The Impact of Abstinence and Comprehensive Sex and STD-HIV Education Programs on Adolescent Sexual Behavior (2008)

There has been an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of abstinence-only versus comprehensive sex education and the impacts these two programs have on adolescent sexual health and behaviors.  Over the past 15 years, many researchers have studied the impact of abstinence programs on adolescents’ sexual knowledge, behaviors, and intentions but Dr. Kirby considers these research studies poorly designed and not objective.  By reviewing and evaluating both abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education programs, Dr. Kirby hopes to come clearer conclusions as to which program is most effective.

Dr. Kirby rigorously reviewed and evaluated 56 studies that assessed the impact of such curricula (8 that evaluated 9 abstinence programs and 48 that evaluated comprehensive programs) and studied whether these caused positive or negative changes to adolescents’ behaviors.

Dr. Kirby’s study results indicated that most abstinence programs did not delay initiation of sex and only 3 of 9 programs had any significant positive effects on any sexual behavior. On the other hand, 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.

Dr. Kirby concludes that:

  1. Some evidence (but no strong evidence) currently supports the assumption that abstinence program is effective at delaying first sex for adolescents
  2. Abstinence programs are not more effective at delaying initiative of sex compared to comprehensive sex education programs
  3. Abstinence programs are not sufficiently effective in eliminating teen’s sexual risks or eliminating comprehensive sexual education programs
  4. There is stronger evidence that comprehensive sex education can delay initiation of sex and increase contraception use

Citation:  Kirby, D. B. (2008). The Impact Of Abstinence And Comprehensive Sex And STD/HIV Education Programs On Adolescent Sexual Behavior. Sexuality Research and Social Policy: Journal of NSRC5(3), 18-27.

Link to “The Impact of Abstinence and Comprehensive Sex and STD-HIV Education Programs on Adolescent Sexual Behavior”

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