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June 20, 2007

Sex Education

Oh dear me, the normally sensible Quaequam Blog gets a little confused over this sex education and abstinence thing.

...as would compulsory sex education and a far greater use of condoms and other forms of contraception. George Bush has considerately provided us with clear - and very expensive - evidence that abstinence education does not work.

At that link we get:

A survey of more than 2,000 teenagers carried out by a research company on behalf of Congress found that the half of the sample given abstinence-only education displayed exactly the same predilection for sex as those who had received conventional sex education in which contraception was discussed.

Mathematica Policy Research sampled teenagers with an average age of 16 from a cross-section of communities in Florida, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Virginia. Both control groups had the same breakdown of behaviour: 23% in both sets had had sex in the previous year and always used a condom, 17% had sex only sometimes using a condom; and 4% had sex never using one. About a quarter of each group had had sex with three or more partners.

This does not show that abstinence education does not work. It shows that abstinence education works exactly as well as the more conventional sex education. The outcomes are the same, you see?

Either both work or neither do.

June 20, 2007 in Sex | Permalink


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Well, no, because they have different aims. The abstinence-only education is a failure unless the kids abstain.

Posted by: Marcin Tustin | Jun 20, 2007 10:47:16 AM


This seems to fit the observable pattern in abstinence-based public health programmes, stretching back to Nancy Reagan's 'Just Say No' campaign on drugs - the approach has no significant effect whatsoever on attitudes or behaviour.

In short, the only kids who take in the message are those who are already inclined to accept such messages in the first place.

What abstinence programmes do is foster ignorance, spread misinformation and deny young people the ability to appropriately assess and manage the risks associated with certain behaviours, which is precisely what makes them dangerous and why they should not be supported, especially with state funding.

Posted by: unity | Jun 20, 2007 10:59:38 AM


Precisely. We all are in favour of free will here and if you do not understand the consequences, then it is not a real choice.


Posted by: Devil's Kitchen | Jun 20, 2007 11:03:03 AM

I read that 'predilection for sex' as not talking about whether that sex is with contraceptives or not.

Abstinence-only is a failure as it doesn't achieve its ends at all. At least teaching about safe sex means that people are well aware of the options.

Posted by: Tristan Mills | Jun 20, 2007 11:10:44 AM

I assume that the notion that sex "education" works is wishful thinking-going-on delusion. I imagine the same will be true for "abstinence" preaching. The essential problem is, if you'll humour a shot at wit, "Stiff happens".

Posted by: dearieme | Jun 20, 2007 11:40:31 AM

Bush's abstinence programme is designed to stop teens having sex. The Mathematica study suggests that it hasn't worked.

Posted by: far2old4this | Jun 20, 2007 12:58:25 PM

When Victoria Gillick won her ruling that children should not be given contraceptives without their parents being informed, it took the Government several months to reverse the decision, during which time there was a significant and measurable reduction in teenage pregnancies. Since this evidence was unwelcome to the opinion-formers it was never made much of.

Posted by: Little Black Sambo | Jun 20, 2007 2:56:15 PM

Well fair do's, can we agree that the State and parents should encourage abstinence, educate about sex and contraception and allow abortions where necessary (OK, I think that the time limit is far too long, but by the same token, it should be easier to get them in very early stages)?

Nobody knows what works "best" so let's do 'em all.

If is then up to the State to stop welfare system that actively subsidises and encourages single motherhood, even at young ages. Not much that parents can do about this.

Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | Jun 20, 2007 4:50:40 PM

Little Black Sambo,

Evidence Please. Or at least a link. Otherwise I might have to call bullshit on you I'm afraid.

Are you seriously suggesting that less contraception = less pregnancies?

Or to put it another way, why would the availability of contraception affect those people who clearly weren't using it (or at least no effectively) in the first place?

Posted by: Andrew Field | Jun 20, 2007 6:13:07 PM

"Either both work or neither do."


Either both work or neither does.

Good grief.


The Pedant.

Posted by: Andrew Duffin | Jun 20, 2007 7:28:24 PM

>Are you seriously suggesting that less contraception = less pregnancies?

Or to put it another way, why would the availability of contraception affect those people who clearly weren't using it (or at least no effectively) in the first place?

That would be 'fewer pregnancies,' since you can't be slightly pregnant. Evidence aside, common sense suggests that if you don't have reliable contraception, you're more careful about unwnated pregnancy. And evidence is available, in the comparative illegitimacy rates before and after the availability of the pill. And yes, I know there are other variables.

There was an interesting Wall Street Journal article online yesterday, suggesting that more readily available abortion in the States had caused the great increase in illegitimate births. Url? You can find it if you're interested.

Posted by: Chris | Jun 20, 2007 8:37:36 PM

Andrew Field: I was not suggesting anything, simply remembering something factual I had read that surprised me. I have had a little search & found this reference - not so striking as I had remembered it but quite striking nevertheless:

"In 1985, when the Appeal Court ruling in the Gillick case was in force, requiring doctors to inform parents that their underage children were receiving contraception, attendance of girls under 16 at birth control clinics in England decreased from 49 to 33 per thousand (Family Planning Clinic Services, Summary Information from form KT31, Department of Health, various years) and underage conceptions did not rise."

Posted by: Little Black Sambo | Jun 20, 2007 10:11:34 PM

@ LBS: when citing a reference, it's traditional to mention a source (e.g. "the journal of crazy right-wing propaganda about teenage sex, March 1987")

Posted by: john b | Jun 21, 2007 11:11:12 AM