The impact of abstinence and comprehensive sex and STD/HIV education programs on adolescent sexual behavior
In an effort to reduce unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD) in adolescents, both abstinence and comprehensive sex and STD/HIV education programs have been proffered. Based on specified criteria, the author searched for and reviewed 56 studies that assessed the impact of such curricula (8 that evaluated 9 abstinence programs and 48 that evaluated comprehensive programs) on adolescents’ sexual behavior. Study results indicated that most abstinence programs did not delay initiation of sex and only 3 of 9 had any significant positive effects on any sexual behavior. In contrast, about two thirds of comprehensive programs showed strong evidence that they positively affected young people’s sexual behavior, including both delaying initiation of sex and increasing condom and contraceptive use among important groups of youth. Based on this review, abstinence programs have little evidence to warrant their widespread replication; conversely, strong evidence suggests that some comprehensive programs should be disseminated widely.