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Federal Study: "Abstinence Only" Doesn't Reduce Teen Pregnancy

April 18, 2007

A new study finds federal programs that teach "abstinence only" to reduce teen pregnancy don't work. An evaluation by Mathematica Policy Research (funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), concludes young people are no more likely to delay sexual activity after participating in those programs. Minnesota teen advocate Brigid Riley with the Minnesota Organization for Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting says what has proven successful is a varied approach.

"Programs that emphasize abstinence, but also share information about condoms and contraceptives, have a much stronger effect on keeping young people pregnancy free and HIV free."

The report shows federal funding for abstinence programs has grown over the past decade to $176 million a year. Riley argues that investing so much in a single, unproven approach is a risky strategy. She adds that everyone wants to reduce teen pregnancy, but it's about the approach.

"Unfortunately, these programs don't go far enough, in that they don't give accurate information about contraception, they don't tell young people about any of those kinds of choices or where health clinics are, or anything else. It's a main focus on remaining abstinent. That's all these programs are doing."

"Abstinence only" supporters say that more information could encourage more sexual activity. Riley hopes the study encourages policymakers to put taxpayer dollars into sex education programs that both advocate abstinence and offer information about contraception because that works best. She believes that federal teen pregnancy prevention efforts need to have a broader perspective to reach more teens.

"These programs can actually include a lot more information about relationships, about violence in relationships, about a whole broad array of things."

She notes some Minnesota's programs to reduce teen pregnancy promote better parent-child communications and provide after-school activities, which work to lower teen pregnancy rates.

The report is at

Jim Wishner/Eric Mack, Public News Service - MN