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Are Abstinence Programs Worth the Billion Dollar Budget?

News & Politics, Political-Opinion

Why Abstinence Programs?

Sexual initiation in young adults increased within the past three decades by a good margin. In a society of ever-changing modern values and belief systems, coupled with the stereotyping media giant – which sexualizes everyday life – it came to no surprise. Where men and women co-habitate, men and women will copulate. With this increased sexual activity amongst the younger generations, the government – both state and federal – funded different educational programs to teach the dreaded sex-ed questions. The largest portion of funded programs (a sum of $1.5 Billion from the federal government) has gone to abstinence programs which differed greatly from other sex-ed programs who received zero dollars.1 The majority in America have defended their right to sex. As people stepped away from religious institutions and their parents, and ventured into the real world, abstinence became a taboo word. Abstinence programs should have the most up to date information on sexual education, but the statistics show a different story.

Line graph expressing the increase of teenage sexual initiation from the 1970’s to the 2000’s.


Abstinence, the act of restraining sexual initiation till marriage or a certain age, offers many benefits to the person practicing. As the only form of birth control that is a one-hundred percent effective at pregnancy and STI prevention – for obvious reasons. Studies have also shown that relationships practicing abstinence are less psychologically damaging.2 Some parents in today’s world feel that the conventional sex-education classes encourage sexual intercourse. Their rational comes from the programs specific emphasis on safe sex practices such as condoms and birth control.3 Abstinence can enhance a relationship. It can afford a person the ability to work harder in other aspects of their lives without the added weight of sexual pressure. And it can strengthen a person’s self-reliance.4 But, in today’s technological world where numbers mean everything, the statistics just do not jive with these sentiments.

Abstinence programs like to take claim over the decrease in teenage pregnancy and sexual initiation, and, also, to tort off misinformation about the failure rate of contraceptives involving pregnancy and STI prevention. Each of these instances classify as false information. In April 2007, Mathematica Research Inc. did a comprehensive study on Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs where they found no correlation between abstinence programs and sexual initiation. The numbers between Abstinence programs and Safe Sex education were relatively the same.5 To quote further:

“A 2003 Pennsylvania evaluation found that the state-sponsored programs were largely ineffective in delaying sexual onset or promoting skills and attitudes consistent with sexual abstinence.”6

Douglas Kirby, PHD, a reputable evaluator of sex education, concluded that, out of ten studies done in 2002, nine out of ten studies failed to provide credible evidence for the statistics they provided with regards to research standards.7

Abstinence Only Vs. Comprehensive Sex Education

To go further: the claim that condoms and other contraceptives have high failures rates at protecting against STI’s and pregnancy has been refuted with large amounts of statistical data. A woman who engages in unprotected sexual intercourse for a year has an 85% chance of getting pregnant; however, for a woman who uses contraceptives, that % drops between 3 to 15% – sometimes lower.8 Also, to state that contraceptives fail at protecting against STI’s is illogical. The National Institute of Health proclaims condoms as an essential utility in the fight for STI prevention, and, in a study conducted in Europe, condoms were found to reduce HIV infection within serodiscordant couples (one person infected with HIV and one person not). Out of 124 couples who use condoms consistently, no HIV transmission was found.9

Teen Pregnancy Rates, 2010


States with stricter abstinence programs show a higher % of teenage pregnancies. This involves most of the south/southwest. Texas has been in the news for their oncoming sex education reform.

Now let’s talk psychology. Abstinence program advocates love to talk about the psychological benefits and there might be some strength to that argument. Without the stress and pressure sex can impose on a teenager, it is easy to say that they will have better success in other aspects of their lives. That conclusion can be sound. But is it? Abstinence can also lead to a sheltered life where one is afraid to branch out and create new social relationships. Anna Broadway, writer for the Atlantic, expressed a story in defense of abstinence programs:

“As we headed for the parking lot, I felt a sinking feeling inside. He’s going to try to kiss me. I just know it,” she said, followed by, “Driving home later, I felt the faint wrench of another chance for romance lost, but it was soon assuaged by something deeper: the satisfaction of finally keeping emotions and actions in sync.”10

This is coming from a women who is in her late 20’s, early 30’s, someone who has completed a college education and started their career. She fears the idea of sex so much that an innocent kiss after a date is a heart wrenching stress. Maybe abstinence helps when it allows focus on other things, but it can create pressure in everyday social relationships. People are the most productive when they have something to be productive for, and a healthy relationship, both physical and mental, creates the perfect opportunity for success. Abstinence seems like a way to curb that possibility.


  •  615,000 women between 15 and 19 will become pregnant in the U.S. That is 6% of women each year.
  • Teen pregnancy is in decline in the U.S. This is attributed to better contraceptive practices.
  • U.S teen pregnancies remain the highest out of all first world countries.
  • New Mexico had the highest teen pregnancy rate in 2010. (80 in 1,000 teens)

Lastly, American ideals are used as a defense for these abstinence programs. Advocates claim abstinence is more in line with today’s American culture, when, in-fact, the opposite is true. Statistics show that majority of men and women have sex by, or at, the age of 17, and that men and women get married around their mid to late 20’s.11 That means there is no correlation between sex and marriage. If abstinence reflects the modern American view, then the average age of marriage would be closer to the average age of sexual initiation.

To conclude, abstinence programs falter in many aspects of their education. The use of fear mongering to manipulate the person into certain outcomes have been proven inefficient. In a modern world where modern technology allows for access to more control over your life, education is all that is needed. Teach the proper use of contraceptives as well as the idea of abstinence, and let the person make their choice. This problem can also be addressed by better school funding and education programs overall: more funding means better teachers which means more engagement from students which means a better educational experience overall.


51% of teens had sex within 78 months in the program. 36% of those teens had sex with multiple partners.


  • Teen sex is increasingly likely to be voluntary.
  • Teens, overall, are waiting longer to have sex. No correlation with abstinence programs.
  • European teens are more likely to use contraception.
  • 3% of males and 8% of females between 18-19 designate as bi or homosexual.


  1. Advocates for Youth
    Page 1, Paragraph 2.
  2. Women Issues, Dating and Sex
    #4 in List.
    Item 6: The Silent Scandal: Promoting Teen Sex
    Item 3: Emotional and Psychological Injury
  5. Mathematica
    Page 1 – 24.
  6. Advocates for Youth
    Page 1 and 2, citations 6 and 7.
  7. Advocates for Youth
    Page 1 and 2
  8. Advocates for Youth
    Page 4, Citations 21-24
  9. Advocates for Youth
    Page 4, Citations 21-24
  10. The Atlantic
  11. Gutt
    Sexual Activity List
  12. Gutt Macher
    Sexual Activity List
  13. Gutt Macher
    Pregnancy List

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