Two recent reports detailing rates of teenage pregnancy and sexual activity have renewed debate about sex education, particularly abstinence-based education. A January 26 report by the Guttmacher Institute, which produces sexual and reproductive health resources, found that the national rate of teen pregnancy is on the rise, with some experts claiming that the Bush-era emphasis on abstinence education is to blame. Days after its release, another study, released in the February 2010 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine concluded that abstinence-only education can be effective in curbing teenage sexual activity over the long term.
The Guttmacher report, "U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions: National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity," concludes that teenage pregnancy is on the rise for the first time in over a decade, having increased in 2006 by 3 percent than in 2005, with 750,000 women under the age of 20 becoming pregnant. Some hold abstinence-only sex education responsible. "This new study makes it crystal clear that abstinence-only sex education for teenagers does not work," read a statement from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The second study is the result of an independent experiment, led by psychologist John Jemmott III and funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, to examine the long-term effectiveness of abstinence-only education. This experiment was unique in that it emphasized the drawbacks of sexual activity without the use of a moralistic tone or disparaging contraceptives.
"This research is strong evidence that abstinence- only intervention can help teens delay sex," says Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
For policymakers, Albert believes these studies do not provide concrete answers, but rather offer additional science for what changes teen behavior in terms of shaping K12 education. "No one is suggesting that abstinence-only education will work all the time for all people," says Albert. "It's important that we have a large portfolio of effective options."