Limited study on abstinence-only sex education


Tan Jian Xiang and Catherine Smith, Youth Volunteers, Association of Women for Action & Research

Published: 7:48 PM, August 23, 2013
Updated: 6:50 AM, August 25, 2013

Many online comments on the letter, “Abstinence education can work” (Aug 20, online), have valid criticisms of its use of the study mentioned. We wish to expand on this.

First, the study only demonstrated that abstinence-only education can work in the context provided: African-American youth with an average age of 12.

The researchers acknowledged that “theory-based abstinence-only interventions might be effective with young adolescents but ineffective with older youth or people in committed relationships”, and suggested that comprehensive interventions may be more effective for the latter.

Their paper also cited another study on the effect of abstinence-based interventions being limited to the short term, and disappearing in longer-term follow-ups.

Second, the Archives of Paediatric & Adolescent Medicine’s editorial response cautioned that “no public policy should be based on the results of one study, nor should policy makers selectively use scientific literature to formulate a policy that meets preconceived ideologies”.

We agree. The majority of studies in this field support the view that comprehensive sex education is essential in the prevention of teenage pregnancy and disease. One example is the study highlighted in our online letter, “Young minds and bodies: Is ignorance bliss?” (Aug 13).

This study had a larger, more diverse sample — 2,000 children in four different communities over 10 years — and found that abstinence-only programmes did not postpone sexual activity.

An abstinence-based sexuality education should thus not be suggested as the right way for all. Comprehensive sex education, which includes abstinence as a possible approach to safety, would benefit our youth as they continue into adulthood.