Sex abstinence programs in the USA have made no difference to the number of people engaging in unprotected sex, rates of sexually transmitted diseases and the risk of unwanted pregnancies, say researchers from the University of Oxford, England. One third of President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) budget is spent on abstinence programs.

You can read about this new study in The British Medical Journal.

The team examined 13 trials in the United States, which included 15,000 children and young adults aged 10-21. The 13 trials compared children and young adults who attended abstinence-only programs to people were given no sex education at all.

The age at which a young person has his/her first sexual intercourse is not influenced at all by abstinence-only programs, the researchers found. The programs had no impact on how many sexual partners attendees went on to have, neither their chances of becoming infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD), nor their risk of having an unwanted pregnancy.

The only benefit they found was in just one of the programs where the likelihood of an attendee having sex during the four weeks after the program went down – this was limited to just four weeks after attending the program. The six other sex-abstinence programs did nothing at all to alter risks. One of the sex-abstinence programs, in fact, raised the chances of unwanted pregnancies and STDs, compared to other services.

The findings in this new report are consistent with previous ones that also found no evidence of any impact from abstinence-only programs. The writers say the evaluations of these programs should be more rigorous in future. Especially as the US Senate has agreed to extend funding of CBAE (Community Based Abstinence Education) to $141 million.

Programs that promote the use of condoms significantly reduce the risk of becoming infected with HIV.

“Sexual abstinence only programmes to prevent HIV infection in high income countries: systematic review”
Kristen Underhill, Paul Montgomery, Don Operario
BMJ 2007;335:248 (4 August), doi:10.1136/bmj.39245.446586.BE
Click here to view abstract online

“Is there a role for abstinence only programmes for HIV prevention in high income countries”
BMJ 2007;335:248 (4 August), doi:10.1136/bmj.39245.446586.BE
View first 150 words online

Written by: Christian Nordqvist