Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is abstinence education effective?

In a recent post pointing to the continuing steady decrease in sexual activity among teenagers and young adults, Stopped Clock suggested the increased emphasis on abstinence education, something that endeared Dubya to many social conservatives, may be partly responsible for the decline:
Also, why not list the increased prevalence of sex education as a factor? Even though AIDS was at its peak in the 90s, the sex education hadn't really gotten much different than it was in the 70s or 80s. Now abstinence is a big part of the advice you hear in most sex ed classes.
The degree of causation is almost impossible to identify definitively here, but from it's emergence as a health education teaching tool in the mid-eighties through the latter part of the last decade, the idea has been on the rise, and that tracks the two decades-plus decline in sexual activity among American youth (click on the image for higher resolution):

Of course, there are other institutions--namely the religious and the parental--that have preached abstinence in varying degrees for a lot longer than it has been included in educational curricula, so I'm not sure what to think.


Anonymous said...

A more reliable cause would be steady decline in average testosterone of U.S. males due to the consumption of processed food and regulated water.

Also there are so many distractions like video games, sports and alcohol that sex isn't that important to many males.

TwoYaks said...

It would be very easy to do a case-control study to detangle causality. Looks like someone's already done one: It doesn't really touch pregnancy, but it does talk about frequency of sex. Which is really the variable of interest, I think.

It's also worth noting that US adults are getting it on much less, too. Does the economic downturn effect teen horniness?

Audacious Epigone said...


Have those things changed significantly since the nineties? That might play some role, but the teenage male sex drive is a pretty strong thing.


Yes, unless the idea of abstinence being "in the air" has a more general effect, but I find that hard to be much confidence in. For some reason I'm thinking downturns tend to be more, not less, fecund than usual, but can't recall where I'm getting that from. It strikes me as more reasonable to expect the opposite to occur, though, especially in advanced western countries.