, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 6-17

Abstinence-only policies and programs: An overview

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Over the past decade, abstinence education has emerged as the primary U.S. government strategy for dealing with adolescent sexuality. Abstinence-only programs have been found not to help youth delay initiation of sexual intercourse; long-term demographic trends such as later ages at first marriage suggest that policies and programs promoting abstinence until marriage are unlikely to work. Emphasis on abstinence-only programs has coincided with restrictions on what teachers can cover in health education classes and with fewer students reporting that they received information about such topics as contraception and sexually transmitted disease prevention. In addition, concerns have been raised about the scientific accuracy of abstinence-only curricula and the federal government’s failure to develop standards for these programs. Furthermore, offering information only on abstinence and withholding potentially lifesaving knowledge on risk reduction raise ethical and human rights concerns. Policymakers at local, state, and national levels should reconsider their support for abstinenceonly programs.