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Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Abstinence in the news

Two items about abstinence caught my eye this week. The first was an interesting article in a recent Journal of Adolescent Health (Vol. 39(2), p. 192-198) by Ott, Pfeiffer & Fortenberry describing abstinence according to the wisdom of 42 adolescents aged 11-17 recruited from primary-care clinics. Researchers found marked confusion about the term "abstinence," but found the concept "choosing not to have sex" was relevant for teens. Participants in this research saw sex as a powerful transition to adulthood that occurred when the "right" person or a "committed relationship" suggested it.

The second was a statement from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reminding the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) that STD prevention materials distributed by federally funded abstinence programs must "contain medically accurate information on condom effectiveness."

In 2006 abstinence-based sexuality education programs received around $170 million dollars, and have routinely exaggerated condom failure rates. This reminder from the GAO would suggest that abstinence-based sexuality education should be required to use something like a CDC fact sheet which states: "For persons whose sexual behaviors place them at risk for STDs, correct and consistent use of the male latex condom can reduce the risk of STD transmission. However, no protective method is 100% effective. When used correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV and can reduce the risk of transmission of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis."

Together these articles reminded me that teens need to be engaged in conversations about the "choice" to be sexual, with the right person, protecting both partners from the risk of an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection, including HIV, and avoiding any coercion or pressure to participate in activities that are not consensual.

Photo credit: ewedistrict

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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.