Abstinence-only programs help to reduce sexual activities among young teens as well as delay first sexual encounters without interfering in future condom use, according to a recent study of the controversial HIV prevention strategy.
The study was conducted on 662 African-American Grade 6 and 7 students from inner-city middle schools in Philadelphia and it was found that those who were taught an abstinence-only approach to sex had lower chances of having had sexual intercourse at 24 months' follow-up compared to those put through a "safer sex" intervention which only emphasized condom use without mentioning abstinence.
Bill Clinton, the former U.S. president, told delegates to the International AIDS Conference in Toronto yesterday that abstinence programs appeared to delay sexual activity while making teens less likely to use condoms when they do start having sex However the study found that the opposite was true.
Lead author John Jemmott, of the University of Pennsylvania, said "It did not reduce intentions to use condoms, it did not reduce beliefs about the efficacy of condoms, it did not decrease consistent condom use and it did not decrease condom use at last sexual [encounter]."
The study was conducted on teens ranging from ages 10 to 15 with half of them being girls. Twenty-three per cent of the youngsters said that they had had sexual intercourse at least once before the study began.
Mr. Jemmott said, "There aren't any studies that show that children are less likely to use condoms as a result of an abstinence intervention. I've looked in the literature; there are no studies that show that. But you have to be concerned about it, because many abstinence-only until marriage programs give misinformation about condoms and present the failure rates in a way that would discourage people from using them."
Planned Parenthood has called the approach "one of the religious right's greatest challenges to the nation's sexual health." In the United States several federally funded abstinence programs have been known to push distorted and inaccurate information about sexual health, homosexuality and abortion.
However Mr. Jemmott asserted that not all abstinence interventions should be lumped together "and thrown away," and there is no logical reason that an abstinence intervention cannot be effective.
His study promoted abstinence from vaginal, anal and oral sex until a later time in life when youth would be able to handle the consequences of a sexual relationship. All mention of condoms was removed, only instructing facilitators not to say anything negative about them. The team involved a researcher from the University of Waterloo.
The subjects of the study were followed for two years. Mr. Jemmott said, 'We changed the intention to have sex' through videos, video clips, role-playing and group discussions. Sexual debut of youth who were virgins when the study began were also delayed.
"We caused them to have more positive attitudes towards abstinence and the negative consequences of engaging in sexual activity at an early age, including less likely to achieve one's career goals."