Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Abstinence-only versus Comprehensive Sexuality Education: The Impact on Sexual Risk Behavior among U.S. High School Students 1991 – 2003

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According to a recent research brief from Child Trends the U.S. has some of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and childbearing in the industrialized world, with 82% of those pregnancies being unintended. Teens in the U.S. also have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) than do teens in other industrialized countries.

According to Advocates for Youth every year about 800,000 adolescent females become pregnant, 20,000 young people are newly infected with HIV, and nearly four million new sexually transmitted infections occur among youth aged 15 to 19.

After widespread implementation of comprehensive sexuality education (between 1991 and 1997) there was a significant decline in sexual behaviors among teens that place them at risk for pregnancy and HIV infection. Associated with comprehensive sexuality education was 1) an 11% drop in the number of teens reporting sexual activity; 2) a 14% decrease in the number of teens with 4+ lifetime sexual partners; and 3) a 23% increase in condom use during last sexual intercourse.

The declines in the number of sexually active youth and those with 4+ lifetime sexual partners ended however with the first five-year cycle of the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage initiative. Since the implementation of the abstinence only programs the proportion of teens reporting they have had sex, and the number with 4+ partners has remained the same. Condom use however continues to increase, albeit at a slower pace.


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About the Author

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

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