that anyone working in public health would oppose programs that discourage promiscuity when the sexually transmitted disease rates are out-of-control and affect, primarily, those under age 25. The increase in abstinence programs has been effective in reversing trends that some believed were irreversible. It is clear from various analyses of official data by researchers for the Beverly LaHaye Institute that abstinence education is behind the current decreases in teen pregnancy and teen abortion.

The reversal of long-standing trends is even more surprising given the contrast in funding for abstinence programs as compared with comprehensive sex education programs. While the left claims that comprehensive sex education includes strong abstinence messages, usually there is only token coverage of half-a-page or less material. Instead, there is plenty of contradiction and lots of offensive material — sometimes in the teacher’s manuals or supplemental literature rather than in the notebooks that the students take home. Many parents find it hard to support school-based comprehensive sex education. The materials recommend substituting masturbation for intercourse, and discuss oral and anal sex as well as homosexuality without even neutral information about risk factors, much less value judgments. One could reasonably assume that such behaviors are mainstream and part of the "normal" lifestyle of teenagers.

Numerous studies document the risk of teen sexual activity. In addition to the emotional and psychological damage, subsequent marital problems and inherent impact on the ability to bond with the opposite sex, there are risks in terms of drugs, alcohol and a wide variety of health problems. The most serious health problems, of course, are sexually transmitted diseases, which have tripled in the past six years — 15 million new cases occur each year and involve 3 million teenagers. The types and deadliness of the STDs is also increasing, even though advertisements for treatment imply that STDs are no big deal. While the left argues that these diseases are "medically under control," there is a huge difference between "treatable" and "curable."

Even the liberal Guttmacher Institute (think tank for Planned Parenthood) admits that more than half of the pregnancies in the United States occur to women using some sort of contraception. The condom, for instance, has a 15-percent failure rate; yet it is routinely depicted as providing "safe" sex. Among teens, at least 74 percent of pregnancies are unintended — more than 800,000 teen pregnancies every year. These teens are unlikely to finish school and are more likely to be poor. The children born to teen parents are more likely to have complications that accompany low birth rate and to experience poverty, as well as academic and behavior problems. In addition, teens engaging in sexual activity are more likely to be depressed and to attempt suicide.

Further, the financial cost of unwed teen pregnancy is approximately $30 billion. With abstinence programs reversing teen pregnancies, one would think that financial considerations alone would mandate support for abstinence. Yet, the left continues to push comprehensive sex education and to find ways to undermine abstinence-until-marriage efforts. Publication of the faulty Harvard study is just another example.

Sadly, the nation’s teens are victims of the left’s agenda; Concerned Women for America (CWA) cannot support any effort that would reverse the wonderful progress that has been made in recent years to empower teens to say "no" and to reverse trends that experts thought were irreversible. CWA will continue to provide truth to counter the distortions that continue to mislead the nation’s youth.